alternatives éducatives
| Présentation | SOMMAIRE |

I Obligation scolaire et liberté I Des écoles différentes ? Oui, mais ... pas trop ! Appel pour des éts innovants et coopératifs |

I Actes du Séminaire International Freinet de Londres I
I Freinet dans (?) le "système" éducatif (?) français ? I

2018 ?                                       ... 2118 ?
Une autre école est-elle possible?
Le mouvement Freinet : passé et présent
Gerald SCHLEMMINGER - History of Freinet Pedagogy
Liliane MAURY – Freinet and Wallon : on the Part Played by Psychology in School

La coopération à l’école : des questions pratiques…donc théoriques
Marine BARO – A l’école choisissons le plaisir d’apprendre avec les autres, de vivre ensemble et de se construire, dans la classe coopérative
Samia CHARMI – L’Auto-ECOLE de Saint-Denis
John SIVELL – Freinet on Practical Classrom Organization

Éducation, civilité, citoyenneté
Hugh STARKEY – Freinet and Citizenship Education
Jacques PAIN -  Des initiatives dans la classe pour réduire la violence à l’école : la pédagogie institutionnelle

La dimension internationale : présence et absence de Freinet
Nicholas BEATTIE – Freinet and the Anglo-Saxons
William B. LEE – The Ecole Moderne, an International Movement. What are the Ingredients for Successful Export ?
Tsunéo FURUSAWA – Pourquoi les enseignants du Japon ont-ils accueilli la pédagogie Freinet ?

De l’école primaire à l’université
Roger AUFFRAND – Freinet dans (?) le système « éducatif » ( ?) français
David CLANFIELD – Using Freinet Pedagogy in a University Environment : Challenges, Frustrations and Happy Outcomes



Challenges, Frustrations and Happy Outcomes

David Clanfield, University of Toronto, Canada

The challenge is to find the right balance when discussing ways to use Freinet’s instructional principles and techniques in a university setting. On the one hand, when we examine today’s universities critically, it is difficult to imagine a less hospitable setting for Freinet pedagogy than the contemporary undergraduate programs that I know. On the other hand, it can be argued that the university offers more opportunities for Freinet networks to develop and flourish than any other educational institution. So either the project is impossible or else it is banal and self-evident.

This paper will begin with the critique, plunge into the ways in which Freinet-like principles and techniques can inform university classrooms, and then conclude on a more upbeat note. Viewed in a critical light, higher education may be described in the following terms. Universities have as their task to initiate young adults, and older ones, into the closed world of scholarship--the network of members of the academy among whom existing knowledge circulates most freely. Universities also acquaint these same adults with the research methods that permit the creation of new knowledge, much of which also circulates most freely within that same community. At the same time, it must be recalled that universities offer an education that is neither compulsory nor open to all. So this initiation into a privileged world effectively selects, forms and sorts the elites who will maintain the academy and promote its values and understandings in the broader society as leaders and exemplars. Universities are accordingly exclusive, self-reproducing institutions that inevitably feed on and contribute to inequalities embedded in their broader social context. In today’s world, this system is gradually being diverted from the essentially liberal values (encyclopædic and curiosity-driven) it formerly claimed for itself and being moored in the harbour of business interests, where funding for research is tied to the purposes of industry and business, and where private interests are claiming an increasing role in the setting of standards and choices. Within this broad framework, we can detect the emergence of a range of imperatives that are dictating the future development of our universities.  They appear to be quite incompatible with the principles of co-operation, equity and critical thought characteristic of Freinet pedagogy.


Students compete for admission, for financial aid, and for good examination results. Although these have always been with us in one way or another, the emphasis on competition is increasing. Older entitlements such as grants are now disappearing in favour of merit-driven scholarships, and greater reliance is being placed on the ranking of students’ numerical results than on broad-banded achievement levels. Detailed marks transcripts are being given more weight than before. An example from my home jurisdiction (Ontario, Canada), consideration is now being given to requiring multi-year marks transcripts from high-school students seeking university admission. Modular credit schemes within universities, where individual courses generate individual marks, the production of detailed transcripts of marks by course replaces older schemes that led to promotion by qualifying examination (on a pass/fail basis) and broad-banded descriptors of exit credentials.  All these changes facilitate more competitive ranking than before.

Academics compete more aggressively for research grants, which are dwindling in size and number and whose criteria are becoming more complex and more stringent. In keeping with the motivational techniques of modern management, professors now compete annually for merit pay and awards that acknowledge “excellent” performance. Such competitions are adjudicated by the use of numerical data derived from standardized questionnaires, or the numbers of published pages, or the amount of research money brought into the host university.  With the spread of annual “league” tables based on quantitative performance indicators, the institutions themselves now compete more overtly with one another to come top, and will vie with one another to secure the use of statistical indicators showing them in the best light. The stakes are high, since the rankings affect recruitment, charitable donations and research contract awards. In Britain, the results of such competitive ranking can lead to the closing of programs. And yet, while universities may be critical of a reliance on selective numerical data, they take full advantage of high rankings for their own marketing purposes.

Individual rights

 Traditionally the emphasis that the academy placed on individual human rights was directed towards protecting academic freedom and allowing the publication of unwelcome data or interpretations without institutional sanctions. This is now being eroded, and official attention is turning instead to possessive individualism in relation to knowledge. The public good is thus ceding ground to intellectual property rights as a focus of institutional interest. In addition, definitions of plagiarism and cheating are being codified and expanded in ways that discourage or even punish collaboration. And the large convocation ceremonies that welcomed large numbers of students into the ranks of degree-holders are increasingly augmented by award ceremonies that single out individuals for special awards.


University systems that once resisted the standardized testing for admissions (routinely used in the US) are turning to it now, or are moving back to a reliance on centralized examinations. International efforts are being made to harmonize curricula either nationally or internationally. The goal is ostensibly to enhance movement between universities for students but it serves just as importantly to globalise credentialling to facilitate international recruitment to higher education or the workplace.


Accountability refers here to responding to the demands of central authorities for intermittent knowledge at a distance, rather than the more rounded knowledge that is available through direct experience and daily contact. Examples of this are found in the expansion of standardised systems of annual performance review for employees (academic or non-academic), numerical performance indicators expressible in tabular or graphic formats, and the cyclical reviews of divisions by peers or outside experts.

Service to business

The service university is rapidly eroding the humanist values of the older liberal university. Direct service to the demands of employers, especially those in the private sector, leads to the current shift in emphasis to professional training and to skills development, especially in fields given high priority in the new information age (mathematics, science and technology). The service university is more closely linked with industry for the funding of research, and private or corporate philanthropy is often accompanied with guarantees of influence in policy and planning.

Replication of business

The public university is incrementally yielding to demands that it be run along private business lines. This accounts for the time academics now spend on crafting mission statements or strategic plans, and publishing annual reports. Concepts such as profit centre accounting and statistical process control are being consolidated. Restructuring initiatives that promote responsibility-centre management and budgeting, along with the delayering of management are also part of this.

Institutional opacity

Few staff members (academic or non-academic) and fewer students are aware of the decision-making processes, the budget details, the policy-setting environment of their own institutions. So while accountability to central authorities or external decision-making bodies proceeds apace, administrative officers themselves find it difficult to share power with those most directly involved in their day-to-day operation.

Expert authority

The professoriate continues to use the master lecture, either in large lecture halls or for distance education. The emphasis on numerical grading with an elaborate appeal structure places responsibility for evaluation upon the expert instructor. In seminars, the instructor still takes the chair, determines the agenda and assigns the tasks. In classes where considerable interaction is anticipated, the prevailing format is the radial classroom with the instructor at the hub.

So how can Freinet pedagogy fit into such an inhospitable environment? The author’s experience was developed in two fields of university teaching, French and cinema studies.

Second-language teaching in a university Department of French posed the challenge of highly heterogeneous classes, heterogeneous with respect to mother tongue, ethnocultural background, and prior language learning experiences and patterns. The recent evolution of Cinema Studies and Cultural Studies has focused attention on the expression of collective identities. Here again, the heterogeneity of the learners presents a challenge, since the learners’ perspectives on questions of collective identity vary considerably.

In such cases, approaches that disseminate knowledge from a single perspective will be of limited value, and it is only through collaborative learning and a careful attention to the diverse interests and experiences of the learners that progress can be made. The author’s presence in a college that houses programs in Women’s Studies, African Studies and Caribbean Studies has increased interactions with people who go much further than in tying learning (and teaching) to personal development, community service, and advocacy for social justice. It is here that ways can be found for universities to keep alive Freinet’s techniques and priorities, even as contrary principles become powerful adversaries.

The following approaches are essential to this pedagogy and can be seen as antidotes to some of the imperatives that are attempting to shape universities today.

Collaborative learning

In place of the competitive, individualist classroom with its grading and ranking of learners, its solitary work, and its silence during class exercises, a collaboratively-run class engages small groups of learners inside and outside the classroom, assigns shared grades, and involves learners in their own evaluation. Collaborative writing at the university level can include cross-student editing, progressive exchanges of drafts, and the preparation of joint work for circulation to the whole class. In the language class, the kinds of perception and processing of language required in dictation, can be acquired more quickly and meaningfully if done in collaborative pairs or groups.

Collectively useful work

In place of secretive preparation, training exercises, and disposable work, the Freinet instructor encourages learner publication, class presentations, and the creation of materials that will be of interest or use to other learners. The instrumental service character of the university changes when the beneficiaries of the service are those who have joined the community of learning as daily participants, rather than those whose interests lie beyond that community. And more importantly accountability changes, too. In the place of measurements and indicators that act as proxies for direct knowledge, useful learning tools and artefacts stand as eloquent testimony to learning successfully accomplished. Bibliographies of works available in local library collections along with their call numbers, or locations from which useful videos can be obtained or rented, will be useful for other students in the class, and serve as a basis for future updates.

Differentiated learning

By means of needs assessments, interest surveys, and a customized program of study, heterogeneous classes can begin to learn together. This objective operates against simple filtering mechanisms that create biases in admissions and outcomes; standardization seems less important once differences are acknowledged and accommodated. If the motivations for learning a language vary in a class, then the kinds of assignments undertaken will vary, too. If the pattern of strengths and weaknesses varies in a class, then the kinds of language learning activities chosen will vary, too.

Natural learning

In place of rationalized programmed learning, motivation will come from the learner’s own interest. This is accessible to the instructor through surveys, and from informed choices that the learner makes, especially when the personal and cultural identity of the learner is allowed full rein. The opportunity to develop a course web-sites (or part of one) can be a powerful motivator for students who develop a related skill while carrying it out; the outcome will be published material that can be of interest and value to others, particularly for learners who may be considering the study of this in future years.

Learning and advocacy

The most committed of our teachers allow learning to be incorporated into advocacy for social change beyond the classroom. Community workers or representatives of advocacy groups might be invited to the class regularly.  Community contact assignments will give credit for social activism and collateral participatory research methods can be acquired while working on such assignments. This seems to be one of the surest ways to prevent universities from becoming the training wing of the corporate world.

Institutional knowledge and criticism

Using the techniques of institutional pedagogy, classes can agree collectively on class organization and regulation, resolve disputes or petitions, and learn how to organize for institutional change. The study of a question such as bias, say, could extend into the biases in the resources available to help them study. Learners can take their critical analysis into other university work, breaking boundaries between disciplines, or challenging institutional emphasis on competitive ethics. Journaling is a risky activity for the student who lacks the self-motivation to execute it. But if there is a project to carry through to a definable term, and that project is of vital interest to the learner (because it affects their own immediate environment), then every encouragement should be given.

Re-defined role of instructor

No longer the sanctioned expert, the instructor becomes the institutional mediator, the activity organizer, the provider of tools, occasional expert resource, and the provisional synthesizer.

All of these currently exist, and in most Anglo-Saxon universities, they do so without the slightest notion that there is a coherent network of teachers supporting and promoting these principles and techniques. They are embedded in the relationships that develop among researchers (the community of scholars), or between academics and their graduate students.

If we attempt to extend these principles and techniques to a broader undergraduate experience, what evidence is there that the new service university with its free-market business outlook will not stamp out these initiatives?

The answer lies, I believe, in the apparently contradictory beliefs that already exist within that outlook. The post-Fordist workplace, which holds a privileged place within the “jobless recovery”, and the “new economy” both promote some of the values we are describing here. The high value granted to flexibility, innovation, collaboration, front-line responsibilization, intercultural communication, and global perspectives is well-known. These management principles and techniques are, to be sure, not essentially linked to the common good but to corporate profitability. But extended critically to an understanding of the workplace as an institution, or to an understanding of life in the society that encompasses it, Freinet’s principles and techniques can become tools with which a new generation will be able to challenge the status quo.

The key question in all of this is the Grail question: whom does it serve? Analytical thought, collective action, experimental method, information technologies: all of these are powerful instruments. They are being harnessed for the use of corporate elites, and the university offers a fertile ground for their development. If there are networks of instructors committed to making sure that these principles and techniques serve a broader public interest, with a commitment to equity and social justice underlying them, then there is hope that the university can still nourish the seeds of genuine social progress, both in opening up the university itself and in making a better world for all. That is what the Freinet pedagogy movement could hope to achieve in higher education.

Contact de l'auteur :


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