Mexico: Readings for Education | The Future of Education: Edgar Morin

Mexico/ 24 November, 2021/ Source/

In this new installment of “Readings for Education,” Andrés García Barrios reflects on three major concepts: future, complexity, and uncertainty, through the ideas of Edgar Morin.

Por Andrés García Barrios

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For the spirit, it is as deadly to have one system as to have none. It must therefore be decided to have the two.

Friedrich Schlegel
(quoted by Edgar Morin as an epigraph in The Life of the Life)

Complexity is nothing more than “what is woven together.” 

Edgar Morin

A few months ago, the Observatory of Educational Innovation became the Observatory of the Institute for the Future of Education. This was not only an administrative rearrangement but a fundamental change. Let us remember that the concept of the future encompasses more than that of innovation (despite its great breadth). Explaining both terms is crucial in a world that tends to confuse them. Innovation has the value of the fresh and the original. It involves a transformative effort and can always be the beginning of something different, so it admits hope. However, without a future strategy, the innovation runs the risk of becoming an obsession for change and becoming routine, in such a way that things end up always remaining the same by dint of renewal. The philosopher Horst Kurnitzki called this vertiginous immobility. The future implies striving to ensure that changes construct a different reality.

By the end of the last century, the word future had lost much of its communicative force. We had fallen into the error of making the future an ideal time, in which we would attain the best of all worlds and for which it was worth abandoning everything, even the present. “Like to God,” said the philosopher María Zambrano, “there is no sacrifice that the man of today ceases to offer to the future.” But reality cannot be postponed indefinitely at the risk of it slipping away without realizing it. A political joke mocked this with bitter humor: “The bad thing is that the future of our country has already passed.” Fortunately, we have not managed to make the true future disappear yet: fresh ideas and actions repeatedly come to renew it. Thanks to these ideas, today, the future is much more modest, and our utopia to achieve is no longer a perfect world but the much more humble one of simply creating a better world.


Creator of the idea of complex thinking, French philosopher Edgar Morin was commissioned by UNESCO in 1999 to write a book on education that would welcome the new millennium. Morin responded with a small text that somehow synthesizes his entire philosophy: Seven complex lessons in education for the future. It isn’t easy to describe the feat of this French thinker who ventures to explain to us what needs to be done if we truly want a better world in just a hundred pages. In this book (a kind of “Commentary Index” of his thinking), Morin presents a massive scaffolding of ideas in which he brings together from concrete (almost practical) observations on the risk of making intellectual errors, for example, to others as complex and paradoxical as the way to face what, by definition, cannot be confronted: uncertainty. Our certainties, he explains, are islands on which we make land to re-embark on the journey through the ocean of the uncertain.

Morin’s complexity attempts to give coherence to the human experience with the condition of admitting that, at the center of all knowledge, there is a black hole (as in every galaxy) where it is better not to venture at the risk of falling. Knowledge has limits, and the human feat is in approaching them without falling into the abyss. Morin tries, therefore, to identify and offer us the largest amount of resources before the proximity of uncertainty, knowing that it is best when unforeseen events grab us well prepared. In Seven complex lessons, he gives us a complex, synthetic, and well-ordered book, which is both pedagogical and didactic: didactic, in the sense of presenting his ideas simply and accessibly to a vast audience, and pedagogical in the sense of being a reliable interlocutor in our comprehension and acceptance of reality.


One warning: just as the word future was once banalized, in our time, there is a risk of believing that the word uncertainty signifies something “too true.” By familiarizing ourselves with the term, it could seem that we begin to understand to what it refers. But that is not the case. It will be much better always to respect the hole into which we cannot see, knowing that this is, perhaps, (as María Zambrano tells us) the pore through which the skin of the visible breathes.


Only a clown would try to summarize what Morin has already synthesized in that distillation of knowledge that is the book I comment on here. Therefore, I will only dare with some excerpts to give the reader a taste for motivation to read it. Before moving on to them, I would also like to invite you to find in Morin’s ideas many of the principles that animate the Institute for the Future of Education and, in general, the contemporary global school: education for life, multidisciplinarity, limits to specialization, knowledge relevant to the context and the world, understanding of the human being, and of course, awareness that knowledge has become planetary and concerning to humanity as a whole.

Finally, I take this opportunity to celebrate the master Edgar Morin who, born in 1921, turned one hundred years old this past July 8.


From Chapter 1: Detecting Error and Illusion

We need exchanges and communications between the different regions of our minds and be permanently alert to detect when we lie to ourselves.


Rationalism that ignores life is irrational. Rationality must recognize the side of affection, love, repentance. True rationality knows the limits of logic; it knows that reality is mysterious. True rationality can recognize its inadequacies.

From Chapter 2: Principles of Pertinent Knowledge

As our education has taught us to separate, compartmentalize, isolate, and not link knowledge, the set of these constitutes an unintelligible puzzle.


It is not a question of abandoning knowledge of the parts for the totalities but of understanding that the thinking that separates and the thinking that relegates are together.

From Chapter 3: Teaching the Human Condition

We are in the planetary era; wherever they are found, human beings live a shared adventure.


The human being of rationality is also that of affectivity, myth, and delirium. The human being of work is also that of play. The empirical human being is also one of imagination.


The very fact of considering the universe rational and scientific also separates us from it.

From Chapter 4: Earthly Identity

We must abandon the Promethean dream of dominating the universe to nurture the aspiration of coexistence on Earth.


The planet is not a global system but a whirlwind in motion, devoid of an organizing center. This planet needs polycentric thinking.

From Chapter 5: Confronting Uncertainties

It is convenient to be realistic in the complex sense of understanding the uncertainty of the real, to know that there is still something invisible in the real.


Knowledge is navigating in an ocean of uncertainties through archipelagos of certainties.


“Strategy” must prevail over “program.” The program establishes a sequence of actions that must be executed without variation in a stable environment, but the program crashes when faced with an unstable and uncertain environment. Instead, the strategy elaborates its action scenario considering certainties and uncertainties, probabilities, and improbabilities. The strategy should privilege prudence and boldness, and if possible, both at the same time.

From Chapter 6: Understanding Each Other

Communication triumphs; the planet is crossed by networks, cell phones, modems, the internet. And yet, misunderstanding still rules.


No communication technique alone, from the telephone to the internet, provides understanding. Comprehension cannot be digitized.


Human understanding surpasses explanation. An explanation is sufficient for an intellectual or objective understanding of things. It is insufficient for human understanding.


Understanding necessarily includes a process of empathy, identification, and projection. Always intersubjective, understanding needs openness, sympathy, and generosity.


If we know how to understand before condemning, we will be on the way to humanizing our relationships.


It was only in the twentieth century when African art, the philosophies and mysticisms of Islam, the sacred texts of India, the thinking of Tao, and Buddhist philosophy became living sources for the Western soul, one chained in the world of activism, productivity, efficiency, amusement… (One soul) aspiring to inner peace and harmonious relationship with the body.


From Chapter 7:  The Ethics for the Human Genre

Kant already said that the geographical finitude of our land imposes on its inhabitants a principle of universal hospitality, recognizing the right of the other not to be treated as an enemy.


The regeneration of democracy supposes the regeneration of civility; the regeneration of civility supposes the regeneration of solidarity and responsibility, that is, the development of anthropo-ethics.


We might ask ourselves whether the school could not be practically, concretely, a laboratory of democratic life.


(The classroom) must be the place of learning the art of argued debate, the rules necessary for discussion, awareness of the needs and processes of understanding the thinking of others, of listening and respecting the voices of minorities and the marginalized.

Andrés García Barrios is a writer and communicator. His work brings together experience in numerous disciplines, almost always with an educational focus: theater, novel, short story, essay, television series and museum exhibitions. He is a contributor to the Sciences magazines of the Faculty of Sciences of the UNAM; Casa del Tiempo, from the Autonomous Metropolitan University, and Tierra Adentro, from the Ministry of Culture.

Translation by Daniel Wetta.

Disclaimer: The viewpoints expressed in this article are the author’s own and do not necessarily reflect the opinions, viewpoints, and official policies of Tecnológico de Monterrey.


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Mexico: Readings for Education | The Future of Education: Edgar Morin – Sarraute Educación María Magdalena

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