The Freinet Pedagogy
Célestin Freinet was born on October 16, 1896 in Gars, a small French village. Unable to finance his secondary school studies, he started a training as an elementary school teacher. However, because of a serious injury during the First World War, he did not start his career as a teacher until 1921 in Le Bar-sur-Loup, a little village in the coastal Alps near the Mediterranean. Freinet joined the anarcho-syndicalist teachers’ union of the time, where he was an activist in the opposition associated with the communist party. He became a member of the French Communist Party in 1927. His publications constitute a radical critique of the traditional state education system. Freinet’s approach was not only theoretical and political but also very practical since he integrated his ideas into his daily work in the classroom.
- The learning – Printing Technique
In October 1924 Freinet introduced the technique of Learning Printing Technique. This meant that the children used a printing press to reproduce texts that they had composed freely. The pupils wrote down their own personal adventures, the incidents that they had experienced inside and outside the classroom, and so on. Usually these texts were then presented to the class, discussed, corrected and edited by the class as a whole before being finally printed by the children themselves working together. Freinet called this approach Free Writing. Later these texts would be assembled to create a Class Journal and a School Newspaper.
From 1926 onwards, material produced by his class, particularly the School Newspapers, was regularly exchanged with other elementary school classes in France, whose teachers were also involved in innovative teaching. Freinet calls this the Technique of School Correspondence. Later, this correspondence would spread throughout the world.
The French teachers who used Learner Printing, and others, who were beginning to make and use movies and sound recordings with their classes, came together in 1928 and founded the Public Educators’ Co-operative, soon to be known as “Freinet Pedagogy” or the “Freinet Movement”. From 1932 they edited a magazine “The Proletarian Educator”.
Since the thirties, the Public Educators’ Co-operative has produced booklets based on pupils’ research projects as documents for classroom use by others, because these teachers considered traditional school-books to be old-fashioned, academic and out of touch with reality. This collection of booklets is called the Working Library and can be added to the Class Library along with other documents, files and books.
But Freinet also encouraged children to conduct their own Field Investigations and research. This meant that his pupils regularly left the classroom in order to observe and study both their natural environment and their local community. Back in the class, they presented their results, printed out texts, produced a journal and then sent all this material to their counterparts in other schools.
These opportunities for child-centred learning and independent enquiry are organized according to a Work Schedule in which the students set out their plan of work for a certain period. The Work Schedule is discussed and evaluated together with the teacher.
The Public Educators’ Co-operative also initiated Self-Correcting Files including hundreds of worksheets for such fundamental skills as grammar, spelling, maths, geography, history, etc. Pupils use these files individually according to their needs and whenever they want to improve their performance.
The overall co-ordination of class activities and any problems affecting individual children or groups of children are regularly discussed and resolved in the Classroom Assembly which consists of all the children in the class and the teacher.
- The Essential Concepts of Freinet Pedagogy
During his periods of detention at the time of the Second World War Freinet wrote his major works on pedagogy. The most important concepts are the following:
- Pedagogy Pedagogy of Work (Pédagogie du travail) – meaning that pupils learned by making useful products or providing useful services
- Co-operative Learning (Travail coopératif) – based on co-operation in the productive process.
- Enquiry-based Learning (Tâtonnement expérimental) – trial and error method involving group work.
- The Natural Method (Méthode naturelle) – based on an inductive, global approach.
- Centres of Interest (Complexe d’intérêt) based on children’s learning interests and curiosity.
Freinet’s school reopened in 1945 and his movement underwent a revival culminating in the founding of the Cooperative Institute of the Modern School (Institut Coopératif de l’Ecole Moderne – I.C.E.M in 1947 whose role is to develop ideas for pedagogical resources and activities. The tasks of the Public Educators’ Co-operative were then limited to the production of the actual pedagogical material such as the printing press and accessories, the Self-Correcting Files, the Working Library, etc.
- The Influence of the New Education movement on Freinet
Some of his followers see him as a pedagogical genius who created all of his techniques out of thin air. The reality, of course is much more complex. Freinet must be seen in the context of the international New Education movement. Here, for example, are some of the pedagogical practices that were already known before Freinet:
- School printing to reproduce pupils’ texts were used by several teachers in the 19th century (Dumas in Paris, 1730; Oberlin in the Vosges 1800 and Robin at Cempuis, 1900).
- Already in 1921 the Polish pedagogue Janus Korczak was using a School Newspaper as educational tool.
The pedagogical concepts which Freinet referred to and which he studied thoroughly are the following:
- The Centres of Interest arose from an influence by the Belgian psychologist Ovide Decroly and the U.S. philosopher John Dewey.
- Freinet’s Co-operative Learning techniques were partly inspired by the studies of Ovide Decroly and the Swiss psychologist Edouard Claparède.
- Enquiry-based Learning method was related to the Functional Pedagogy of Edouard Claparède and the Genetic Psychology of Jean Piaget (i.e. the construction of learning through experience).
- The Work Schedule is close to the Dalton-Plan developed by the U.S. teacher Helen Parkhust.
- Self-Correcting Files came about after an encounter with U.S. school-inspector Carl Washburne. Indeed, the first maths files of the Freinet Movement are an adaptation of Washburne’s Self-Correcting maths programs.
Freinet’s pedagogical theory is not only based on the above mentioned practical techniques, but may also be seen in a larger philosophical and political context in the crucible of the New Education movement.
- Pedagogy of Work
Freinet’s approach to Learning through Work may be contrasted with the concept of the German Georg Kerschensteiner, the Russian Pavel Petrovic Blonskij and the Swiss educator Adolphe Ferrière. Kerschensteiner wanted to educate working-class children with manual work because he believed that a more abstract approach to learning would not fulfill the socially relevant virtues of behaviour and performance.
Freinet’s concept of Learning through Work focuses on work as the process of spontaneous re-organization of life in school and society. According to him, work is the basis of every human activity, indeed of the very development of a human being. Therefore productive work is an ongoing principle of teaching and learning. While the children are developing their texts with the techniques of Learner Printing, and producing their journals, exhibitions, and so on, they are in a constant learning process. This concept also distinguishes Freinet from the proponents of creative pedagogy popular in the USA.
- Co-operative Learning
Freinet’s emphasis on Co-operative Learning was rooted in his own experiences as a founder of agricultural co-operatives. He was also aware of British experiments with school communities. At the same time he participated in debates about the French organization called Central Office of School Co-operatives (Office central de la Coopérative scolaire à l’Ecole), founded by B. Profit in 1923, which still exists.
- A Child-Centred Pedagogy
The proponents of New Education recommended a return to the origins of childhood which is regarded as “innocent” and full of promise. The effort to adapt the child to modern, industrial society through school is essentially an act of corruption. Only “natural education” offers a way to resolve these problems by introducing community-based activities such as manual labour and craft work. They are considered as healthier and more formative.
Freinet’s pedagogy stands in this tradition when he praises manual work and puts children’s needs and desires above all. This concept stopped him from taking into account the studies on childhood which were realized in the 1920s.
Freinet was committed to a radical political philosophy. From the beginning of his professional life, his main interest was always to improve the social and cultural situation of working-class children. Instead of waiting for a broader revolution he believed that changes are possible in the classroom right now. Nowadays, Freinet pedagogy is still a very strong, international movement covering the whole range of school levels from kindergarten to university and adult education.