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  • Anna Brix Thomsen

Pedagogy of work – Célestin Freinet’s Educational Paradigm: DAY 14

In this post we’re continuing to have a look at educational philosophies and principles as presented by theorists, teachers and pedagogues throughout the years. We’re continuing from where we left of with the Reggio Emilia approach and in this post we will discuss the educational principles set forth by the French pedagogue and educational reformer Célestein Freinet.

I have a particular personal view on the theories presented by Freinet because I spend the first eight years in school at a Freinet based school. As such I can also here provide a more personal account of the benefits and downsides to a Freinet-based school system while also investigating the principles from a professional point of view as me being a pedagogue, teacher myself as well as my background in educational sociology at an academic level.

As with Reggio Emilia, Freinet took his philosophic point of departure in his own experiences in his community. He grew up in the mountains of rural France in the late 1800’s and experienced a school system that was rigid at best. He also spent a lot of time among sheepherders in the mountains and was inspired by their communities when formulating his ideas about education. He educated himself to become a teacher and later went on to creating his own school, eventually having national as well as international influence.

Freinet believed that children only play because they can’t work or that play is always a reflection of the real world and as such the ideal learning environment is one where children are co-creators and producers and get to work alongside teachers and adults.

He believed that it was vital for children to learn in and about the real world. The Wikipedia article on Freinet sums up his pedagogical principles as follows:

Pedagogy of work (pédagogie du travail): pupils were encouraged to learn by making products or providing services. Enquiry-based learning (tâtonnement expérimental): group-based trial and error work. Cooperative learning (travail coopératif): pupils were to co-operate in the production process. • Centres of interest (complexe d’intérêt): the children’s interests and natural curiosity are starting points for a learning process • The natural method (méthode naturelle): authentic learning by using real experiences of children. • Democracy: children learn to take responsibility for their own work and for the whole community by using democratic self government.

Freinet also made use of distinct methods and techniques that can be summed up in the following list:

Freinet techniques: • learning printing technique, free writing (texte libre), • class journal (livre de vie), school newspaper (journal scolaire, • school correspondence (correspondence scolaire), • the public educators’ co-operative (cooperative de l_enseignement Laic, C.E.L.) = Freinet Pedagogy or the Freinet Movement, • working library (bibliotheque de classe), • field investigations (sortie-enquete), work schedule (plan de travail), • self-correcting files (fichier autocorrectif), • classroom assembly (reunion cooperative, conseil)

I will in the following posts go through these educational principles, primarily reviewed from my own personal observations having attended a Freinet school for eight consecutive years and will accordingly also provide my professional assement of the benefits and downsides to Freinet’s philosophy. I will also have a look at the working methods or techniques introduced by Freinet.

Let’s start by having a look at the first and primary principle of Freinet’s educational paradigm:

Pedagogy of work (pédagogie du travail)

So when I went to school, we had to learn how to print our own books using various techniques. It was before the time computers had gotten into every classroom though we did get our first computer in our class when I was in the second grade. So we would print books with our little child hands using oldschool materials such as stamps. I remember that I thoroughly enjoyed this, but I don’t remember learning anything significant from it.

Another way that the notion of ‘work’ was present in the school – and something that had a more significant influence on me – was the fact that we the students were responsible for cleaning the school. See, the school is located on an old lamp factory and since it is partially a private school (a free school) it didn’t have extensive amounts of funds. So I remember it as always being a little bit dirty, a bathroom door broken here and there, and the windows being old and rusty in their industrial quaintness.

So each student had a rotating area of responsibility, to every day clean an area of the school. So I would for example be responsible for booming the classroom floor or wiping down the lamps in the hall. What I remember from this time is mostly how I was unsatisfied that I had to clean. But I did it and so did the other children. And it gave us a sense of ownership over the school. It was our school – I mean we cleaned it every day. As such kids would also advise each other and I don’t remember that things at school got broken or vandalized often, though it did happen.

If we have a look at the benefits of introducing children to the principle of ‘work’ in relation to their own education, I’d say that it is this point of ‘ownership’ that is the most relevant to consider, though not so much in context to ‘owning’ something, but more in context to being a co-creator and active participant in one’s school. We also had a very active student counsel and several decisions about the school were made in collaboration between teachers and students. When we got into the older grades, from seventh grade an onward, we would for example decide together where to go on school excursions. And every week the entire school had a meeting in the gym speaking about relevant topics, new teachers or upcoming events.

The sense I got from all of this as a child, without having anything to compare with – was that “we’re in this together.” When I see children at big public schools these days it is a totally different relationship between children, teachers and the school itself.

We could also for example walk into the teacher’s office without hesitation unless something else was stipulated and I even participated in the hiring process of a new teacher, reading applications and interviewing prospects.

Freinet said that children play because they aren’t allowed to work. He said that the optimal learning environment is one were children can observe and participate in the work of the adults. This makes a lot of sense, but obviously we’re not here speaking about us then going back to the dark ages or suggesting that we should then completely remove any form of formal education. What Freinet suggested can interpreted into a greater symbiosis between school and real life.

It can be argued that this is exactly what is required in current education, because at the moment school and real life has been completely separated and school is all about what is going on in our heads. Many students – especially boys – don’t fit the rigidity imposed by the school system and it has long been known that children – and people in general – learn best when several senses are stimulated at once, when they can try things with their own hands.

In the current education systems around the world children learn to invert and suppress themselves. They learn that real life goes on inside their heads and that only in their heads can they be free to be themselves. They learn that they have to suppress their bodies and that the real world doesn’t really matter as much as their ability to ‘visualize’, ‘imagine’ and ‘think abstract’. And the result? An entire world disconnected from actual life on earth, mesmerized by flashing images and glittery glossy photos.

We can learn from Freinet to establish a connection between school and real life. Though it is really basic common sense.

In the next post we’ll continue with examining Freinet’s educational principles.

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