ChapterPDF Available

Ovide Decroly, A Hero of Education

Authors:
  • University of Koblenz-Landau, Campus Landau, Germany

Abstract

If there is one thing that seems to 'work' when we take a look at the history of education, it is definitely educational hero worship. At the very least, it's an indication that 'something' works. The question is 'what', and to what extent? How do we explain this hero worship and, even more importantly, is it only something that works, or can we also detect some indications of possible failures or weaknesses? At first sight, we certainly have to admit that it works. Take Ovide Decroly (1871-1932), for instance. This Belgian educationalist and psychologist acquired worldwide renown and, during his lifetime, became a real hero of education. Encyclopaedia entries, reviews, histories of great thinkers, textbooks and so on prove that he still belongs to the canon of education, in particular to that of 'new education'. Quite recently, he even acquired a place in the pantheon of the hundred most important educationalists ever (Dubreucq, 1994). Besides that, we do have to mention of course, the schools, which these days, still find Decroly's educational ideas appealing. Earlier, and without intending to be exhaustive, we drew attention to some factors that played a determining role in this hero worship (Depaepe, Simon & Van Gorp, 2003). Decroly surrounded himself with a group of disciples who attributed to his work an exceptional position within the canon and the discourse of new education. What drove them was primarily their admiration for a man in whom they believed: their shining example was not only a great scholar who was far ahead of his time, but he was above all a man of practice. His unbridled efforts, his enthusiasm, his dedication, his work, and his charisma as an educator inspired those who had to face everyday challenges in the field. It is said that Decroly was selflessly fighting for the interests of the child and finally paid for that with his life. But, precisely that self-effacing and self-sacrificing attitude, a product of his charisma, and the resulting unbridled admiration, minimized the distance between biography and hagiography after his death. The hagiographers became the guardians of a myth that they themselves had created and sustained with the help of commemorative books, tributes and ceremonies. Until recently, the hagiographers monopolized Decroly's 'inheritance'. But, even though Decroly's educational ideas received considerable resonance, he never had as much influence as his rival and contemporary Maria Montessori (1870-1952) (Van Gorp, 2004). Unlike the dottoressa, he had no organized network to watch anxiously over the production and dissemination of his materials (Van Gorp, Depaepe & Simon, 2004, p. 226). Although Decroly is also known for his educational games (Decroly & Monchamp, 1914), the children themselves had to make most of the educational material that was required for the so-called centres of interest, which eliminated to a large extent the need for industrial production. Do we have to call this a 'failure', or is that out of the question? In any event, both heroes had to deal with the educational tradition and a persistent resistance against innovations on the educational shop floor. The child-centred approach was moulded according to the rules of the traditional 'grammar of schooling, c.q. educationalization' (Depaepe et al., 2000). All in all, it explains why there are not that many 'Decroly-schools', at least not in Belgium. It should be clear that we not only have to focus on the 'believers', the Decrolyens, but also on the 'non-believers'. Doing so, it is striking that Decroly, although himself a non-Catholic, was not only constituted as a subject of educational hero worship on the non-Catholic but also on the Catholic side. An important impulse for this came from the Swiss priest Eugène Dévaud, who had already contributed to the tribute that appeared shortly after Decroly's death (e.g. Dévaud, 1936). Also, the Christian Brothers were fervent advocates of Decroly's method. It seems that educational hero worship bridged every ideological boundary (in spite of cultural conflicts) and led to a semblance of an agreement between freethinkers and Catholics in a 'pillarized' country like Belgium. In what follows, I have attempted to examine this hero worship by addressing the following questions. On what basis was Decroly elected a hero of education? Where does 'the method' come into this? Why is Decroly treated as a hero by Catholics? What are the differences and similarities between Catholic and non-Catholic hero worship? Last but not the least, for this question will present itself: what were the consequences of this hero worship for the hero himself? By answering these questions, perhaps we will know whether or not educational hero worship is really and undeniably something that works.
PROBLEMATISATION OR ETHODOLOGY
37
P. Smeyers and M. Depaepe (eds.), Educational Research: Why ‘What Works’ Doesn’t
Work, 37–50.
© 2006 Springer.
CHAPTER TWO
ANGELO VAN GORP
OVIDE DECROLY, A HERO OF EDUCATION
Some Reflections on the Effects of Educational Hero Worship
1. INTRODUCTION
If there is one thing that seems to ‘work’ when we take a look at the history of
education, it is definitely educational hero worship. At the very least, it’s an
indication that ‘something’ works. The question is ‘what’, and to what extent? How
do we explain this hero worship and, even more importantly, is it only something
that works, or can we also detect some indications of possible failures or
weaknesses? At first sight, we certainly have to admit that it works. Take Ovide
Decroly (1871–1932), for instance. This Belgian educationalist and psychologist
acquired worldwide renown and, during his lifetime, became a real hero of
education. Encyclopaedia entries, reviews, histories of great thinkers, textbooks and
so on prove that he still belongs to the canon of education, in particular to that of
‘new education’. Quite recently, he even acquired a place in the pantheon of the
hundred most important educationalists ever (Dubreucq, 1994). Besides that, we do
have to mention of course, the schools, which these days, still find Decroly’s
educational ideas appealing.
Earlier, and without intending to be exhaustive, we drew attention to some
factors that played a determining role in this hero worship (Depaepe, Simon & Van
Gorp, 2003). Decroly surrounded himself with a group of disciples who attributed to
his work an exceptional position within the canon and the discourse of new
education. What drove them was primarily their admiration for a man in whom they
believed: their shining example was not only a great scholar who was far ahead of
his time, but he was above all a man of practice. His unbridled efforts, his
enthusiasm, his dedication, his work, and his charisma as an educator inspired those
who had to face everyday challenges in the field. It is said that Decroly was
selflessly fighting for the interests of the child and finally paid for that with his life.
But, precisely that self-effacing and self-sacrificing attitude, a product of his
charisma, and the resulting unbridled admiration, minimized the distance between
biography and hagiography after his death. The hagiographers became the guardians
of a myth that they themselves had created and sustained with the help of
38 ANGELO VAN GORP
commemorative books, tributes and ceremonies. Until recently, the hagiographers
monopolized Decroly’s ‘inheritance’.
But, even though Decroly’s educational ideas received considerable resonance,
he never had as much influence as his rival and contemporary Maria Montessori
(1870–1952) (Van Gorp, 2004).1 Unlike the dottoressa, he had no organized
network to watch anxiously over the production and dissemination of his materials
(Van Gorp, Depaepe & Simon, 2004, p. 226). Although Decroly is also known for
his educational games (Decroly & Monchamp, 1914),2 the children themselves had
to make most of the educational material that was required for the so-called centres
of interest, which eliminated to a large extent the need for industrial production. Do
we have to call this a ‘failure’, or is that out of the question? In any event, both
heroes had to deal with the educational tradition and a persistent resistance against
innovations on the educational shop floor. The child-centred approach was moulded
according to the rules of the traditional ‘grammar of schooling, c.q. education-
alization’ (Depaepe et al., 2000). All in all, it explains why there are not that many
‘Decroly-schools’, at least not in Belgium.
It should be clear that we not only have to focus on the ‘believers’, the
Decrolyens, but also on the ‘non-believers’. Doing so, it is striking that Decroly,
although himself a non-Catholic, was not only constituted as a subject of educational
hero worship on the non-Catholic but also on the Catholic side. An important
impulse for this came from the Swiss priest Eugène Dévaud, who had already
contributed to the tribute that appeared shortly after Decroly’s death (e.g. Dévaud,
1936). Also, the Christian Brothers were fervent advocates of Decroly’s method.3 It
seems that educational hero worship bridged every ideological boundary (in spite of
cultural conflicts) and led to a semblance of an agreement between freethinkers and
Catholics in a ‘pillarized’ country like Belgium.
In what follows, I have attempted to examine this hero worship by addressing
the following questions. On what basis was Decroly elected a hero of education?
Where does ‘the method’ come into this? Why is Decroly treated as a hero by
Catholics? What are the differences and similarities between Catholic and non-
Catholic hero worship? Last but not the least, for this question will present itself:
what were the consequences of this hero worship for the hero himself ? By answering
these questions, perhaps we will know whether or not educational hero worship is
really and undeniably something that works.
2. ON EDUCATIONAL HERO WORSHIP
We cannot look, however imperfectly, upon a great man, without gaining something by him.
He is the living light-fountain, which it is good and pleasant to be near. The light which
enlightens, which has enlightened the darkness of the world; and this not as a kindled lamp
only, but rather as a natural luminary shining by the gift of Heaven; a flowing light-fountain,
as I say, of native original insight, of manhood and heroic nobleness; – in whose radiance all
souls feel that it is well with them (Carlyle, 1841, quoted in De Hovre, 1936², p. 7).
As a justification for his anthology of educational thinkers, consisting of a series
of portraits that appeared in the Vlaamsch Opvoedkundig Tijdschrift (Flemish
OVIDE DECROLY, A HERO OF EDUCATION 39
Educational Journal, subsequently referred to as VOT) of which he was the co-founder,
the Belgian canon Frans De Hovre (1884–1956)4 claimed that his book met a need for
‘educational hero worship’ amongst teachers and educators. For De Hovre the heroes of
education were ‘masters’, ‘great educators’, ‘firm men’, ‘pioneers’ and ‘leading men’
(De Hovre, 1936², pp. 7, 8, 10, 13, 432). Apparently, the fact that two women (Helen
Parkhurst and Maria Montessori) also appeared in the series of ‘firm men’ was
irrelevant. By definition, a hero was masculine because he acted as a ‘living example’
and ‘source of inspiration’ by following in the footsteps of Christ himself (De Hovre,
1936², pp. 7–8). Following the ancient example of the devotion to the saints, the ‘real
cult of the hero’ according to De Hovre, meant that educational hero worship guided
teachers and educators into ‘the temple of education’. Referring to the traditional hero
worship of Thomas Carlyle, De Hovre compared the great educationalists with a ‘light-
fountain’, a ‘torch’ whose light touched everybody.
Almost 20 years later we read, in more or less identical words, with the (non-
Catholic) former teacher and inspector Jozef E. Verheyen (1889–1962)5:
Today people from all continents concerned with educational progress still turn to him.
They orient themselves to his ideas as towards a light buoy; that continues emitting its
rays ([Verheyen], 1952, p. 7).
The ‘light buoy’ mentioned was Ovide Decroly
whose message came to us as an eternal source of intellectual and moral life. A simple
and friendly man whose miraculous revelation concerning new education attracted large
numbers of enthusiastic and progressive foreign educationalists to Brussels. A noble,
true, great man whose work was imbued with his great abilities; and who had the soul of
an apostle and the courage and will of a hero, restlessly fighting for more happiness in
life and for a better mankind.6 His love knew no littleness and no rest; it was devotion,
dedication and sacrifice at the same time. he worked without rest and without doubt
with complete self-sacrifice and full dedication. He never sought personal gain; his
work was only concerned by higher motives and his entire life was an example of
admirable selflessness (Verheyen, 1952).
The message from Decroly was one of love:
May this message continue to live whole and undamaged as an example to all those who
will work in education, both now and later. May they, as said in the Bible in the Parable
of the Sower, become true: And another part of the seed fell in fertile ground, and gave
fruit, one hundred fold (Verheyen, 1952, p. 25).
In this Verheyen echoed the educational hero worship of De Hovre, who, although he
did propagate a Catholic educational doctrine, did not restrict himself to the propaganda
of the great Catholic thinkers. The classical writings and winged words of the great
educationalists that neglected the moral and religious nature of education also deserved
their place in the canon of heroes, although he consistently called this a drawback (De
Hovre, 1936², p. 433). One of those heroes was Decroly, an ‘indefatigable pioneer’,
who (according to De Hovre) belonged to the list of representative educationalists of
that time for several reasons (De Hovre, 1931–1932, pp. 57–58). To begin with, he
remarked that the French-speaking region was less important educationally than the
Anglo-Saxon and German regions. If some resurgence could recently be seen in
40 ANGELO VAN GORP
France this was, however, first and foremost due to foreigners like Decroly (De
Hovre, 1936², pp. 405–406). Then De Hovre calls Decroly a leading figure from the
New-School movement, whose value had been rightly to have acquired world
renown on the basis of his useful work on the psychology and pedagogy of early
childhood and abnormal children. De Hovre finally catalogues his contributions to
reading and writing methods, better known as ‘globalization’, as the best work that
has been realized here in recent years (De Hovre, 1936², pp. 432–433).
3. WANTED: HERO
The major event in [the] history [of education] was the coming of Christ on earth.
Before Christ everything was preparing for his coming, after Christ everything radiates
from Him (taken from: Rombouts, 1940³, p. 2).
That Catholics, through De Hovre, cited Decroly as an educational hero was, as has
already been indicated, not entirely expected. After all, according to (the Catholic)
Victor d’Espallier (1904–1975)7 in the VOT, Decroly was on the extreme left of the
reform movement in education, who are also sometimes called the revolutionary
educationalists (d’Espallier, 1932–1933, p. 7). Indeed, Decroly was a leading figure
within the New Education Fellowship (NEF), a group that from 1920 to 1930
formed the international forum par excellence on new education and which was
called above all ‘anti-clerical’ and ‘anti-Christian’ (d’Espallier, 1932–1933, p. 15).
With these words, d’Espallier was referring to the Dutch Friar Sigebertus Rombouts
(1883–1962), who even saw Decroly’s ‘new school’, the Ecole de l’Ermitage
(founded in 1907 and better known as the school ‘for life, through life’) as a form of
socialist and communist propaganda, although he did note that, despite that fact, the
attempt to place the school at the centre of life was greatly to be applauded
(Rombouts, 1940³, p. 219). Anyhow, the members of the NEF were
those who put fire under the methodical doubt of the efficiency of our daily actions. They
are like a demonic man (…) who has a historical role, to combat accepted opinions to the
extreme in order to make a new conclusion possible. (…) They are very winsome as
extremists insofar as they are the whiplash that shakes the official educationalists from their
proverbial self-assurance but on the other hand only insofar as they do not consider the sense
of duty so essential in educational issues as harmful (d’Espallier, 19321933, pp. 78).
That d’Espallier saw a prominent role preserved for Decroly, and had a lot of
affinity for a man who was in the frontline of a ‘revolutionary’ educational
movement, had seemingly little to do with ideological questions:
Decroly was not always appreciated as he deserved in this country. A lot can be
corrected here. Internationally he was placed amongst the very top spokesmen of our
times ([d’Espallier], 1932–1933, pp. 4–5).8
As a theoretician Decroly excelled due to his
clear view of the situations. What he proposed could be realized, it was not a utopia … His
threefold ability as a doctor, educator and psychologist give his work added value.9 He has a
special place of his own as a psychologist. Objective as a physicist but with much love, he
OVIDE DECROLY, A HERO OF EDUCATION 41
observed and experimented. (…) He was not a psychologist with philosophical
concerns, nor a psychologist whose questions were limited by the walls of his
laboratory. He was a kind of ‘psychologist-educationalist’ ([d’Espallier], 19321933,
pp. 45).
Decroly, according to d’Espallier in a summary article on psycho-pédagogie in
Belgium, could, without doubt, be called the most prepossessing figure of the
‘psychological–educational’ tradition in Belgium. Also, the reason why d’Espallier
devoted almost his entire article to this role model was because he felt that Decroly
could easily compete with prominent international psychologists/educationalists
like the Frenchman Alfred Binet and the Swiss Edouard Claparède. Internationally,
Decroly was mainly known as an educationalist, or as a pedagogue, but according to
d’Espallier he was also an exceptionally skilled child psychologist (d’Espallier,
1954).
We might say that, within the NEF and the New-School movement, Decroly
owed his status of hero in part to his role as a psychologist/educationalist (Verheyen,
1933, p. 9). Nevertheless, we have to make a difference between both kinds of hero
worship for, in contrast to De Hovre and d’Espallier, Verheyen did not emphasize
Decroly’s merits as psychologist/educationalist (although his scientific methods
were recognized) but the prestige he gave to the movement in his capacity as doctor
and academic. Identifying heroes with saints was no longer meant to be
metaphorical, as it was in the case of De Hovre, but became a reality. The hero
Decroly assumed the air of a legend and the hero cult was transformed into
hagiolatry (Depaepe, Simon & Van Gorp, 2003). As has been argued elsewhere (see
our contribution on Verheyen; cf. Depaepe, 1997), cultivation of educational
heroism undeniably continued to be part of a ‘mission’, and in the case of Verheyen
we might argue that, besides recognizing the importance of connecting with acts of
heroism in order to legitimize the child-oriented approach, he probably secretly
dreamt that he could obtain a place in the temple of education. Anyhow, Decroly’s
canonization as a hero appeared to be a fact. Also, Decroly not only acted as a
‘living example’ and ‘source of inspiration’ in the footsteps of Christ but was Christ
himself from whom everything radiated.10
I would argue that this process of canonization can still be best observed by
citing the Swiss Adolphe Ferrière (1879–1960), the propagandist and opinion maker
par excellence of the New-School movement. Following the idea of child-centred
education to the letter, the NEF gathered together at biannual conferences
all pioneers, their faithful followers, their friends and curious people (the faithful
followers of tomorrow) around the cult of the Child (Ferrière, 1927, p. 94). In
essence, Ferrière distinguished between the ‘pioneers’ and the ‘others’. The pioneers
were the chieftains who preceded the members of the tribe, the pensadores
escolanovistas (after Herrera, 1999, p. 32), in the cult of the Child. But, as a result
of the canonization of the pioneers themselves, the cult of the Child quickly gave
way to the cult of the Pioneer (Van Gorp, 2004, 2005b). In analogy with Montessori
and the Montessorians, Decroly became the patron saint of the Decrolyens. The
‘child-centred approach’ in other words gave way to ‘the hero-centred approach’:
the distinction between ‘pioneers’ and ‘others’ translated into a distinction between
‘heroes’ and ‘adepts’, between the ‘saints’ and the ‘faithful’.
42 ANGELO VAN GORP
Ferrière’s perception of the Pioneer particularly helps us gain an insight into the
reasons and causes for Decroly’s hero status. The Pioneer was after all, not just ‘a
pioneer’; the NEF had thousands of pioneers within their movement (Ferrière, 1928,
p. 9). The Pioneers related to the others as ‘innovators’ to ‘imitators’ and ‘disciples’.
The Pioneer had to be an heir to Jean-Jacques Rousseau, combining intuitive
education with rational or scientific education and therefore appealing in particular
to psychogenesis (as an applied science this was considered to be the mother science
of education) to develop his own progressive educational methods on that basis and
to apply and refine these in practice (Ferrière, [1911], 1920, p. 12). We can also add
to this that a Pioneer was generally also ‘a founder’ (Hameline, 2002; Oelkers, 1995,
p. 43), whose school, as an educational Mekka (Verheyen, 1954, p. 11), would
attract pilgrims from all over the world. Montessori and Decroly were model
examples of the Pioneer for Ferrière. They were the two great examples to which
others could model themselves (Ferrière, 1922, p. 83). The weapon they had was
‘the scientific method’ (Ferrière, 1920, p. 28).
4. TO ARMS!
With the hero’s weapon, in this case the ‘Decroly-method’, we return to the core of
Verheyen’s elegy. Because what was Decroly’s message of love other than
an eternal source of intellectual and moral love. It is not an educational fashion, destined
to die an untimely death like so many other methods. It was never possible sufficiently
to indicate the deep and full nature of Decroly’s educational methods. Which the master
always transferred and implemented in his tests, is not pure detailed technique, e.g. like
general reading or centres of interest, but it brings to us the entire educational question
with its most natural principles and methods ([Verheyen], 1952, pp. 78).
The Decroly-method was a weapon that bound Decrolyens and ‘non-Decrolyens’
like De Hovre and d’Espallier together in their respective hero worship. However,
we have to note an important difference in reasoning. This might be described as the
difference between the method as ‘aim’ and the method as a ‘means’.
First, let us note that the Decroly-method was, in the eyes of its creator, intended
to ensure the child’s enjoyment of life and the futures of the generations of
tomorrow (Decroly, 1904, p. 410). As we have already noted with Rombouts, the
method was intended to prepare children ‘for life, through life’. This meant
preparing children for a society marked by modernity and characterized by
industrialization, urbanization, impoverishment, disease and poor hygiene; a society
in which the so-called ‘social plagues’ or ‘social ills’ (alcoholism, syphilis,
tuberculosis) held sway (Tollebeek, Vanpaemel & Wils, 2003). A society in which
an alarmingly high number of abnormal children – the cost of progress, but also food
for the spectre of degeneration (Herman, 1997, pp. 13–45, 109–146; Pick, 1989;
Chamberlin & Gilman, 1985) – threatened to place the future of mankind at risk
(Decroly, 1924). The Decroly-method was essentially the weapon of a hero fighting
under the banner of social hygiene and eugenics (Van Gorp, 2005a; see also
Helmchen, 1995; Tollebeek, Vanpaemel & Wils, 2003).
OVIDE DECROLY, A HERO OF EDUCATION 43
‘Through life’ means through a ‘natural’ education. On the one hand, this
implied that the method took the ‘natural’ development of the child into account. On
the other hand, this entailed that the method was preferably applied in a ‘natural’
environment. Much more than in the school barracks and alleys of the large cities
where the child was primarily confronted by low and antisocial scenes, nature was
the ideal framework in which to bring up a child. Decroly emphasized:
People know that nature is the true educator of all people. It is well known that only the
continual influence of a well-chosen milieu can move the child and make its true and
social development of its personality possible (Decroly & Buyse, 1923, p. 56).
Although, at first sight, this seems a paradoxical turn – it implies that preparing for
life means isolating the child from life (Clausse, 1983, p. 58) – Decroly claimed that
a natural framework approached real life in the most effective way possible. The
child was not alienated from modernity but, on the contrary, was prepared for it.
Responding to one of the fundamental characteristics of the Pioneer (cf. Ferrière, as
mentioned above), Decroly provided the foundations for the building blocks of his
method on his psychogenetic insights, in particular on the recapitulation theory
found in the work of Granville Stanley Hall and John Dewey. As man had developed
through history (from primitive to modern, civilized man) a child-in-nature
experienced this development from the hunger (wild) stage (nomad, shepherd,
agriculturalist, industrialist and trader) so it would always be challenged to fulfil
new and continually more complex situations until it was sufficiently armed to step
into life (Decroly, 1925, p. 10). At the same time, this also assured man’s progress,
because progress for Decroly was synonymous with adaptation to new and
increasingly more complex living circumstances (Decroly, 1919, p. 6; see also
Helmchen, 1995). Or, as Ferrière described it: the active school is a step on an
immense ladder to social progress (Ferrière, 1924, p. 35).
‘For life, through life’, however, also meant that Decroly’s weapon had to be
attuned to the constantly developing society. An educational programme that both
had to prepare for life and should be adapted to life could not possibly be set down
on paper. The Decroly-method was consequently a symbol for ‘education in
evolution’ and had neither an absolute nor an exclusive character (Decroly, 1907,
pp. 3–5). It was not a code of incontrovertible, set dogmas. It has to be a flexible
method that could be continually tested as a model of true applied educational
science both to the progress realized in the three basic sciences – biology,
psychology, sociology (Van Gorp, 2005a, b; cf. Ley, Brien & Jadot, 1939) – and the
needs of society (Decroly, 1928, pp. 1–2).
Yes, the Decroly-method was finally recorded, albeit not by the Master himself
but by Amélie Hamaïde (1888–1970), one of his most loyal assistants (Hamaïde,
1922). After she taught between 1911 and 1916 at the Ecole de l’Ermitage, she
experimented outside Decroly’s institutes (i.e. the Ermitage and his institute for
special education) with the Decroly-method during the war in a school in the urban
surroundings of Brussels. That initiative was received with considerable scepticism
because few people were convinced that Decroly’s progressive ideas would also
bear fruit in a non-elitist environment, specifically in popular education. However,
the experiment had a favourable evaluation and in September the method was
44 ANGELO VAN GORP
applied in eleven classes within nine schools. In the following year, Decroly
appointed Hamaïde to the role of head of the Ermitage. When the municipality of
Anderlecht (near Brussels) subsequently showed an interest in the Decroly-method,
Decroly appealed to Gérard Boon. Boon was Decroly’s right-hand man at the ward
for the treatment of speech defects and retarded children in the Brussels polyclinic
and was chosen to correctly introduce the method in two municipal schools. Whilst
familiarizing the teachers in Brussels and Anderlecht with the method, Hamaïde
travelled from school to school with a series of presentations on the Decroly-
method. In addition, the educational staff’s need for a written version of the method
proved so great that Hamaïde decided to relieve that need.
Although this took place with her master’s blessing, this initiative came into
conflict with Hamaïde’s beliefs regarding ‘education in evolution’. Decroly
probably saw the advantages of publishing the book in terms of timely exposure and
pure necessity. Hamaïde’s La Méthode Decroly ultimately met a concrete need.
However, as a result, Decroly’s fears became realities. The Decrolyens quickly
reduced the principle ‘for life, through life’ to a slogan which raised both Ermitage
and the Decroly-method to the educational ideal par excellence. The weapon was
sharpened. The Decrolyens unfurled their banner, dressed with their idol (Decroly)
and ideal (the Decroly-method) transformed into icons (de Ruyter, Bertram-Troost
& Sieckelinck, 2005; Frijhoff, 1998, 2005). The Decroly-method became the
weapon in commercio that the Decrolyens used in the conquest of the educational
market (Van Gorp, 2004; Hameline, 2002, pp. 167–170). The child was removed
from his pedestal and the idol was guided through the main gates to the pantheon of
educational heroes.
The instigator of these developments was in fact Hamaïde, whose book took on
the allure of a bible for Decrolyens. The vitriol at the end of her book particularly
spoke volumes in that regard. In the conclusion, Hamaïde had specifically and
apparently inadvertently (although it may have been a strategic move) included a
passage in which she made a comparison between the methods of Decroly and
Montessori (Hamaïde, 1922, pp. 194–197). As well as including a pointless
exergesis on which method was the oldest, she alternates between making subtle
digs and unleashing the most poisonous arrows. Although both pioneers were
doctors by training she consistently spoke of ‘Doctor’ Decroly and ‘Mrs’
Montessori. Furthermore, the Decroly-method greatly ‘resembled’ the educational
principles of John Dewey, but Montessori ‘imitated’ the French doctor Edouard
Séguin. The Montessori-method was anything but original, had an artificial nature,
lacked the important principle of globalization and used ‘the tools of intelligence’
(reading, writing, and arithmetic) in a completely incorrect way. In short, when
Hamaïde was asked what she thought of the Montessori-method, she would reply
that in relation to Decroly’s ideas, Montessori’s musings were as broken and dead
branches are to intact and living trees. Montessori had failed to attach the branches
to the tree.
OVIDE DECROLY, A HERO OF EDUCATION 45
5. WEAPON OR WOUND?
While the Decroly-method in the hands of the Decrolyens was forged into a weapon
to the services of the cult of the Pioneer, the ideal to be achieved had, as a result,
deteriorated into a frozen and fixed method. The same weapon was dismantled in the
framework of Catholic educational hero worship, to enable the use of the best parts
in the fight against ‘crisis education’. D’Espallier criticized the lack of unity and
clarity that characterized the pedagogy and education of the 1920s and 1930s
(d’Espallier, 1938², pp. 9, 42, 89). It seemed incoherent: educational slogans were
like materials that change colour as one looks at them from different points of views.
According to d’Espallier, two main causes were at the bottom of this crisis.
First, d’Espallier drew attention to the obstinacy, which characterized the
controversy between opposing ideologies; every single educational discussion got
bogged down in a Kulturkampf. He also mentioned the longing for innovation:
As in publicity it is said that the most recent developments are the best. Technical terms,
mostly from exotic origin, seem to have a kind of magic power and are a panacea for all
kinds of difficulties (d’Espallier, 1938², p. 11).
D’Espallier disliked this attitude. After all, the educationalist, belonging to any
ideology whatsoever, could agree with the opponent’s views when it came to the
more neutral, technical questions. For d’Espallier the Decroly-method was, unlike
Verheyen’s, a detailed technique. Dropping subjects, starting from centres of interest
and acknowledging the principle of globalization, aided the pedagogy of tomorrow
to develop along new paths and consequently combat the crisis in the educational
sector. In d’Espallier’s view, the main principles of Decroly’s educational method
came into their own in the 1936 curriculum reform – which is generally seen as an
important innovation in the history of Belgian primary education and which was
partly inspired by Decroly’s ideas – and were not properly realized in the dogmatic
approach of Decroly’s disciples (Depaepe, De Vroede & Simon, 1991).
D’Espallier’s (and De Hovre’s) handling of the Decroly-method depended in
essence on an eclecticism that was contrary to the orthodoxy of the Decrolyens who,
in militant fashion, raised idol and ideal to iconic status (Hameline, 1995, p. V). We
might call it the tragedy of the hero Decroly that it was not the ‘believers’, the
Decrolyens, who aimed at his ideal of education in evolution, but the ‘non-
believers’, such as d’Espallier. However, from d’Espallier’s point of view, we might
call this aspiration obvious, for the Belgian psycho-pédagogie was situated on a
crossroads of ideas and trends and was by definition eclectic (d’Espallier, 1954, p.
44). Contrary to what the Decrolyens intended with the canonization of Decroly,
there could not be any question of a ‘Belgian (read: Decrolyan) School’, as was the
case (according to d’Espallier) with the German, English, American and French
school. Decroly’s educational ideas and principles, established in the Decroly-
method, constituted a part of the melting pot or travelling library of ideas (De
Coster, Depaepe, Simon & Van Gorp, 2005). Decroly was essentially someone who,
with the existing concepts, synthesized, compiled, and combined ideas (Depaepe,
46 ANGELO VAN GORP
Simon & Van Gorp, 2003, p. 249). According to d’Espallier these ideas were
universal and could not be commandeered by any militant group. D’Espallier
hesitated to talk of the Decroly-method, because this was not in accordance with the
concepts of the master, who rightly considered that his concepts were still in full
development (d’Espallier, 1951, p. 438).
Adopting identical positions, both d’Espallier and Ferrière emphasized that Decroly’s
epigones had, particularly after his death, changed his ideas into a static system; the
dynamic element had consequently been lost (d’Espallier, 1951; Ferrière, 1928, p. 13;
see also d’Espallier, 1938², p. 42; De Hovre, 1936², pp. 5–6). As the Dutch Decrolyen
Van Liefland commented, the cause for this was in the method itself:
A Decroly-‘method’ in the meaning we generally attach to that: an instruction manual –
preferably very detailed – with books, pictures, maps and all kinds of other aids, that all
have a fixed place in the method and an accurately defined meaning, such a ‘method’
does not exist and cannot exist. (…) Every method that – in contrary to this assumption
– results in fixation is wrong and even the most experienced, most gifted educationalist
is not able to design a method that can be used for all pupils, all educators and in all
circumstances. Good education is before everything dynamic, must always fit with the
abilities of each new group, of each individual child and in the environment from which
the child comes and in which the school community lives. It is only possible to give
living education and bringing [children] up for life if these constantly changing factors
are taken into account. Anyone who does not do so, but who follows any other method
author without question will inevitably fall into template work, that misses all inner
vitality (Van Liefland, 1959³, pp. 1113).
Alas, the evil had been done. The hero’s weapon was also his undoing. The
Decrolyens had dirtied the legacy of their Master as a result of their excessively
orthodox, rigid handling of the Decroly-method. D’Espallier noted for that reason:
‘It is a very striking phenomenon, although not new in world history, that today
it is necessary to defend the great educationalists in relation to their epigones’
(d’Espallier, 1938², p. 11). While the method that bore his name was, in Decroly’s
hands, more spirit than recipe, without his vitality it threatened to become the latter.
D’Espallier gave the Decrolyens the following message:
The educationalists must break the habit of destroying each other with a few killing
arguments, arguments that blind them to anything valuable that may be learned from the
opponent (d’Espallier, 19321933, p. 14).
6. CONCLUSION
Decroly’s educational creed, laid down in his slogan ‘par la vie, pour la vie’ [‘for
life, through life’], constituted part of a universal educational canon bridging every
ideological boundary. It demonstrates what we previously called ‘sliding’ into the
educational canon (De Coster, Depaepe, Simon & Van Gorp, 2005, p. 97). But, as
a result of the canonization of the hero, which manifested itself in the cult
of the Pioneer and resulted in a dogmatic Decroly-method, the reception and
implementation of Decroly’s progressive educational inheritance was characterized
OVIDE DECROLY, A HERO OF EDUCATION 47
by a current curve between eclecticism and orthodoxy, between depersonalization
and personalization.
To a certain extent we can see that ‘the method’ worked, either in an eclectic or
in an orthodox way. In the former approach, the method worked for it was appealing
to the hero’s ideal of ‘education in evolution’. The latter approach, for its part, was
appealing not to the ideal of their hero, but to the ideals of the Decrolyen
themselves. At the same time, we might argue that neither approach worked. After
all, the eclectic approach dismantled and depersonalized the method, with the result
that it arguably became unrecognizable. With regard to the orthodox approach, we
might say that, from the hero’s point of view, it failed, for the hero was slain by his
own weapon. After all, if you sharpen your weapon with the intention of harming an
opponent, you run the risk of cutting yourself.
NOTES
1 Montessori survived Decroly by 20 years, which is not something trivial within this context of hero
worship.
2 It was Alice Descoeudres from Geneva who, in 1909, after a few months of training at the Ecole de
l’Ermitage, released with the aid of the Institut Jean-Jacques Rousseau, the first two series of Decroly’s
educational games (e.g. lotto’s), together with the firm of ASEN (which literally means Au Service de
l’Education Nouvelle or ‘In Service of New Education’). Other collections of educational games were
produced by the firm of Nathan in Paris. Also, Monchamp would be responsible for the release of some
series of games. We notice that the Decroly-method, in practice, was often restricted to the application of
these games.
3 See e.g. the series Hors des Sentiers Battus (Walking outside the beaten path).
4 De Hovre has been generally considered one of the leading figures in Flemish Catholic education
during the period between the First and Second World Wars.
5 See also our contribution (together with Marc Depaepe and Frank Simon) on Verheyen which appears
in this volume. The discourse focusing on Decroly became rooted in Flanders as the core of the
ideologically ‘neutral’ public education, a tradition that can be traced through the works of, amongst
others, Verheyen at the University of Ghent.
6 Italicized by the author of this chapter.
7 D’Espallier, a former student of De Hovre, was also one of the main figures within Catholic education
at the time and an exponent of the Flemish psycho-pédagogie.
8 As we have noted elsewhere (Depaepe, Simon & Van Gorp, 2003, p. 244) in ‘higher pedagogy’ –
which we have to distinguish from ‘lower pedagogy’ (Depaepe et al., 2000) – a dichotomy may well be
established between ‘neutral’ (non-catholic) and Catholic education, although such a dividing line has
certainly not always been an ideological rift, as the case d’Espallier is demonstrating.
9 A sentence he borrowed from Edouard Claparèdes, which features in the preface (p. X) to Hamaïde,
1922.
10 In a letter of condolence to Decroly’s widow, the Colombian Agustín Nieto Caballero made a literal
comparison between Decroly and Christ (Depaepe, Simon & Van Gorp, 2003, p. 237).
REFERENCES
Carlyle, T. (1841). On heroes, hero-worship, and the heroic in history. London: Chapman.
Chamberlin, J.E. & Gilman, S.L. (Eds.) (1985). Degeneration. The dark side of progress. New York:
Columbia University Press.
48 ANGELO VAN GORP
Clausse, A. (1983). Evolution des doctrines et des méthodes pédagogiques. Du conditionnement à la
liberté. Fribourg: Editions Universitaires.
De Coster, T., Depaepe, M., Simon, F. & Van Gorp, A. (2005). Dewey in Belgium: A libation for
modernity? Coping with his presence and influence. In: T. Popkwitz (Ed.), Inventing the modern self
and John Dewey: Modernities and the traveling of pragmatism in education (pp. 85–109). New York:
Palgrave MacMillan.
Decroly, O. (1904). Plaies sociales et remèdes. Pour l’école, 4 (15), 406–410.
Decroly, O. (1907). La pédagogie évolutionniste. L’Enseignement pratique, 17 (1), 3–5.
Decroly, O. (1919). La place de l'éducation dans la vie du peuple. Quelques problèmes urgents.
L'Education nationale, 1 (1), 6–7.
Decroly, O. (1924). Le traitement et l’éducation des enfants irréguliers. In: Association des pédiatres de
langue française. Troisième congrès, Bruxelles (4–7 octobre 1923). Rapports et procès-verbaux des
séances (pp. 137–169). Brussels: Imp. Médicale et scientifique.
Decroly, O. (1925). Les facteurs qui déterminent la libération des intérêts [IIIième Congrès d’Education
nouvelle, Heidelberg, 2–15 août 1925. II. Les psychologues]. Pour l'Ere nouvelle, 4 (17), 6–10.
Decroly, O. (1928). Aperçu sur la méthode Decroly. s.l.: s.n.
Decroly, O. & Buyse, R. (1923). Les applications américaines de la psychologie à l’organisation
humaine et à l’éducation. Brussels: Lamertin.
Decroly, O. & Monchamp, [E.] (1914). L’initiation à l’activité intellectuelle et motrice par les jeux
éducatifs. Contribution à la pédagogie des jeunes enfants et des irréguliers. Neuchâtel/Paris:
Delachaux & Niestlé.
De Hovre, F. (1931–1932). Uit de paedagogische wereld: Dr. O. Decroly, psychiater, psycholoog en
paedagoog. Vlaamsch Opvoedkundig Tijdschrift, 57–58.
De Hovre, F. (1936²). Paedagogische denkers van onzen tijd. Bloemlezing. Antwerp: Standaard.
Depaepe, M. (1997). Demythologizing the Educational Past: An Endless Task in History of Education.
Historical Studies in Education/Revue d’histoire de l’éducation, 9 (2), 208–223.
Depaepe, M., De Vroede, M. & Simon, F. (1991). The 1936 curriculum reform in Belgian primary
education. Journal of Education Policy, 6 (4), 371–383.
Depaepe, M., et al. (2000). Order in progress. Everyday educational practice in primary schools: Belgium,
1880–1970 (Studia Paedagogica New Series 29). Louvain: Leuven University Press.
Depaepe, M. Simon, F. & Van Gorp, A. (2003). The canonization of Ovide Decroly as a ‘saint’ of the
new education. History of Education Quarterly, 43 (2), 224–249.
de Ruyter, D., Bertram-Troost, G. & Sieckelinck, S.M.A. (Eds.) (2005). Idealen, idolen en iconen van de
pedagogiek. Bijdragen aan de Twaalfde Landelijke Pedagogendag. Amsterdam: SWP.
d’Espallier, V. (1932–1933). ‘t Internationaal Opvoedingscongres te Nice. Vlaamsch Opvoedkundig
Tijdschrift, 6–16.
[d’Espallier, V.] (1932–1933). In Memoriam Dr. O. Decroly (12 Sept. 1932). Vlaamsch Opvoedkundig
Tijdschrift, 4–5.
d’Espallier, V. (1938²). Nieuwe banen in het onderwijs. Deel I. Antwerp: Standaard.
d’Espallier, V. (1954). La situation actuelle de la psycho-pédagogie dans le monde (2e partie). La Revue
internationale de Psycho-pédagogie, 2, 41–50.
d’Espallier, V. (1951). Decroly, Ovide. In: Katholieke Encyclopaedie voor Opvoeding en Onderwijs.
Eerste deel (pp. 436–441). The Hague/Antwerp: Pax/’t Groeit.
Dévaud, E. (1936). Le système Decroly et la pédagogie chrétienne. Fribourg: Librairie de l’Université.
Dubreucq, F. (1994). Jean-Ovide Decroly (1871–1932). In: Z. Morsy (Ed.), Penseurs de l’éducation, 1
(pp. 251–276). Paris: UNESCO.
Ferrière, A. [1911]. L’éducation nouvelle [Rapport présenté au premier Congrès international de
Pédologie]. s.l.: s.n.
Ferrière, A. (1920). Transformons l’école. Appèl aux parents et aux autorités. Basel: BIEN.
Ferrière, A. (1922). L’école active. Tome premier: Les origines. Neuchâtel: Editions Forum.
Ferrière, A. (1924). La pratique de l’Ecole active. Neuchâtel: Editions Forum.
Ferrière, A. (1927). Chronique du Congrès [de Locarno du 3 au 15 Août 1927]. Pour l’Ere Nouvelle, 6
(31–32), 94–97.
Ferrière, A. (1928). Trois Pionniers de l’éducation nouvelle. Hermann Lietz, Giuseppe Lombardo-Radice,
Frantisek Bakule. Paris: Ernest Flammaraion.
OVIDE DECROLY, A HERO OF EDUCATION 49
Frijhoff, W. (1998). Heiligen, Idolen, Iconen. Nijmegen: SUN.
Frijhoff, W. (2005). Iconen, idolen en idealen van onderwijs en opvoeding op de golfslag van de
beeldvorming. In: de Ruyter, D., Bertram-Troost, G. & Sieckelinck, S.M.A. (Eds.), Idealen, idolen en
iconen van de pedagogiek. Bijdragen aan de Twaalfde Landelijke Pedagogendag (pp. 11–24).
Amsterdam: SWP.
Hamaïde, A. (1922). La Méthode Decroly. Neuchâtel/Paris: Delachaux & Niestlé.
Hameline, D. (1995). Avant-propos. In: D. Hameline, J. Helmchen & J. Oelkers (Eds.), L’éducation
nouvelle et les enjeux de son histoire. Actes du colloque international des Archives Institut Jean-
Jacques Rousseau. L’éducation nouvelle, au-delà de l’histoire hagiographique ou polémique, Genève,
avril 1992 (pp. I–VI). Bern: Peter Lang.
Hameline, D. (2002). L’éducation dans le miroir du temps. Lausanne: LEP.
Helmchen, J. (1995). L’éducation nouvelle francophone et la Reformpädagogik allemande. Deux
‘histoires?’ In: D. Hameline, J. Helmchen & J. Oelkers (Eds.). L’éducation nouvelle et les enjeux de
son histoire. Actes du colloque international des Archives Institut Jean-Jacques Rousseau.
L’éducation nouvelle, au-delà de l’histoire hagiographique ou polémique, Genève, avril 1992
(pp. 1–29). Bern: Peter Lang.
Herman, A.L. (1997). The idea of decline in western history. New York: Free Press.
Herrera, M.C. (1999). Modernización y Escuela Nueva en Colombia: 1914–1951. Santafé de Bogotá:
Plaza & Janés Editores Colombia.
Ley, [A.], Brien, P. & Jadot, R. (1939). Les Méthodes Actives dans l’enseignement. Extraits de la semaine
pédagogique Dr. Ov. Decroly. La Louvière: Labor.
Oelkers, J. (1995). La Reformpädagogik au seuil de l’histoire: distanciation, historisation et
différenciation. In: D. Hameline, J. Helmchen & J. Oelkers (Eds.), L’éducation nouvelle et les enjeux
de son histoire. Actes du colloque international des Archives Institut Jean-Jacques Rousseau.
L’éducation nouvelle, au-delà de l’histoire hagiographique ou polémique, Genève, avril 1992 (pp. 31–
47). Bern: Peter Lang.
Pick, D. (1989). Faces of Degeneration. A European Disorder, c.1848–c.1918 (Ideas in Context).
Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.
Rombouts, S. (1940³). Leerboek Historische Pedagogiek. Tilburg/Amsterdam: R.K. Jongensweeshuis.
Tollebeek, J., Vanpaemel, G. & Wils, K. (Eds.) (2003). Degeneratie in België, 1860–1940. Een
geschiedenis van ideeën en praktijken (Symbolae Facultatis Litterarum Lovaniensis Series B 32).
Louvain: Universitaire Pers Leuven.
Van Gorp, A. (2004). Voorbij de ‘Cultus van de Pionier’. Over de methodestrijd tussen decrolyens en
montessorianen. In: M. D’hoker & M. Depaepe (Eds.), Op eigen vleugels. Liber Amicorum Prof. dr.
An Hermans (pp. 47–57). Antwerp/Apeldoorn: Garant.
Van Gorp, A. (2005a). From Special to New Education. About the biological, psychological and
sociological foundations of Ovide Decroly’s educational work. History of Education, 34 (2), 135–149.
Van Gorp, A. (2005b). Tussen mythe en wetenschap. Ovide Decroly (1871–1932). Louvain: Acco.
Van Gorp, A., Depaepe, M. & Simon, F. (2004). Backing the Actor as Agent in Discipline Formation: An
Example of the ‘Secondary Disciplinarization’ of the Educational Sciences, Base don the Networks of
Ovide Decroly (1901–1931). Paedagogica Historica, 40 (5–6), 591–616.
Van Liefland, W.A. (1959³). Decroly en de Decrolyschool. Groningen: Wolters.
Verheyen, J.E. [1933]. La noble figure du Dr. Decroly, psychologue de l’enfant, pédagogue de la vie.
In:Hommage au Dr. Decroly (pp. 9–14). s.l.: s.n.
Verheyen, J.E. (1952). Toespraak. In: Huldebetoon aan Dr. Decroly. Toespraken gehouden tijdens de
plechtige zitting die gehouden werd in de grote zaal van het Paleis voor Schone Kunsten te Brussel op
zondag 23 november 1952 (pp. 24–25). s.l.: s.n.
[Verheyen, J.E.] (1952). Een woord vooraf. In: Huldebetoon aan Dr. Decroly. Toespraken gehouden
tijdens de plechtige zitting die gehouden werd in de grote zaal van het Paleis voor Schone Kunsten te
Brussel op zondag 23 november 1952 (pp. 7–8). s.l.: s.n.
Verheyen, J.E. (1954). Het Hoger Instituut voor Opvoedkundige Wetenschappen van de Rijksuniversiteit
te Gent. Ghent: Hoger Instituut voor Opvoedkundige Wetenschappen.
Article
Full-text available
This article deals with the different layers of meaning in building designs, developed in the first half of the twentieth century for the progressive Decroly School l'Ermitage in Uccle. The authors focus in particular on the non-realized design (1946) by Renaat Braem and Jack Sokol as well as on the context in which this design has been developed.
Article
Full-text available
The contribution is divided into three parts; first, we try to uncover the Decrolyians' discourse concerning school architecture. On the basis of original sources, we look at the manner in which Decroly's and his disciples' thoughts on school buildings expressed themselves in the material heritage. Subsequently, Decroly's own school location is described and the question is raised as to how the developed environment was integrated into the pedagogical practice. In the final section, we study the utopian blue-print by the architects Renaat Braem (who nowadays is still considered one of the most important representatives of modern architecture and modern urban development in Belgium) and Jack Sokol, dating back to 1946. This had been a megalomaniacal project which was described both by the archtitects mentioned above and by the Decrolyians as a break with the existing school buildings, the ancient temples of pedagogy, in which one professed one's faith in the old didactics. It links up with the body of thought of an international plea which had been discussed during the first half of the 20th century, mainly in reform-pedagogical circles. The fact that the Decrolyians did, in the end, not realize their project of a renewable architecture was not so much the result of their persistent skepticism regarding one or the other school-architectonic determinism, which would transport the school building beyond the pre-eminence of its flexible use within the framework of the active method, it was simply due to limited financial resources.
Article
Full-text available
Propaganda is conspicuous for what it conceals and always cautious about what it reveals. Starting from the assumption that all documentaries on the Decroly School in Uccle (Brussels), the school Ovide Decroly (1871–1932) founded in 1907, are propaganda, this article tackles the question as to how to “read” this particular set of Decrolyan propaganda documentaries. The author will do that on the basis of two documentaries – Pour la vie, par la vie (1946–1947) and Le Jardin d’enfants à l’École Decroly (1952–1953) – and focus on what he calls a contextualising “from within”: a filmic reading as part of a historical reading. What does the “genre” of the propaganda documentary, the way these films are constructed, reveal about the Decroly Method, the Decroly School and the Decrolyans? This implies that one needs to try to unravel the “grammar” or “semiotics” of the films. As a result, this article is starting with a methodological reflection on how to read (propaganda documentary) film, after which the author outlines briefly the production context of the Decroly films. The subsequent sections relate this context to a contextualisation “from within”, focusing on the voice-over and the sounds, the framed images and the camera work, particularly related to the way space, children and adults are depicted, and finally the editing work, particularly referring to some striking sequences.
Chapter
Full-text available
Frans De Hovre (1884–1956), the (anglophile) pioneer of Catholic pedagogical theory in Flanders, repeatedly1 attributed to the American philosopher and educator John Dewey (1859–1952) worldwide renown as well as an impressive impact on the educational world of the time. But did this presentation of things by De Hovre ever actually correspond to the reality? When we summarily consider the history of Belgian education, we observe that any great presence of the non-Catholic Dewey is probably not so very obvious.2 Even the Catholic primary school teacher Edward Peeters had to take refuge in pseudonyms and was forced to resign because his interest in the New Education allegedly gave non-Catholic modernists too loud a voice.3
Book
Book synopsis: This book investigates the specific conception and descent of a language of 'degeneration' from 1848–1918, with particular reference to France, Italy and England. Daniel Pick shows how in the refraction and wake of evolution and naturalism, new images and theories of atavism, 'degenerescence' and socio-biological decline emerged in European culture and politics. He indicates the wide cultural and political importance of the idea of degeneration, whilst showing that the notion could mean different things at different times in different places.
Book
The present study will attempt to achieve this double objective — to gain an insight into the fundamental structures of educational behaviour in order to help explain the inertia that has weighed against educational reform. We will seek to penetrate everyday practice in Belgian primary education. The choice of the primary school as the object of study reflects not only the background to the research project but also the ferm belief that the essence of educational intervention is most clearly revealed at those levels at which educationalisation has penetrated most effectively. The period covered by the study has also been carefully selected. It runs from 1880 to 1970 and thus takes in the years in which the second industrial revolution made itself felt. To test the hypothetical continuity of educational behaviour, a deliberate choice has also :been made for three key periods in economic history, in which the social situation varied significantly: the 1880s, the 1930s and the 1960s. This sequence accentuates the cyclical pattern of economic development and sets out a kind of macro-historical line of discontinuity against which the internal dynamism of educational behaviour has been played out. The foundations of the `schoolish' society were laid during the first period with its 'écoles casernes'. It was during the second, meanwhile, that education became a mass phenomenon with authoritarian overtones — it is no coinci¬dence that Reform Pedagogy, which was diametrically opposed to such overtones, should also have emerged at this point. The third period heralded in the dismantling of the authoritarian model of education and, in theory at least, proclaimed the break¬through of the emancipatory model. We have also attempted to capture the distinction between internal dynamism and external development — between continuity and discontinuity, if you will — by using conceptual tools such as 'hidden curriculum' and 'higher pedagogy', which have unmistakably pushed the micro-history of pedagogical behaviour in the direction ‘schooling'. We report on these efforts in the first chapter, which is devoted to ‘classroom history' . We finally decided to adopt pedagogical periodicals as our principal source. The selection of periodicals for further study was made according to the continuity-discontinuity hypothesis, based on predetermined criteria, such as ideological background (Catholic versus non¬ Catholic), pedagogical stance (progressive versus conservative) and practical involvement. In addition to these periodicals, unpublished reports from teachers' conferences5 have also played an important part in the construction of our text. Our third and final main source con¬sisted of interviews carried out as part of earlier research, which have subsequently been complemented by new data. The content analyses of the source material were all encoded according to a predetermined system, stored in a database and prepared or further processing. This empirical data concerning the history of primary schooling is examined in chapters II to IV, with a view to identifying the specific shape of its educational mission. Curriculum analysis plays a central role, as objectives and subject matter form the link par excellence in the teaching process (related to the grammar of schooling). Chapters V—VII explore the underlying patterns of educational interaction related to the grammar of educationalisation) in isolation from the specific subject matter. The view of teacher and pupil, their recurring relationship patterns as reflected in rituals, punishment and reward, and externally expressed in the use of time and space, are the key elements of this part of the study. The conclusion, finally links our findings back to the initial questions and basic concepts.
Article
Education still has a long way to go in order to deal with the emergencies that can hardly be said to differ much from those that Decroly faced — educational failure, children who suffer, a bookish culture, social condescension and the obsession with productivity. Has education stopped any of these occurring or being maintained? It is true that Decroly directly inspired many schools in South America, Florida, Spain, Paris and, of course, Belgium. Thousands of educators have visited and still visit the Ermitage, which also receives many trainees. The movement for the emancipation of school has not ceased. Freinet, Illich and Freire have taken over from Dewey, Montessori and Decroly. ‘But introducing innovations in education and into the curriculum is no easy job! The mechanism that has been developed slowly over the centuries is complex and does not lend itself readily to major reconstruction. Most of those who live with and from the system thus consider it better not to meddle with it. In any case, they are not badly off inside it and do not notice the cracks that portend its forthcoming decline and collapse.'48 By a sad paradox, the failure of his work, so bold yet so simple, is that it still seems to be ahead of its time!
Article
As it was inspired to a large extent by the reform movement (Decroly and others), the 1936 curriculum is generally seen as an important innovation in the history of Belgian primary education. This study shows, however, that educational practice did not change fundamentally in those days. Several factors such as, among other things, personal tensions, rivalries and a lack of continuity in educational policy, inhibited greatly the implementation of the new curriculum. It seems that there was an inevitable gap between the idealistic context of the innovation on the one hand and the sociohistorical reality in which it had to be implemented on the other. Such a discrepancy is, perhaps, perennial rather than unique in the history of education.