alternatives éducatives : des écoles, collèges & lycées différents
| Changer l'école | Des écoles différentes ? Oui, mais ... pas trop ! Appel pour des éts innovants et coopératifs |

2018 ?                                       ... 2118 ?
Une autre école est-elle possible?


I Colloque Freinet à ... Londres I
I Freinet dans (?) le système "éducatif" (?) français ? I
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

What are the ingredients for successful import?

William B. LEE
University of Southern California USA

"La Pédagogie Freinet est, par essence, internationale."


 This is one of the ten principles contained in the Charte de l'Ecole Moderne. This document was adopted by the Congress of the Ecole Moderne in 1968 less than 2 years after the death of Freinet and with the clear intention of reaffirming the direction of the movement established by Freinet during his lifetime. This Charter has been reprinted several times in official publications since then, most recently in the special issue of the Nouvel Educateur in September 1996 celebrating the centennial of the birth of Freinet (pp. 44, 45).

 The internationalization of the movement is easily verified by referring to the May 1996 Multilettre of Fédération Internationale des Mouvements de l'Ecole Moderne (FIMEM) which lists 33 groups representing 29 nations on 4 continents. Yet among the glaring omissions is the United States and incidentally the country hosting this conference Great Britain.

 Over the years I have been asked by members of the Ecole Moderne the reasons for this void. I attempted  to explain it in a presentation entitled " The Ecole Moderne Why Not in the United States?" at Valbonne in August 1996 at the Congress of the Institut Coopératif de l'Ecole Moderne (ICEM) marking the centennial of Freinet's birth. This paper was later summarized in the December 1996 issue of the Nouvel Educateur (pp.25-26). In it I explained that the historical and contemporary context giving rise to the Ecole Moderne in France simply does not exist in the United States.

 There are four aspects of this context:

1. The metaphor of the craftsman and his tools

2. A social activist view of child centered education.

3. A governmental structure that permits and even encourages innovation.

4. The phenomenom of the pédagogue and the politique.

 In this paper I am continuing my effort of trying to understand why Freinet pedagogy flourishes in some countries and not in others and in doing so the risky endeavor of trying to answer the question posed in the sub-title of this paper
« What are the ingredients for successful export? »

Familiar ideas and concepts

 Many of the ideas of Freinet are well known in the United States and some even part of the mainstream tradition but, and I emphasize, there is no educational movement comparable to the Ecole Moderne. These ideas are familiar to most American educators as they bear  an uncanny resemblance to those of the American philosopher and educator John Dewey (1859-1952). Their ideas correspond so closely that I admit with some embarrassment that for many years I and other professors at the university showed the film "Ecole Buissonière" as a fictional illustration of Dewey's educational philosophy in practice. It was not until the spring of 1973 that I stumbled on the truth. While visiting a school near Metz where I was shown a Freinet classroom similar to the one in the film with children working cooperatively in small groups, the wall brightly decorated with their art work and of course with a printing press in the corner. It was then that I suddenly and rather belatedly discovered that the film was not fiction but rather was based on actual people and about real-life events.

I have identified eleven basic principles that are common to both men.

1. One can not have a  democratic society without democratic schools.

2. The school should not be isolated from the everyday life of the community.

3. The human and physical resources of the community should be utilized by the school.

4. Parents should be actively involved in the education of their children.

5. The starting point of instruction should be the experiences, needs and interests of the child.

6. The child has both the right and the ability to make important decisions about his or her learning.

7 The teacher should be concerned with the whole child, social, psychomotor, and affective dimensions as well as intellectual.

8. The role of the teacher is to facilitate the learning of the child and not to dispense information.

9. Cooperative rather than competitive activities should be encouraged.

10. The time focus should be on the present. Learning about the past is an important means to understand the present.

11. The scientific method provides a working model for all levels of education.

 While there is not a consensus about these principles in the United States certainly the majority of both progressive and conservative educators would agree with most of them especially those dealing with the important role to be played by the community and by parents (2, 3 & 4) and with the necessity of the child to be involved in his or her own learning (5)

 Given a similar reservoir of ideas one might reasonably expect similar educational movements in the two countries and there would be a counterpart movement to the Ecole Moderne in the United States which of course there is not. It may be necessary but is simply not sufficient that the ideas be well known and even widely accepted.

Metaphor of the craftsman and his tools

 One of the ingredients present in France and missing in the United States is the appeal of the metaphor of the craftsman. This metaphor so eloquent and compelling to the militants of the Ecole Moderne does not have the same resonance and meaning for American educators. The craftsman of the middle ages is not part of our national history and today would imply an apprenticeship system which is often criticized as being for lower class youngsters and therefore perpetuating social class divisions.

 In France this is not the case. The teacher as a craftsman or artisan is a powerful and unifying metaphor for the Ecole Moderne, now and during Freinet's lifetime. Shortly before his death Freinet summarized the significance of the tools and techniques of the Ecole Moderne.

Listen to how contemporary they sound in 1997.

I sometimes hear it said -"the materials are not everything, it is the spirit that is essential and you can introduce the spirit of the Ecole Moderne in your class without the tools and techniques.


All of our pedagogy is based on tools and techniques. It is they that modify the atmosphere of your class, therefore your own behavior and makes possible the spirit of liberation and learning that is the raison d'être of our innovations (C. Freinet, 1975, p. 100)

 The teacher needs specialized outils and even more urgently than other artisans for his raw material, the child, is infinitely more complex. And who will be responsible for developing these outils?

 Again it is Freinet who said it best more than 50 years ago.

We are not theorists, but practitioners.  Practitioners who like other artisans at their work benches, sometimes with limited theoretical knowledge, invent and perfect their tools, devise special processes, techniques of the trade that they manage later to systematize in order to offer them [tools and techniques] to their colleagues.... (Freinet, 1969, p.72)

 Members of the Ecole Moderne, today and during Freinet's lifetime attach the highest priority and an extraordinary sense of urgency to developing tools and techniques to modernize the traditional school.

 A strong artisanal tradition is certainly one of the ingredients facilitating the creation of an Ecole Moderne.

A social activist view of child centered education

 Americans tend to have a very narrow view of child centered education, one that an eminent American historian has called school bound (L. Cremin, 1974).  While it is true that many, perhaps most, of American elementary teachers try to create humane and caring classrooms during the five or six hours of the school day, they tend to neglect the child's life after school and beyond the boundaries of the school.  Elise Freinet had a caustic description for this approach. She said that it was like "bringing flowers to prisoners." (E, Freinet, 1977, p. 38)

 For Freinet a clear and obvious link exists between a child's well being in and out of school. If social injustices like hunger, poor housing, and racism prevent a child from learning at school is it not also apparent that it affects him at home and in the community? Can one be truly child centered without being a social activist?

Again one turns to Freinet:

Pedagogically and morally speaking, we do not have the right to ignore the errors and injustices (of society) which affect the child beyond our (the school’s) supervision and responsibility... (C. Freinet, 1969, p.25)

 These contrasting views of child centered education can be explained at least partially by America's more benevolent view toward the capitalistic system. Even those joining organizations to combat societal injustices do so in the hopes of increasing individual or group opportunities within the existing economic system and not to dismantle it. In the United States there is still the optimism that individuals can better themselves through individual effort and hard work. This belief is coupled with a deep distrust of governmental solutions which are seen as worsening rather than improving the situation.

A governmental structure that permits and even encourages innovation.

 Another ingredient for successful export is a governmental structure that permits and even encourages innovation. Permits innovation? Is this possible in France with its centralized, hierarchial structure of education? with its reputation for rigidity ? and where the single best known anecdote, probably apocryphal, is Napoleon's Minister of Education looking at his watch and knowing  precisely what French school children would be studying at that moment?

 In France at least there are certain virtues to centralization. One is that it insulates the innovator from the interference of local officials who are more likely to be more resistant to change than are central authorities. Local pressures are futile because everyone knows that the major decisions are made in Paris and it is there rather than the local school where pressure must be brought to bear. In North America centralization is equated with loss of freedom but this is clearly not true in France. And after all one may ask why should control that is far away be more inhibiting than control that is nearby?

 Another advantage is distance. Paris is a great distance from most schools and official directives (more about directives later) must travel to the provinces through multiple layers of bureaucracy into schools and classrooms before the teachers are to comply with them. In this transit sometimes the essence or even the substance is diluted or even lost. A commission of the Association of Teachers of History and Geography recently met to evaluate the first year of the new program and some of the teachers were unaware of its existence [Lee, 1992].

 A trait which is perhaps uniquely and inimitably French and probably can not be duplicated is what is known as the Système D. The "Système D" is a French expression that assumes unreasonable restrictions and unnecessary obstacles and admires someone who is able to work through and around them. Débrouillard is, after all, a term of respect. The French have always had to work within hierarchial systems that tend to be rigid and inflexible: the monarchy, the church and currently the centralized state. And some would say have perfected the ability to do so.

 Even though these official directives may be difficult to enforce and easy to evade, evasive tactics are not necessary according to Freinet. In a remarkable document published in 1963 (Freinet 1963) he begins with the statement

We are fortunate in France to benefit from Ministerial Directives that far from being restrictive and limiting are open to common sense, intelligence and progress. (p.1)

 He continues by citing more two dozen specific official ministry directives for the elementary school that support the initiatives of the Ecole Moderne. They range in time from the one in 1910 that cautions against an early emphasis on grammar (p.12) to 1957 that advocates active methods in history ..."based on the observation of texts, documents and pictures" (p.17). However the majority of them were from 1923, a date carefully selected to coincide with the very beginning of the movement. Following are four examples:

in all teaching begin with concrete objects avoid abstraction (p.3)

utilize active methods (p.6)

look for situations where children can practice self government(p.6) [English in the original]

incorporate the classe promenade into the community as a regular part of the instructional program (p.15)

 From these facts Freinet concludes that it is he and his followers who comply with the spirit and the letter of the official directives and the conservative practices of traditional educators who violate them.  He further sees the tools and techniques of the Ecole Moderne as the bridge between the progressive instructions of the Ministry and the resistance of traditional educators.

 This strange partnership of Ministerial directives and the practices of the Ecole Moderne continues. The ambitious Reform Act of 1989 once again recommends a more active, indidualized and child-centered approach and  Every issue of the 91-92 Le Nouvel Educateur had at least one article calling attention to the similarities between governmental reforms and Freinet pedagogy. One of the most important of these is re-organizing the elementary school into two, three year cycles to combat the notorious failure rate in the elementary school where historically about half of the French children repeated at least one grade. Now children stay with their age group for the entire cycle with no failure possible after a single year although it may take 4 years instead of three to complete. This of course recognizes individual patterns of learning and permits each child to learn at his or her own pace without fear of failure at the end of a single year.

 Another tangible result of the reform is the more readily available information about the Ecole Moderne at Teacher Training Colleges and the increased number of teacher trainees visiting Freinet classrooms to observe ministerial directives in action.

 To realize the extent to which Freinet pedagogy is now mainstream (at least in official directives) consider the statement of Francois Bayrou the current Minister of Education during the centennial of the birth of Freinet in 1996 (Bayrou, 1996). He begins by pondering the paradox of a Minister of Education of a conservative government honoring an educator who 60 years earlier was forced out of public education by the Minister of Public Instruction under the pressure of extremist right wing deputies. He continues by saying that it is even more paradoxical that today Freinet is universally honored while during his lifetime he was hated and persecuted by so many.

 He lauds Freinet calling us all his heirs. While carefully distancing himself from Freinet's political activist views he points out the ideas of Freinet that should be objectives for all educators: the child be at the center of the educational system (i.e. not the teacher nor the subject matter) and that teachers should respect the child's own rate of development.

Pivotal role of the inspectors

 The inspecteur plays a pivotal role in the French educational system. He or she is attached to the departmental académie or the regional rectorat with the responsibility of overseeing the implementation of the national curriculum. They can also be selective about which directives are to be enforced and which are to be ignored.  Illustrating this is the national policy on homework.  Every single Minister of Education since 1956 has forbidden homework in the primary school (grades 1-5), the latest being Francois Bayrou who officially announced the ban on television in September 1994. Although parents are divided on the issue one group who complained to the teacher assigning homework was told that it was the inspecteur's  decision and that the policy was not to be implemented this year but rather at some undetermined time in the future. The response did not satisfy one parent who said that if he disobeyed the orders of his boss he would be fired. (Delwasse, L. 1994).

 It is also the inspecteur who evaluates the teacher rather than the local administrator who is not thought to be sufficiently knowledgeable in all of the grade levels or academic disciplines that he or she supervises. The receptivity of the inspecteur to any innovative approach is of course critical. Some are hostile in which case a teacher's persistence could slow down his professional advancement or even jeopardize his career.

 The attitude of the members of the Ecole Moderne toward inspecteurs is decidedly mixed. Inspecteurs can be supportive and occasionally be members of ICEM. Such was the case with Roger Ueberschlag who was until his retirement an inspecteur primaire, a president of FIMEM, and still writes occasional columns for the Nouvel Educateur.

 This dilemma is currently being played out on the Internet the Freinet list (currently In March and April 1997 one of the most frequently mentioned topics was the support - or lack of it - of the inspecteur. While many complained about open hostility others testified of the encouragement and support. One teacher even declared that in 15 years of teaching he had 4 inspectors and every one of them had been supportive.

Pédagogues and politiques

 Since the time of Freinet these two ingredients, the metaphor of the craftsman and the social activist view of child centered education have represented two distinct groups the pédagogues and the politiques. The pédagogues are the craftsmen who are attracted to the movement because of a dissatisfaction with their own teaching which they hope to improve through the tools and techniques of the Ecole Moderne. Often they feel isolated because they come from villages, small towns or from schools with all traditional teachers. Participation in the monthly meetings of the city or department with the informal shop talk and the more structured in-service conducted by members provides a sort of a moral support to carry on in face of the indifference or hostility of their colleagues. In terms of political parties they could be relatively conservative, so engrossed with their own teaching that awareness of injustices within society are a secondary concern, or believing that their resolution is best accomplished by other societal institutions.

 The politiques are attracted to the movement because they consider the social, economic and political factors affecting the life of the child out of school more important than a new tool or technique to improve the teaching of math or reading.

 The editorials of the Nouvel Educateur, routinely reflect these broader societal issues. Two recent examples. The editorial of October 1996 is entitled Honte et Colère (Shame and Anger). It asks how else can one view France the country of universal human rights except in shame and anger: where one can die of hunger or cold in a country without a social safety net? and where the government can forcibly enter a church to seize and forcibly repatriate illegal immigrants whose only crime was to want to live in France? It concludes that one need not be Utopian to recognize that these conditions are unacceptable. (Bizieau  N & Fouquer, J-M)

 The second example is the editorial of December 96 Changer l'école Changer la société (Change the school, change society). It deplores a government that is dismantling the national heritage [public sector] for private interests which benefit only the privileged few. It asks if France should emulate Great Britain (the example could well be the United States) where one child in three lives in poverty? It cautions that this could well happen in France given the increasing number of children whose parents can no longer afford to pay for their lunches at the school cantines. It concludes by pleading for a social model that is neither capitalistic nor the defunct socialism of the former Eastern bloc nations. (Bizieau, N & Fouquer, J-M)

 The emphasis on both classroom and the societal issues are usually found in separate, often mutually exclusive and even antagonistic organizations. Not so with the Ecole Moderne.  Members recognize the importance of both classroom pedagogy and social activism; if not they never would have joined the Ecole Moderne in the first place as there are many educational and political organizations in France primarily concerned with one or the other. Rather than being divisive the Ecole Moderne is seemingly energized by the union of the pédagogue and the politique.

 Freinet was at home with either group, being both pédagogue and politique. No one could be more ferocious than he in denouncing societal injustices and the avarice of those in power nor more patient and gentle in trying to cajole a hide-bound traditional teacher to try new approaches. For him both were important. He put it this way:

If we had to choose between our educational efforts and our social and political militancy it would be difficult to make a decision.( E. Freinet 1969, p. 205)

 Freinet during his lifetime nurtured this fragile link between these potentially disruptive tendencies reminding each of the higher good - the well being of the child. Note the gentle irony of this statement made in 1935, reminding members of the unity of the movement.

We don't understand the comrades following the new pedagogy (child centered) without worrying about the out-of-school problems social problems - but neither do we understand educators who are passionate militants (in solving social problems) and remain conservative in the classrooms. ( E. Freinet 1969, pp. 241-242)

 One is tempted to dismiss this unusual organizational mixture of the pédagogue and the politique as the result of the genius of one man. Yet if this were true how does one explain the continued existence of this vigorous reform movement in 1997 more than 30 years after Freinet's death? Today as during his lifetime the Ecole Moderne rallies both the pédagogues and the politiques, the craftsmen whose priorities are the outils to improve and humanize learning and the social activists who insist on confronting societal injustices affecting the life of the child beyond the boundaries of the school. This unity is also reflected on the Internet in 1997. While the majority of the topics dealt with pedagogical issues, especially those involving adapting technology in the classroom, there are also calls to action, the latest in May appealing for members to protest the appearance of the extremist Jean-Marie LePen at an election rally.

 Nothing better illustrates this continuity and vitality than the theme of  the centennial congress at Valbonne in August 1996 "Freinet-ICEM un choix pédagogique, un engagement social et politique" (Freinet-ICEM a pedagogical choice, a social and political commitment).

Contact de l'auteur :

Bayrou, F. (1996) Message de Monsieur Bayrou. Amis de Freinet et de son mouvement, 66, 24.

Bizieau, N & Fouquer, J-M, (1996a) Honte et Colère.  Le Nouvel Educateur, 82, 2.

Bizieau, N & Fouquer, J-M, (1996b) Changer l'école, changer la société. Le Nouvel Educateur, 84, 2.

Cremin, L . (1961) The Transformation of the School. New York: Random House,Vintage Books.

Cremin, L.(1974) The Free School Movement-A Perspective. Today's Education, 63, 71-74.

Delwasse, L. (1994) Etude ou pas étude. Le Monde de l'éducation, 202, 8.

Dewey, J. (1963). Experience and Education. New York: Collier Books.

Dewey, J. (1964). Democracy and Education. New York: The Macmillan Company.

Fédération Internationale des Mouvements de l'Ecole Moderne (FIMEM). Multilettre, May 1996, 24.

Freinet, C. (1963). Références aux Instructions Ministérielles. L'éducateur May 1963, (Supplément) 1-25.

Freinet, C. (1969). Pour l'école du peuple (combines two previously published books, Ecole moderne francaise, 1943 and Invariants pédagogiques, 1964). Paris: Francois Maspero.

Freinet, C.(1970) Les dits de Mathieu. (3rd ed.) Neuchatel, Switzerland: Delachaux et Niestlé.

Freinet, C. (1975). Les techniques Freinet de l'école moderne (7th ed.). Paris: Armand Colin.

Freinet, C. (1993). Education through work. (J. Sivell, Trans.). Lewiston NY: Edwin Mellen Press. (Original work published in 1949 and revised in 1967.)

Freinet, C.(1990) The wisdom of Matthew. (J.Sivell, Trans.) Lewiston, NY: Edwin Mellen Press. (Original work published in 1959).

Freinet, E.(1969) Naissance d'une pédagogie populaire. Paris: Francois Maspero.

Freinet, E.(1977) L'itinéraire de Célestin Freinet. Paris: Payot.

Institut Coopératif de l'Ecole Moderne (ICEM). (1996). La charte de l'Ecole Moderne. Le Nouvel Educateur, 81, 44-45.

Lee, W. B.(1980) Ecole Moderne Pédagogie Freinet:  Educational Bonesetters.  Phi Delta Kappan, 61, 341-345.

Lee, W.B. (1983a) Célestin Freinet: The Unknown Reformer. Educational Forum, 48, 97-113.

Lee, W. (1983b) The Child Centered Radicalism of the Ecole Moderne. Journal of Abstracts in International Education,12 (1), 7-27.

Lee, W.B. & Dumas, W. (1992)  History During the French Lycée Terminale Year: An Unexpected Reform. The History Teacher, 25 (2), 183-189.

Lee, W.B.(1993) Freinet Pedagogy: An Alternative Approach to Traditional Schools. Canadian Social Studies, 27 (4),146-151.

Lee, W.B. (1994)  John Dewey and Celestin Freinet: A Closer Look. In J. Sivell (Ed) Freinet Pedagogy Theory and Practice. (pp. 13-26) Lewiston, NY : Edwin Mellen Press.

Lee,  W.B. (1994).  Freinet pedagogy. In C. Chamberlin (Ed)  Don't tell us it can't be done: Alternative Classrooms in Canada and abroad. Toronto: Althouse & Our Schools/ Ourselves.

Lee, W.B. & Kazlauskas, E. (1995) The Ecole Moderne: Another perspective on educational technology. Educational Technology, 35 (2), 14-20.

Lee, W.B. (1996). John Dewey et la pédagogie de Célestin Freinet. Tracer (9), 49-51.

Lee, W.B. (1996) Etats-Unis: le vide. Le Nouvel Educateur (84), 25-26.

| Le nouveau sirop-typhon : déplacements de populations ? chèque-éducation ? ou non-scolarisation ? |
| Pluralisme scolaire et "éducation alternative" | Jaune devant, marron derrière : du PQ pour le Q.I. |
| Le lycée "expérimental" de Saint-Nazaire | Le collège-lycée "expérimental" de Caen-Hérouville|
| L'heure de la... It's time for ... Re-creation | Freinet dans (?) le système "éducatif" (?) |
| Changer l'école | Des écoles différentes ? Oui, mais ... pas trop !| L'école Vitruve |
| Colloque Freinet à ... Londres | Des écoles publiques "expérimentales" |
| 68 - 98 : les 30 P-l-eureuses | Et l'horreur éducative ? |