Laforgue, L. (2019). Recuperemos la escuela [Reclaiming the school] (Beatriz Gálvez)

Laforgue, L. (2019).

Recuperemos la escuela [Reclaiming the school].

Madrid: Encuentro. 266 pp.


In this book, Laurent Lauforgue, a French mathematician, presents an argument that invites us to reflect on the decadence of the current educational system, referring to the successes and achievements of the education of the past, more specifically the French secular republican schools. There is no doubt that improving education is currently a latent social concern, and so the attractive title and design of this book invite the anxious reader to delve into its critical and, in some cases, controversial arguments.

The book comprises three parts that consider different topics: rebuilding the school; the passion for knowledge; and maths, content, and experience. Each part contains various chapters, which, using stories and references to the author’s beliefs and feelings, identify the elements that have been devalued in favour of others that, in his opinion, do not favour a quality education.

In the first part, the author, based on his experience, presents the triumphs of the education he experienced and the elements that have been lost leading to the failure of school. He mentions different factors that have hampered the good operation of the school and have created a lack of solid foundations in areas such as students’ reading, writing, and arithmetic. These include the rise of constructivism, which has replaced the systematic exercises and methodical learning that provided society with a well-founded knowledge of the content of the main disciplines. He also considers how mathematical disciplines are currently rejected as people do not understand them and also the decline of the humanities as they are not regarded as important and useful, ignoring their effect on the education of human beings and their liberty.

Based on the idea that the mission of education is instruction, Lauforgue rejects the competency-based learning paradigm, accusing it of seeking to programme people’spersonal characteristics. Accordingly, he calls for a clear definition of the mission of education, the objective of which must essentially be to transmit knowledge. The author bases his reasoning on the view that other functions such as socialisation pertain to families and that tasks such as pursuing progress or attention to diversity distract the school from offering a quality education at the expense of its principal mission.

He therefore suggests that evaluation should exclusively concern knowledge, leaving aside other psychological factors, and he supports an initial exam to ensure students fulfil the necessary requirements with the aim of guaranteeing the recovery of solid foundations of knowledge. He also emphasises the need to develop new syllabuses that specify what knowledge students must acquire while leaving some degree of pedagogical freedom to the teachers.

The author also rejects the so-called educational sciences, which he does not regard as scientific and accuses of taking control of teaching away from what he calls true scientific disciplines. In consequence, he argues that the training teachers receive is not suitable as it focuses on aspects that are not of interest and has shortcomings in knowledge of the disciplines to be taught.

Finally, this first part of the book calls for the school system to be rebuilt, taking the past as a starting point and emphasising the importance of old and classical school books as key pillars of current education, given that teaching is something timeless dedicated to transmitting established and perennial knowledge.

In the second part, Laforgue, as a scientist and researcher, emphasises the value of science and knowledge. He sets out the fundamental purpose of research, which is based on the social value of teaching, learning, and knowledge, as well as the desire for truth. This truth considers a fundamental knowledge that is in a deep crisis owing to the excessive division of the disciplines by universities, which have segregated areas of knowledge, hierarchising them and disconnecting them from one other.

The author argues, from a Christian perspective, that the foundation of the university is the study of all things as everything is God’s creation and so is worth studying. From this theological perspective, knowledge is limitless and this is the foundation of the structure of the university and research. Based on this idea, he conceives academic life as being subject to its relationship with theology and affirms that it is in the university where a link is created by the shared passion for truth, which, in line with Edith Stein’s ideas, is defined as something that is simultaneously aesthetic and factual.

Following this line of argument, the author defends the spiritual training, similar to Christian spirituality, that derives from study, using the example of his own discipline of mathematics to illustrate it. Sadly, the search for objectification has meantthat what cannot be defined has been forgotten, eliminating the essence and spirit of things and preventing people from attaining knowledge in its fullness. This has reduced science to learning mechanical procedures. Consequently, the author proposes re-establishing an equilibrium between science and the spirit, explaining how to achieve this at different educational levels.

As a result of this attitude towards knowledge, this mathematician argues that teachers should have a love for reading and culture. This would involve, at the same time as transmitting this love to their students, as well as promoting the use of language that is appropriate and distinguishes them, experiencing and transmitting the freedom of thought that reading provides, combatting the threats television has created, reconciling culture with science, and transmitting the cultural legacy.

Finally, in the last part of the book, the author defines mathematics using the concepts of understanding and resolving and identifies this discipline as a language that is transmitted from generation to generation. On the basis of this, he argues that mathematics should be one of the main objects of transmission and that its teaching should focus on essential things. Regarding this discipline, Lauforgue argues that it has an essential relationship with human beings as it gives them a common object of interest, an experience of suffering, and a constant search to make reality objective. Owing to this human nature, mathematics contains something that is invisible, the facts of thought, both to the eyes and to thought.

In essence, in this book the author opens numerous areas for reflection on the current state of schools and pedagogical knowledge, offering interesting arguments justified using anecdotal accounts. Nonetheless, some cases clearly lack the scientific basis that would be necessary to support more solidly the arguments proposed. This is an interesting and stimulating work, for those who share the author’s viewpoint and those who reject it alike, as it challenges the current beliefs of the educational system and can also reposition some current educational practices.

Beatriz Gálvez ■