Doctor Ovide Decroly
Psychology in the service of pedagogy
Doctor Decroly (1871-1932) was born in Belgium. He completed his medical studies in Paris and Berlin. As a specialist of the nervous system and mental illnesses, he was tempted to study the behaviour of deficient children, for whom he founded his Institute for irregular children in1901. In 1903, he was appointed inspector of special teaching classes in Brussels. He pursued his studies about psychological pathologies, and –like Mme Montessori- he wanted to apply his observations to normal children. Therefore, he organized a school for regular children in1903, which in1925, was established near Brussels and remained known as the Hermitage School.
- The psychologist
Dr Decroly is, before anything else, a psychologist. He claimed that the child’s spiritual life is active and creative and that interest is the heart of this mechanism. In addition to the description of these phenomena and the study of irregular children, Dr Decroly helped in developing, thanks to his works, the practice of mental tests with which he wanted to make all educators familiar. His book entitled The Practice of Mental Tests in collaboration with M.R.Buysse remained for a long time an indispensable working tool for all those who wanted to possess a technique of mental testing that could be successfully used in schools by examiners who were not familiar with complicated laboratory procedures.
- The educationalist
For his schools, Decroly adapted the educational materials to the characteristics of the children’s psychological life. From the globalism of education, he induced his notion of global teaching; from the law of interest, he drew his method of Centers of Interest. In addition to that, Decroyl’s pedagogic activity is very much inspired, though in an original manner, by the fundamental themes of the New Pedagogy Movement.
2.1. Description of globalism: A natural thinking process
According to the traditional theory of induction and deduction, it is accepted that a general idea is built up as follows. First, simple perceptions are acquired, and then associated. Comparison between them yields common points and gradually concepts are constituted from the simplest to the most complex, from the particular to the general and from the abstract to the concrete. However, Decroly refused this point of view and maintained that an uncountable number of notions are introduced to the child without any prior conscious analysis. Thus, the notions of his mother, body parts, toys, rooms of his house…etc, and later on, the notions of his emotions, needs, pleasure and pain are all introduced to him without any order established by an educator, but rather in their natural relationships (not separately, not in fragments). However, the child manages to understand these notions and their relationships, and he manages to draw order out of chaos.
2.1.1. Pedagogical implications of globalism
Decroly refused to impose on the child the logical thinking process (going from simple to complex) which consists of helping the child to identify, then recognise first the most simple elements of the written language (the letter, the syllable), then the word, the sentence and finally the text. Decroly rather asks the child to produce a sentence expressing an idea which belongs to him. Then, he shows him its graphic representation and teaches him how to reproduce it as a drawing is reproduced (In this way, he restates to reading and writing their status as means of expression).
At the beginning, and for a more or less long time, the child reads only globally. However, Decroly prefers to call his method “ideo-visual’ rather than global to demonstrate that the starting point of his method is a visual perception related to the representation of an idea which is the meaning of the sentence.
2.2. Observation related to interest
Decroly distinguishes between intellectual interest which corresponds to the need to know, and the interest which is due to physical, affective or social needs. But in any case, this interest determines the attention and effort devoted to work.
2.2.1. Pedagogical implications of interest
Since interest is the dominant law that governs any intellectual activity, Decroly claims that it is necessary to replace in the school programmes the notions, which are indispensable for the adult but not for the child, by collections of objects that the child whishes to know about. The coordination of various curiosities constitutes a ‘centre of interest’.
The expression ‘centre of interest’ by which Decroly replaced the word ‘programme’ means, according to him, that the object of study which is determined by the interest of the child, plays the role of a centre towards which the different school disciplines converge. Each of these disciplines gives to the object of study its category of knowledge and form of activity. Each one contributes either to the acquisition of notions, or to the expression of ideas, feelings due to contact with that object, or to the search of another knowledge that the desire to acquire was the result of that contact.