alternative éducative : une école différente
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2018 ?                                       ... 2118 ?
Une autre école est-elle possible?

I Actes du Séminaire International Freinet de 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

Actes du Séminaire International Freinet de Londres



on the part played by psychology in school

Liliane MAURY,
Centre National de la Recherche Scientifique, Paris

Freinet's pedagogical work, in spite of its internal continuity, can be studied from several points of view.

For instance, his pedagogical experiment can be studied by itself, as it developed between 1920 and 1933. This was done by Freinet's wife, Elise Freinet, in two books published in the seventies: L'école Freinet, réserve d'enfants ( Freinet school, children's reservation) and La naissance d'une pédagogie populaire ( The birth of a popular pedagogy).

One may also study Freinet's pedagogical contribution, especially the very original active method he developed, starting with the use of the school printing workshop. From this strictly pedagogical and institutional point of view, Freinet's contribution cannot be ignored. The booklets of the "Bibliothèque de Travail" ("Work Library") are a very valuable tool for teachers of elementary schools and even of secondary schools.

Lastly, it is possible to trace the development of the "Freinet movement", and the way it endured, adapting to new school conditions.

All this goes to show the wealth of a pedagogical endeavour which, although precisely situated in space and time -  it took place in France between world wars I and II - still gives food for thought about school in general.

Our aim here is to look at that work under a narrower - and maybe  less rewarding - angle. With the help of Freinet's theoretical writings - especially L'Education du Travail ("Work teaching", 1947) and L'Essai de psychologie sensible appliquée à l'éducation ("Essay of sensation psychology applied to education") which is his last book - we would like to analyze the deep and political objectives at the roots of this work. These objectives are summarized very clearly by Freinet himself in a lapidary formula:  he rebels against "culture capitalism".

In order to make this analysis more factual, we shall confront Freinet's way of looking at school with that of another leading actor of French school politics of the same period : the psychologist Henri Wallon. Freinet and Wallon met very late, around 1950. They adopted opposite views in the question of the part psychology can play at school, and its relationship with pedagogy. But this technical disagreement reveals a deeper difference. Freinet and Wallon have different conceptions of school, especially of the part it plays in society.

A short introduction about Wallon may be useful, as he is probably still less familiar than Freinet to the British public.

Wallon (who died in 1962) was a little older than Freinet. He was born in 1872 in a well-to-do republican family. His grandfather, a teacher of History who was Michelet's disciple, took an active part in the birth of the Third Republic - under which was created the French elementary school (l'école primaire, which is free, compulsory and non-religious).

Wallon studied philosophy at the turn of the century, in a country deeply divided over the Dreyfus trial. This led him to join the socialist party, whose leader was then Jaurès. Intending to be a psychologist - psychology in France was still in its infancy at the time - Wallon rounded off his philosophical studies by training in medicine and psychiatry.

He specialized in Child psychology, and was given in 1936 - under the Front Populaire - a chair of "Education and psychology" at the College de France.

It is easy to see that everything separates Wallon and Freinet: the former's bourgeois family, his higher education background and, above all, his high situation in the hierarchy of the school system. Freinet always liked to describe himself as a "primaire". In spite of this, a very important thing pulls them together: they both admire the soviet revolution, and believe, as many intellectuals of the time, that it is the future of society. In this new society to come, schools must be different. But paradoxically, it is on this very point that both men oppose each other. It may perhaps be wondered nowadays, after the passage of time, and after the recent political changes, whether the controversy between Freinet and Wallon was not a kind of political misunderstanding.

At first, and on the surface at least, they disagree about psychology. For Freinet, after having at the start of his career rebelled against psychological theories which impose their point of view on teachers, ends up practising this ill-defined branch of activity. He writes, as we have seen, a book on psychology. More exactly, he tends to turn  pedagogy into a kind of psychology. According to him, school and teacher must "shape the child's personality".

Wallon does not admit this encroachment of one discipline over the other. On the contrary, if he wishes psychology to play a part in school, it is a separate and technical part. This may be made clearer by an example.

Wallon is the author, with the physicist Paul Langevin, of a project of school reform. This project, known as the "plan Langevin-Wallon",  was made public in 1947. It advocates "one system, from kindergarten to university".

In this system, elementary school - which Freinet wants to transform - is only one step, even if it is the first and most important, in a much larger institution. This is why the project starts with a common cursus for all pupils.

In a second cycle - from twelve to fifteen or so - the teaching is twofold. It continues with the common cursus, but it adds many optional subjects. It is at this level, according to Wallon, that psychology must play its part, in the choice between these options. This cycle is thus called the "observation cycle". In Wallon's opinion, psychology should make it possible to coordinate  individual aptitudes with school subjects on the one hand, and on the other with the skills and technical abilities that will be required later in professional life. This is why he advocates the institution of a "school orientation" - not to be confused with "professional orientation", which can only take place later, and outside the school. Lastly, and this is probably the most delicate distinction to be made, this orientation must not be reduced to a mere selection.

In the last school cycle, teaching is specialized, without being professional training.

One cannot help thinking that this project, which was never put into practice, has more to do with utopia than with reality. It postulates psychology's ability to really detect the interests and aptitudes of the individual, which is far from being proved. Above all it takes for granted that school leads to a well defined professional life. But unrealistic as it is, this project helps to discuss questions which are very prominent these days, for instance that of the "professionalization of the universities".

As we already mentioned, this disagreement on psychology hides another much more fundamental disagreement, over elementary school and its role in society.

Between Freinet and Wallon, two incompatible conceptions of elementary school are in opposition. For Wallon, it is the first step to university. The question is to organize it in such a way that a maximum of pupils reach this goal, and above all in such a way that their success be just, and not  based only on family standing. This drive to universalize instruction is an inheritance of the eighteenth century, and of the French Revolution. Schools of the Third Republic - compulsory, free and non-religious - have aimed at realizing this goal.

Freinet, on the contrary, looks upon elementary school as a separate entity. He criticizes its methods - artificial, dogmatic and scholastic methods - that give its pupils unnatural ways of thinking and speaking. Thus a whole chapter of L'Education du travail is dedicated to stigmatizing the "uprooting" of the child. It is at this level that Freinet can rely on a psychology emphasizing the spontaneous development of the intelligence, without any contribution from teaching and acquisition of knowledge.

It is to obviate this "uprooting" of the child that Freinet advocates new pedagogical methods, for instance free texts. These methods probably have their good and bad points. It may be wondered, for instance, how and to what extent they are compatible with the more traditional teaching of secondary school and university. For if elementary school departs too much from these traditional practices, it cannot lead its pupils towards these higher stages of learning.

Freinet criticism goes further. Very soon he rejects all kinds of printed material, especially books. This is the form taken by the fight against "culture capitalism". One may wonder if this suppression of books in elementary school - the school of peasant children - does not bar the main access to culture for these children? It certainly is the major risk of his somewhat rousseauist quest for a mythical "state of nature".

We have presented Freinet's work under a critical light. But is it not the way to learn from it? Questions about school and education inevitably bring to light many contradictions, between individual and society, between school and family, between education and instruction, etc. Freinet had the merit of pushing these contradictions as far as possible, thus making them more evident. It is in this sense that his work remains the ground for a reflection on school, today as well as yesterday.