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Childhood participation experiences in the memory


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This article is based on the findings of a broader research project entitled “Childhood Participation and Citizenship Building”, which examined the medium-term effects of intense experiences of participation in childhood within both the school environment and those of leisure-time and community education. The results presented in this article refer specifically to the memories subjects hold of their participation in these childhood experiences. The study combined quantitative (using a questionnaire) and qualitative approaches (conducting in-depth interviews). The results obtained contribute to strengthening the idea – explicit or implicit in all pedagogies that seek to promote child participation – that such participation is not only a right, but that it also contributes to the quality of educational experiences.
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Educational Review
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Childhood participation experiences in the
M. Gómez, T. Morata & J. Trilla
To cite this article: M. Gómez, T. Morata & J. Trilla (2016) Childhood participation experiences in
the memory, Educational Review, 68:2, 189-206, DOI: 10.1080/00131911.2015.1067879
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Published online: 29 Jul 2015.
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Childhood participation experiences in the memory
M. Gómez
*, T. Morata
and J. Trilla
Theory and History of Education Department, University of Barcelona, Barcelona, Spain;
Social Education and Social Work Department, Ramon Llull University, Barcelona, Spain
This article is based on the ndings of a broader research project entitled Child-
hood Participation and Citizenship Building, which examined the medium-term
effects of intense experiences of participation in childhood within both the
school environment and those of leisure-time and community education. The
results presented in this article refer specically to the memories subjects hold of
their participation in these childhood experiences. The study combined quantita-
tive (using a questionnaire) and qualitative approaches (conducting in-depth
interviews). The results obtained contribute to strengthening the idea explicit
or implicit in all pedagogies that seek to promote child participation that such
participation is not only a right, but that it also contributes to the quality of
educational experiences.
Keywords: child participation; leisure-time education; school; childrens
councils; memories
If I am to be honest, the entire period of my schooling was nothing other than a constant
and wearisome boredom, accompanied year after year by an increased impatience to
escape from this treadmill. I cannot recall ever having been either joyousor blissful
during that monotonous, heartless and lifeless schooling which thoroughly spoiled the
best and freest period of our existence. () For us, school was compulsion, tedious
monotony and dreariness, a place where we had to assimilate the science of the not-
worth-knowingin exactly measured portions scholastic or scholastically manufac-
tured material which we felt could have no relation to reality or to our personal interests.
() And the only truly joyful moment of happiness for which I have to thank my school
was the day I was able to shut the door behind me forever. (Zweig 2001,512)
In his memoir The Memory Chalet, leading European intellectual, Tony Judt, recalls
the griminstitution he attended six times a week () for nearly seven years,
with the poignant words: I hated school(Judt 2010, 97). And after cataloguing the
moral, cultural and educational miseries inicted on him by that institution, in an
almost exact mirroring of Stefan Zweigs experiences, the British historian refers to
the day he was nally able to leave that school in the following terms: I recall few
happier moments(Judt 2010, 100).
Fortunately, much more favourable accounts of life at school than the recollec-
tions of Judt and Zweig can be found. And a good number do recall with evident
nostalgia the many happy moments spent at school, their authors being keen to
express their gratitude to both the institution and its teachers for the education
*Corresponding author. Email:
© 2015 Educational Review
Educational Review, 2016
Vol. 68, No. 2, 189206,
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received. Yet, what stands out in nineteenth and twentieth century narrative be it
in ction or memoirs are the number of descriptions and judgements of a bitter,
negative nature.
As in this eloquent paragraph from Virginia Woolf (18821941) in
The Waves (1931):
It is the rst day of the summer holidays,said Susan. But the day is still rolled up.
I will not examine it until I step out on to the platform in the evening. I will not let
myself even smell it until I smell the cold green air off the elds. But already these are
not school elds; these are not school hedges; the men in these elds are doing real
things; they ll carts with real hay; and those are real cows, not school cows. But the
carbolic smell of corridors and the chalky smell of schoolrooms is still in my nostrils.
The glazed, shiny look of matchboard is still in my eyes. I must wait for elds and
hedges, and woods and elds, and steep railway cuttings, sprinkled with gorse bushes,
and trucks in sidings, and tunnels and suburban gardens with women hanging out
washing, and then elds again and children swinging on gates, to cover it over, to bury
it deep, this school that I have hated. (Woolf 1931, 36)
In few yet so poetic lines, Virginia Woolf expresses some of the features of this
traditional school that she and many others remembered with hatred: how it iso-
lated itself from its surroundings to become a world apart, how it distorted and falsi-
ed reality and everything it touched (those are real cows, not school cows …”). It
is not without signicance that a famous Spanish contemporary of Woolfs, Azorín
(18731967) expressed the same separation of school and reality:
It was where was it? It was a little village on the eastern coast of Spain; the school
was located at one end, adjacent to the market garden (). Every morning, just after
the sun has risen over the distant blue mountains in this clear blue sky, the children go
to school; () slowly, very slowly, savouring with delight these moments of complete
freedom, delaying as much as possible their painful and inexorable captivity. But cap-
tivity is precisely what it is: we remember it as a vivid, disquieting image ().
Now we are in school: there is a cheerful, noisy buzz of voices. And suddenly we all
fall silent: the teacher has appeared at the door. And the painful torment begins. Who
can fail to remember? Is there anyone who does not recall those agonising efforts to
retain what we do not understand mysterious theodicy or arcane elementary arith-
metic those endless repetitions, that ordeal of remaining still and quiet for hours on
end, those silent and inexplicable sobs in which we unburden our rst disappointments
in life, that sudden bitterness which appears for the rst time to muddy our clear, naive
visions? Outside, the splendour of nature lives on: the trees are beautiful with their
dense, round foliage, the birds sing, the mountains stand out strikingly in the bright
daylight, the water trickles, murmuring along the ditches . (Azorín 1972, 222224)
And if Azorín spoke of captivity, another British author, George Bernard Shaw
(18561950), directly compared the schools of his time to prisons:
They send their children to school; and there is, on the whole, nothing on earth
intended for innocent people so horrible as a school. To begin with, it is a prison. But
it is in some respects more cruel than a prison. In a prison, for instance, you are not
forced to read books written by the warders and the governor (who of course would
not be warders and governors if they could write readable books), and beaten or other-
wise tormented if you cannot remember their utterly unmemorable contents. In the
prison you are not forced to sit listening to turnkeys discoursing without charm or
interest on subjects that they dont understand and dont care about, and are therefore
incapable of making you understand or care about. In a prison they may torture your
body; but they do not torture your brains; and they protect you against violence and
outrage from your fellow prisoners. In a school you have none of these advantages.
With the worlds bookshelves loaded with fascinating and inspired books, the very
manna sent down from Heaven to feed your souls, you are forced to read a hideous
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imposture called a school book, written by a man who cannot write: a book from
which no human being can learn anything: a book which, though you may decipher it,
you cannot in any fruitful sense read, though the enforced attempt will make you
loathe the sight of a book all the rest of your life. With millions of acres of woods and
valleys and hills and wind and air and birds and streams and shes and all sorts of
instructive and healthy things easily accessible, or with streets and shop windows and
crowds and vehicles and all sorts of city delights at the door, you are forced to sit, not
in a room with some human grace and comfort or furniture and decoration, but in a
stalled pound with a lot of other children, beaten if you talk, beaten if you move, bea-
ten if you cannot prove by answering idiotic questions that even when you escaped
from the pound and from the eye of your gaoler, you were still agonizing over his
detestable sham books instead of daring to live. (Shaw 1910)
We could add pages and pages of such pejorative descriptions, opinions and memo-
ries of the schools of yesteryear. But this polarisation of memories can be under-
stood in two possible ways which we shall refer to as the objectivist and relativist
interpretations. The former gives us to understand that if school days are recalled
with such displeasure (or pleasure, as the case may be), it is because that is exactly
how they were experienced and it was the school that was chiey responsible for
their being experienced in that way. The relativist interpretation, by contrast, has
reservations about the direct linear nature of this relationship, and claims that it can-
not simply be accepted that what is remembered coincides exactly with what was
experienced, or that the reason it was experienced in one way or the other was due
solely to the institutional framework in which the individuals school days were
played out.
The Spanish psychiatrist, Castilla del Pino, points out that memories are evoca-
tions of past events. That is, they are representations that do not necessarily coincide
with what actually happened: We recall things in different ways according to (1)
the conditions in which we found ourselves when the events took place; (2) the type
of event; and (3), the relationship that exists between the event being remembered
and the moment in which the memory is evoked(Castilla Del Pino 2006, 17). We
should clarify, as indeed Castillo del Pino does, that because what is being recalled
fails to coincide precisely with the event actually experienced, this does not neces-
sarily mean the memory is false or, worse still, that the person remembering it sets
out with the intention of deceiving others or themselves.
This is not the place to explore the numerous mechanisms of the memory and
their distortions, which have been and continue to be widely studied within a variety
of disciplines.
But shifting the focus back to the subject specically addressed in
this article, namely, the content and judgements present in recollections of childhood
educational experiences, it is worth stressing that the interpretive framework of the
rest of this article combines the objectivist and relativist interpretations introduced
It is apparent that a certain amount of credibility ought to be given to these
memories and judgements. Thus, if, for instance, it turns out that various generations
overwhelmingly coincide in harbouring far from fond memories of their school
days, it must be accepted that this does not speak well of the schools they attended.
And if the opposite is true of subsequent generations, it should be acknowledged
that the schools of their childhood must have borne little resemblance to the deplor-
able schools of their predecessors. Nevertheless, it ought not to be forgotten that
memories are personal constructs built and rebuilt according to the moment in which
they are reactivated.
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Here, by combining the two interpretive focuses, this article is able to examine
the reality of the educational contexts in which participative educational experiences
were had, while exploring aspects of the moment in which they are recalled and the
personal characteristics of the individual recalling them.
And although in introduc-
ing this discussion here the focus has been on somewhat distant memories, the fol-
lowing sections will consider the memory of much more recent educational
experiences. To be precise, the aim of this article is to present the relevant ndings
from a broader piece of research, which we summarise later.
Child participation and building citizenship
This study seeks to examine the medium-term effects of intense participation experi-
ences in three educational environments during childhood: namely, those of school,
leisure-time education (and, specically, the Catalan esplais) and municipal chil-
drens councils (see later for full explanation).
But rst we should specify certain concepts related to participation. Thus,
according to UNICEF: Child participation must be authentic and meaningful. It
must start with children and young people themselves, on their own terms, within
their own realities and in pursuit of their own visions, dreams, hopes and concerns.
Most of all, authentic and meaningful child participation requires a radical shift in
adult thinking and behaviour from an exclusionary to an inclusionary approach to
children and their capabilities.
Casas, following Lansdown (2001), summarises the main features of effective
participationas follows:
the topic must have real relevance to children and the young; it must provide a dif-
ferential element (such as having results and generating long-term institutional change);
it must be linked to the everyday experiences of children and the young; it must have
sufcient material and time resources; it must generate realistic expectations for chil-
dren and the young; it must have objectives which are both clear and negotiated with
children and the young; it 30 must be directed to the promotion and protection of chil-
drens rights; it must have support from adults when necessary; and the methodology
employed must be developed in collaboration with the children and young people.
(Casas et al. 2008, 3656)
Trilla and Novella distinguish between four types or levels of participation they call:
simple,consultative,projective and metaparticipation.
Simple participation would involve solely taking part in a process or activity as a
spectator or performing party, but without the subject having intervened in its
preparation or in decisions about its content or development. They are basically lim-
ited to following directions or responding to stimuli. Consultative participation goes
one step further by hearing the subjects. They are not mere spectators, performers or
users of something externally determined, but rather their views are requested on
matters that affect them.
The projective participant is more than simply a user and does more than simply
offer an opinion, becoming in fact a kind of agent. This is, therefore, a more demand-
ing form of participation, requiring greater commitment and co-responsibility, with a
condition for its exercise being that the participant should feel he or she is actually
part of the project. It is also a more complex type of participation which, at its highest
level, takes place in all the different phases of the activity: in the project denition
and determination of its objectives; in its design, planning and preparation; in its
management, execution and process control; and in its assessment.
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The fourth and nal form of this classication is called metaparticipation, and
exists when the subjects themselves request, demand or generate new opportunities
and mechanisms for participation. It appears when an individual or collective
believes their participatory rights are not being recognised or when they think the
established channels are insufcient or ineffective (Trilla and Novella 2001). As we
have previously indicated, the experiences of child participation studied in our work
are situated at the level of what we have called projective participation.
In relation to the preceding paragraphs, our object of study are experiences that
involve authentic(UNICEF 2003), effectiveparticipation (Casas et al. 2008).
As such, we exclude those forms of participation that, elsewhere, we have labelled
simple, so as to focus specically on what we conceptualise as projective partic-
ipation(Trilla and Novella 2001), and in all circumstances these experiences of par-
ticipation had a duration of at least two years in one of the three studied areas (that
is, school, leisure-time education or the municipal childrens council).
Now we should specify the three educational areas outlined earlier. The panor-
ama of participatory pedagogies in the twentieth century is broad and includes
attempts at introducing self-government by the European movements of the New
School and the Active School models (e.g. Ferrièrre, Montessori, Decroly, etc.) and
their followers (e.g. Freinet, the Italian Cooperative Education Movement, etc.); the
progressive education movement in the United States inspired by J. Dewey and his
disciples; the more radical, anti-authoritarian approaches (e.g. Summerhill, the
Hamburg Schools, etc.); Carl Rogersnon-directive education; the self-management
experiments of Institutional Pedagogy (e.g. Lobrot Lapassade, Oury and Franch);
and the just communityapproach promoted by Kohlberg, etc.
The participation experiences that we study here are more similar to those of the
European movement of the New School and the Active School and to Deweys pro-
gressive education in the United States than to those of the more radical, Summer-
hill-type (i.e. democratic education). Apple and Beane (2007, 10), in their
examination of democratic schools, capture perfectly the type of experiences to
which we refer:
To say that democracy rests on the consent of the governed is almost a cliché, but in a
democratic school it is true that all of those directly involved in the school, including
young people, have the right to participate in the process of decision-making. For this
reason, democratic schools are marked by widespread participation in issues of gover-
nance and policy-making. Committees, councils, and other schoolwide decision-
making groups include not only professional educators, but also young people, their
parents, and other members of the school community. In classrooms, young people and
teachers engage in collaborative planning, reaching decisions that respond to the con-
cerns, aspirations, and interests of both. This kind of democratic planning, at both the
school and the classroom levels, is not the engineering of consenttoward predeter-
mined decisions that has too often created the illusion of democracy, but a genuine
attempt to honor the right of people to participate in making decisions that affect their
lives. (Apple and Beane 2007, 10)
In the school experiences studied here, the participation of the young is seen in the
organisation of community life and communal relations (conict resolution, etc.) as
well as in the schools pedagogical activities (the teaching methods and techniques),
all of which are facilitated by means of democratic structures and procedures operat-
ing at the class-group (meetings) and the school levels (delegates, representative
councils, commissions, etc.).
Educational Review 193
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The leisure-time activities examined here are those that children engage in at
what are known in Catalonia as esplais (Trilla, Ayuste, and Agud 2013) and which
share many of the features of the scouting movement. Children enrol and attend the
esplai centre regularly (usually on Saturday afternoons) throughout the year. The
activities are complemented by weekend excursions and summer camps.
Finally, the municipal childrens councils are participatory bodies created by a
number of town and city councils, made up of local children that meet regularly to
contribute, through their critical observations and suggestions, to improving the
environment in which they live.
Municipal childrens councils are composed of 20 to 30 boys and girls who live
in the city in question and are between 9 and 12 years old. Council members come
from state and private schools in the municipality and are elected by their class-
mates. Half of the council is renewed every year, so each councillor holds ofce for
two years. This annual renewal of half of the council enables methods of operation
and traditions that are created to be preserved and transmitted through a horizontal
socialisation process. Veteranshand down to newcomers both the formal rules of
the council as well as the rich resource of informal dynamics and shared experiences
that are continuously being generated. Ordinary council meetings are usually held
on a monthly basis, but depending on the activities being developed and the avail-
ability of members, extraordinary sessions and meetings of subgroups or commis-
sions may be called. Each childrens council has the support of an adult (appointed
and contracted by the City Council) who acts as the driving force behind its opera-
tion, however, the council is fully sovereign to decide on the matters to be
The ones included in this study were among the rst to be set up in the province
of Barcelona (in the late 1990s) based, above all, on the proposals of Francesco
Tonucci and his Childrens City project (Tonucci 1997,2004).
Our goal in adopting this approach was to corroborate a hypothesis that, explic-
itly or implicitly, is shared by all those pedagogies that seek to promote child partic-
ipation: namely, the participatory experiences of childhood contribute to shaping
future citizens that are critically minded, willing to participate and committed.
Specically, we wished to explore the retrospective view young people have of their
childhood experiences (the way in which they recall them, the inuences in their
present lives that they attribute to them, and so on).
In carrying out this study we combined quantitative (questionnaire) and qualita-
tive (in-depth interviews) techniques of analysis. The questionnaire (see later for
details) was given to two groups of subject, henceforth referred to as G1 and G2.
G1 comprised young people between the ages of 18 and 22 who, some 10 years ear-
lier, had had signicant experience of participating in one of the three areas outlined
earlier (that is, school, leisure-time education or the municipal childrens council).
To locate, identify and select the experiences for subsequent study, we drew on a
number of reliable sources, including specic publications that made direct reference
to them, expert advice and details provided by educational renewal and leisure-time
education movements.
G2, which served to all intents and purposes as a control group, comprised
people in the same age range that had not had these participatory experiences in
their childhood, i.e. youngsters that attended not especially participatory schools or
leisure-time education centres. Clearly, the sub-group corresponding to that of the
childrens councils does not occur in G2, since these councils are, by their very
194 M. Gómez et al.
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nature, essentially participatory bodies. So, just as there are schools or leisure-time
education centres that do not especially foster participation, a childrens council that
practiced little or no participation would be a contradiction in terms.
The number of subjects included in each group and each of the three areas is
detailed in Table 1.
The questionnaire
was divided in three sections. The rst contained several
items asking subjects about their memories of the days they had spent at the educa-
tional institution of reference and the inuence that, in their opinion, it had exerted
on their life and on different aspects of the way they are and behave today; the sec-
ond section asked subjects about their subsequent participatory activity; and, the
third section asked them about their current attitude to participation and citizenship.
The questionnaire items that are of greatest interest to us here are both from the rst
section. In the rst of these we asked subjects to appraise the memory they have of
participating in the experience, on a scale from 0 (very bad) to 10 (very good). In the
second, an open question, subjects were asked to name the things (a maximum of three)
they remembered most from the period they spent at the institution of reference.
The questionnaire delving into subjectsmemories of their childhood participatory
experiences was complemented with in-depth, individual, face-to-face interviews,
conducted with a sub-sample of G1 (see Table 1): 29 subjects between the ages of 18
and 22 who, some 10 years earlier, had had signicant experience of participating in
one of the studied areas. They were distributed as follows: 10 from school, seven from
leisure-time education and 12 from municipal childrens councils.
Subjects were asked to explain, justify and, in their own words, expand upon the
answers they had given in the questionnaire. The script employed in the interviews
followed the same line as that taken by the questionnaire: analysis and retrospective
assessment of childhood participatory experiences; subsequent participatory
activities, and subjectscurrent attitudes to participation and citizenship.
In the section that follows we present and comment upon the main results of
the study, rst, through a consideration of the quantitative results obtained via the
closed question on the questionnaire, and, second, through an examination of
the qualitative information obtained from the interviews and the open question on
the questionnaire.
Memory of childhood educational experiences
Our results show (Table 2)
that respondents, in general, have a highly positive
memory of their childhood educational experiences and that the bitter recollections
we highlighted in the introduction have been largely conned to the past. Yet,
marked differences are evident between those that engaged in participatory
experiences (G1) and those that did not (G2).
Table 1. Number of questionnaires and interviews, according to sample and area.
G1 G2 Interviews
School 103 288 7
Leisure-time education 112 112 10
Childrens council 62 12
Totals 277 400 29
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As Table 2shows, fairly large majorities in both groups declared they had very
good or quite good memories of the time they spent at these education centres; few
subjects recalled such memories as having little or no positive value. However, the
concentration of positive responses is much more marked among G1 subjects
(69.8% reported having very good memories versus 38% in G2). The reasons for
this difference are apparent in the interviews conducted with the respondents.
An examination of the results by educational area reveals a similar tendency to
that found in the overall results: subjects in G1 report a higher frequency of good
memories than their peers in G2. In the case of participatory schools, around 67% of
the subjects have very many good memories of their time spent there, a gure that
falls to 38.9% in the case of those schooled at normal schools. In the case of lei-
sure-time education this difference is even more marked. Those who attended
esplais had very many (72.3%) or quite a few (25.0%) good memories, while in the
control group only 35.7% reported having quite a few good memories of their lei-
sure-time education. In the case of the childrens councils (no controls available),
approximately 80% of subjects reported having fond memories of their participation
(38.7% very many and 41.9% quite a few).
Interestingly, the difference in the quality of memories between the two groups
is greater in the area of leisure-time than at school. Among G1 subjects there is a
marked concentration of very many good leisure-time memories, while among G2
subjects there is a more even distribution across the scale. This pattern is repeated to
some extent in the case of school, but the distributions in both groups tend to be
more homogeneous. A possible explanation for this is that school environments
tend, for better or for worse, to be more homogeneous than those of leisure-time
education. Regulations, controls, traditions and even what is expected of them carry
much greater weight in the case of schools than in that of leisure-time education
Equally noteworthy is the fact that the most positive memories correspond (and
here the difference is signicant) to those reported by the G1 group in relation to their
time spent in the esplais, while the G2 group record their least fond memories (albeit
that they are not bad) in the equivalent area. This difference again is probably in part
attributable to the greater degree of internal diversication in this educational area. A
further plausible explanation concerns the subsequent links that the subjects establish
with this area of their childhood memories, given that the possibilities in this regard
are much greater than in the other two areas (membership of the childrens council is
Table 2. Comparison of frequencies of good memories, according to sample and area.
Good memories
None Few Normal Quite a few Very many
School G1 1.0% 0.0% 8.7% 23.3% 67.0%
G2 2.1% 3.8% 18.4% 36.8% 38.9%
Leisure time G1 0.0% 0.9% 1.8% 25.0% 72.3%
G2 1.8% 4.5% 22.3% 35.7% 35.7%
Childrens council G1 1.6% 1.6% 16.1% 41.9% 38.7%
Overall G1 0.5% 0.5% 5.1% 24.2% 69.8%
G2 2.0% 4.0% 19.5% 36.5% 38.0%
(3) = 1.85; P< 0.005.
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limited to two years and the time spent at primary school is also xed). By contrast,
in the esplais the children can attend successive, age-related stages within the
organisation, eventually even changing their role and becoming a group leader (or
monitor). Moreover, attendance is voluntary and it is unlikely that adolescents could
be forced to remain members of such an organisation against their will. In this
respect, our research shows that it is the G1 subjects in this educational area (esplais)
who go on to participate most in general and, also, within this area.
Thus, those that enjoyed their time in the esplais had the opportunity to maintain
close, affective links to them, and indeed many chose to do so. This continuity
would appear to be a key factor in the positive feedback received. For example, As
an adolescent and young person I continued to be involved with my esplai because
what I did there during my childhood was a really good experience(LT-i-G1, see
later for coding); but, at the same time, the fact that this link was maintained serves
to reactivate, strengthen and even perhaps optimise these good memories from child-
hood. We would seem to have better memories of experiences associated with a par-
ticular context the more that context continues to provide us with enjoyable
The contents of the memories: what is remembered most and why
As introduced earlier, we included a further item on the questionnaire to explore the
contents of the subjectsmemories of their childhood educational experiences. Addi-
tionally, during the interviews conducted with the G1 sub-sample that had engaged
in participatory experiences we asked them to talk further about these memories.
Most of their recollections can be placed in one of two main categories: those con-
cerning people (and the relationships established with them) and those concerning
the activities carried out. This rst category can be further broken down into the
way in which our subjects recall the people who exercised the role of educator
and the relationships they built up with their peers.
Educators in the memory
In line with our quantitative results (see earlier), respondents seem to hold quite
good memories of their educators. Indeed, by identifying the qualities they attribute
to them, we are able to construct ideal proles for educators in each of the three
General or specic
Two types of memory can be distinguished: on the one hand, those that refer
generically to their educators: I really liked the relationships I had with my
teachers(SC-i), for instance; and on the other hand, those that refer to specic
educators: The good relationship I had with one teacher, which continues to this
day(SC-r-G1); I remember one teacher who was a lot of fun(SC-r-G2); The
music classes: I had a brilliant teacher(SC-r-G2); My 3rd and 4th year teacher: I
liked her a lot(SC-r-G2).
In the case of school memories, this second type of memory is more common
among G2 subjects, while those subjects (G1) who attended participatory schools
tend to have a favourable memory of the teaching staff as a whole. In some cases,
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the latter even recall other members of the school community, for example: I also
have good memories of the staff. I mean, from the teachers to just about anyone you
could meet in the school (). The person that opened the door, who knew us and
always said hello I dont know, its the feeling of belonging, of like being at
home(SC-i). This last response is typical of expressions used by subjects when
recalling their experiences (for example, feeling comfortable,feeling welcome,
like being among family, etc.) and they tend to attribute this warm, welcoming
atmosphere to the work and the individual qualities of the educators.
Human quality and professional competence
In education, if it were possible to distinguish clearly between technical and method-
ological skills, on the one hand, and human and relationship-building qualities, on
the other hand, it would be the latter that respondents would surely mention when
identifying the educators they recall most fondly. Yet, there are those who refer
explicitly to teachers that possessed both qualities in equal measure: Good teachers,
both as persons as well as in the way they taught(SC-r-G2). Similarly when they
describe their teachers as having been exemplaryor excellent, they are at the
same time implicitly attributing these teachers with both qualities.
However, what the respondents refer to most when describing those educators
that remain uppermost in their minds are certain human qualities, essentially those
of forging relationships built on proximity, trust, support, understanding, a willing-
ness to listen, happiness and being treated well:The great atmosphere among the
schools pupils, teachers and parents(SC-r-G2); The trust that existed between
pupils and teachers(SC-r-G2); The friendly relationship with the teachers
(SC-r-G2); The help, camaraderie, attention and support of the monitors who stood
by us through thick and thin(LT-r-G1); The monitors, who always gave us a
smile(LT-r-G1); As a point of reference, the monitors for all the good times I
had with them and for the interest they showed in us(LT-r-G1).
The educator as a model
This memory of the educator as a point of reference is a quality frequently associ-
ated with the esplai monitors, being mentioned above all by those who, as discussed
earlier, maintained links with the institution and who, in turn, took on the role of
monitors: Now, as a monitor, it really helps me to remember the best monitors I
had as points of reference. () To remember what they did, the proximity the
fact they were always willing to give you advice, half-way between being like a par-
ent and a friend. It left an impression on me and it is what, as a monitor myself, I
now try to transmit to the children(LT-i); I was a little girl who needed my moni-
tors a lot. And I suppose these things have made me continue [in the institution]: it
was a space where I could go and tell them the things I couldnt tell my mother.
This condence that they give you ; you feel supported by your monitors, and
they end up being a model to follow(LT-i).
It takes all sorts
And yet, inevitably, some of the respondents harbour memories of less good-natured
educators. One recalls: Relationships of every kind with the different teachers: from
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getting on well to feelings of loathing(SC-r-G2); another speaks of: A variety of
bizarre teachers(SC-r-G2); and a third confesses to having had: Teachers who
were interested in you and others who were mad(SC-r-G2). However, in line with
the small percentage of bad memories reported earlier, negative reports were few
and far between. On balance, it is perhaps not surprising that among the most linger-
ing memories we nd, at one extreme, excellent, open and friendly educators, while
at the other, we nd the mad, the contemptible, the scornful and the outrageous; yet,
the more modest and the mediocre would seem to be less memorable.
Peer relationships
Likewise, the respondents reserve a special place in their memories for the class-
mates and friends with whom they shared their childhood experiences. Here again,
they can be divided into two categories: the friendships forged in the institution and
the relationships founded on the camaraderie and sense of solidarity they
experienced there.
Making lifelong friends
All three areas are ideal contexts for peer encounters and, hence, for forging friend-
ships. Unsurprisingly, many respondents refer to the friends they made during those
years as constituting the most enduring elements of their memories of their child-
hood experiences.
Not only are these friendships well lodged in the participantsmemories, they
have also lasted into later life: Friends that I still have today (). The ones I con-
sider really true friends, the closest, are the friends I made in the esplai(LT-i);
The friends Ive had all my life I met there(SC-r-G2), etc. Some, moreover, recall
feelings that went beyond friendship: My rst boyfriend(SC-r-G2); The girl I
liked(CC-r), and so on.
No great differences are perceived between G1 and G2 as regards the making
of friends, with subjects in both groups identifying the friendships they forged as
being among their best memories. This comes as no surprise; the basic condition for
making friendsbeing simply the meeting of others and so even in the strictest,
most authoritarian communities, children manage to make friends.
Camaraderie, cooperation and solidarity
In the groups and communities we are addressing, not everyone becomes friends
with everyone else; yet, it is preferable that they share a sense of belonging to the
same group and of mutual support. This is frequently referred to in the recollections
recorded here:
What I often remember on the positive side is the sense of solidarity among
classmates(SC-i); Belonging to a group made you consider the school was yours
And I suppose the feeling that you form part of a group is what helps you grow
as a person(SC-i); I particularly remember the way the group stuck together
The activities
Having identied the memories of those who participated in those experiences, we
turn now to examine just the specic details of these experiences. Later we
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summarise the most signicant elements in their responses under three general
headings; however, given that the sense and purposes of the three areas studied
differ considerably, we often have to distinguish between them.
Dynamic activities
A prominent place in the memories is taken by the activities that might be classed
as dynamic. The respondents recall, above all, two types of school activity: those
undertaken in specic subjects where the putting into practiceof what they had
learned turned out to be essential, even in the more traditional school contexts: The
subject of music: performing songs and playing instruments, singing in the choir
and so on(SC-r-G1); Handicrafts: painting, building gures and other craftwork
(SC-r-G1). Subjects also recalled the more dynamic, active lessons received in a
range of subjects: In the natural science classes we always practiced on real
animals. For instance, we brought in animalslungs, sheeps heads and so on
(SC-r-G1); When we played games to get a better understanding of the language
In all of these instances the point was to apply (practice, experiment, build, train,
etc.) what was being learned. The tasks assigned to pupils required their total and
active participation, taking them well beyond their traditional tasks of listening,
studying, and memorising, etc. In short, it seems that it is more memorable to be an
active agent than a passive receiver of information. This was summed up graphically
by one of the respondents, who remembered with special fondness those moments
in which we were made to feel the centre of attention(SC-r-G2).
The second class of activities recalled were those conducted outside the class-
room in the playground, dining hall, or when arriving and leaving school. Interest-
ingly, these non-academic moments appear in their memories with a frequency that
greatly exceeds the signicance usually attributed to them: The midday break, play-
ing games and sharing in conversations with the monitors(SC-r-G1); Times in the
playground when we joined in ghts, games and other experiences, and when we
settled our quarrels(SC-r-G2); The dining hall, where all the pupils from the dif-
ferent years gathered together in one space, without any kind of academic pressure
Extraordinary activities
In all three educational areas, a special emphasis is placed on activities that might
be referred to as extraordinary, i.e. those that break with the routine, either
because of their intensity or the degree of involvement they called for, the level of
motivation with which they were carried out, their innovative nature, the setting in
which they were conducted (outside the normal institutional boundaries), the com-
plexity of their organisation requiring the subjects to take an active role, or because
of their external projection. We refer to visits to activity centres, going camping,
going on a trip, taking part in a student exchange or in traditional festivals, cultural
and sporting events, or participating in some sort of campaign, etc.
Activities of this kind seem to abound in the memories that young people have
of their childhood experiences. The routine, the usual and the ordinary, despite being
what we invest most real time in, remains embedded in the memory as a uniform
mass; but, the extraordinary is always more memorable.
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Participatory activities
Finally, we turn to look at what the respondents remember about participating in the
wider community of which their centres formed a part and their involvement in the
running and organisation of their activities. Unsurprisingly, it is the members of G1
who have accumulated most memories.
Former members of the childrens councils the purpose of which was to act as
the mouthpiece of the young and to enable them to intervene and collaborate in
improving their local environment spoke of their involvement in the following
terms: “… the feeling that you can change things in your town, things you dont like
and that could be improved. And seeing that you have that capability, even though
youre very young(CC-i); We made a commercial to raise peoples awareness of
the benets of public transport(CC-i); We held meetings with various schools
from areas that were extremely different, each with its own problems, and everyone
was able to express their concerns and suggestions freely, knowing they were being
listened to(CC-r).
Participating in the organisation of activities and managing the life of the group
drew the following comments: All through the years of primary school, one day a
week there was a small class meeting in which we had discussions and made short-
and long-term proposals about the organisation of the schools premises, time,
materials and activities(SC-r-G1); I learned how to stand up for my opinion, to
defend it and to nd a way to get someone to listen to me(CC-i); Taking part
made me feel involved; the fact that it was us who had to take decisions(CC-i);
Ive learned to feel that your opinion matters and that you shouldnt keep the things
you think to yourself, because maybe other people think the same as you(CC-i).
What they all seem to be saying is that they learned to participate and by recognis-
ing this they are also revalidating the basic principle of pedagogical activism:
namely, the most effective way of learning how to participate is by participating.
We began this article with various testimonies in which the experience of school
was recounted in a highly negative fashion; moreover, we argued that such memo-
ries were by no means the exception of those whose schooldays were lived in the
twentieth century and, of course, the centuries that preceded it. However, on the
basis of the data obtained in this study we can conrm that, in general, todays
young people hold somewhat better memories of their schooldays.
It is nevertheless curious that when schooling was not yet open to everyone,
some of these privileged few should recall it in such negative terms. Yet, today, now
that schooling is largely universal, memories tend to be far more positive. Seen in a
historical perspective, this gradual extension of schooling has been accompanied by
a substantial improvement in the wellbeing of its users. This progress, of course, has
not always been linear; there have been and there continue to be sporadic reac-
tionary periods, the fruit of adverse economic situations and retrograde education
policies. However, a broad historical review clearly demonstrates the progress to
which we allude.
Yet, while schooling today happily no longer resembles the abhorrent conditions
of the past, not everyone recalls their experiences with equal satisfaction. Obviously,
even today, there are good and bad schools: some that generate happy memories,
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others less so. Some of these differences have been described in the course of the
preceding discussion, but one of the factors that seems to have a marked inuence
on just how the educational experience is recalled is the degree to which the
institution was able to make its pupils feel involved in its organisation.
Our quantitative results show that young people who attended institutions that pro-
moted participation have very good memories of them; memories that appear to be
more positive than those of their peers who attended other centres. However, this nd-
ing alone is not sufcient for us to establish a strict causal relation. Undoubtedly, the
quality of educational experiences depends not solely on the pupilsparticipation, but
upon an array of diverse variables and factors that further research needs to ascertain.
This said, our qualitative results provide additional evidence that participating
has a positive impact on the way school experiences are remembered. Our subjects
explicitly acknowledge that this factor has contributed to their recalling their school-
days with satisfaction. They specically recognise that the institutions they attended
created the conditions in which they could express themselves freely and where they
felt they were listened to. They also valued the fact that they could take decisions,
negotiate agreements, take part in projects, involve themselves in the organisation of
matters affecting the institution, and take on a range of different responsibilities, all
of which were a direct reection of their ability to participate.
And attitudes and participatory skills are an essential part of the exercise of
democratic citizenship. As John and Evelyn Dewey (1915, 304) point out:
Responsibility for the conduct of society and government rests on every member of
society. Therefore, every one must receive a training that will enable him to meet this
responsibility, giving him just ideas of the condition and needs of the people collec-
tively, and developing those qualities which will insure his doing a fair share of the
work of gov-ernment. If we train our children to take orders, to do things simply
because they are told to, and fail to give them condence to act and think for them-
selves, we are putting an almost insurmountable obstacle in the way of overcoming the
present defects of our system and of establishing the truth of democratic ideals. Our
State is founded on freedom, but when we train the State of tomorrow we allow it just
as little freedom as possible. Children in school must be allowed freedom so that they
will know what its use means when they become the controlling body, and they must
be allowed to develop active qualities of initiative, independence, and resourcefulness,
before the abuses and failures of democracy will disappear.
It is our hope that this article and our study might serve to strengthen the idea that
participating in childhood educational establishments is not only a democratic right
which in itself is sufcient to justify the concept, but also one that contributes to
the quality of experiences at these establishments and, thus, to their being recalled
fondly at a later date. An educational experience that is memorable has a two-fold
value: it served to educate the individual in its day and it continues to educate that
individual each time it is recalled.
Disclosure statement
No potential conict of interest was reported by the authors.
This work was supported by the Spanish Ministerio de Ciencia e Innovación (Ministry of
Science and Innovation) [Fundamental Research Projects Ref. EDU200910967].
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1. This is readily conrmed in the numerous compilations of literary texts about school-
days (for example, Craig 1994; Lass and Tasman 1981; Lomas 2011) and studies dedi-
cated to their analysis (Barone 1988; Jackson and Haroutinian-Gordon 1989; Trilla
2002; Viñao 2002).
2. The book Artículos olvidados de J. Martínez Ruiz (18941904) was published in 1972,
but the article in which the quotation appears is from 1903.
3. The piece by Bernard Shaw is taken from a text published by the writer as a prologue
to his play Misalliance (1910). It is included in his essay A Treatise on Parents and
Children (
4. There is a branch of psychology specialised in the study of what is known as autobio-
graphical memory (Baddeley 2010; Manzanero 2008; Thompson et al. 1998). Histori-
ography and specically the epistemology of history has also not ignored questions
concerning the reliability of memory (Alted 1996; Le Goff 1992; Mudrovcic 2005;
Ricoeur 2004).
5. Antonio Viñao uses well-chosen examples to refer to the shared memory that each
generation holds of its school experiences in the context of Spains education system in
the twentieth century (Viñao 2011).
6. In other sections we have indicated a possible slant as regards the origin of school
memories converted into literature (be it ction or in memoirs). Those whose school
memories we know best (because they are also those who have engaged most in pub-
lishing them) are writers, intellectuals and, in general, people from the world of culture
and art. In other words, people with a generally more developed critical sensitivity and
spirit for whom the encounter with a highly disciplined and regulated world such as that
of the traditional school must have been especially difcult and emotional. The image
that men and women of letters offer us of the school should not be considered necessar-
ily representative of the image the average pupil would give us. Because they are former
pupils who, to a certain extent, when talking of the school do so from a privileged posi-
tion, with the effectiveness and lucidity endowed upon them by their skills as writers.
(Carbonell et al. 1987, 23).
7. Trilla et al.: Participación infantil y construcción de la ciudadanía. Spanish Ministry of
Science and Innovation, Fundamental Research Projects, Ref. EDU2009-10,967.
9. For a brief but clear overview of different progressive school models (and a list of basic
sources), see Puig (2001). For the more classic sources for the various democratic, anti-
authoritarian and participatory pedagogies, see Dewey (1916), Neill (1960), Rogers
(1969), Power, Higgins, and Kohlberg (1989), Gutmann (1999), and Apple and Beane
10. For further information about the composition, functions and operation of these coun-
cils, see: Trilla and Novella 2001,2011.
11. For further information on this idea of participatory, critical and committed citizenship,
see Trilla 2010.
12. The aim of this article is to present the results of our research, which refer exclusively
to the memories subjects hold of participatory experiences they had in their childhood.
We present in other works, in the process of publication or already published, the
results and conclusions of our other research aims: the impact on their lives and on
subsequent participatory experiences which, according to the subjectsperception, those
experiences had (Novella et al. 2014); and on the subjectspresent conception of
citizenship (Novella et al. 2013).
13. The research team has a proven track record studying participatory experiences in these
areas, including publications (see Reference section), direction of doctoral theses
(Galceran 2000; Morata 2010; Novella 2005) and consulting. To ensure the relevance
of the experiences selected, we also conducted direct observation and interviews with
those responsible for the centres.
14. It was far from easy to obtain the anticipated number of participants for G1 (that is, 100
for each of the three areas), given the length of time that had passed since they had had
these experiences. Nonetheless, eventually we gathered the desired number of intervie-
wees, with the exception of former childrens council members, reecting the extremely
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limited number of childrens councils that operated 10 years ago (note the rst councils
in the metropolitan area of Barcelona were created around 1998). Despite the total num-
ber of possible subjects for this third area being naturally low, we were able to include
62 subjects which, in relation to the total population of possible subjects, is very high
15. Construction of the questionnaire was conducted with the participation of eight experts
in the eld of study. Three were from our research team and ve were key people in
the representative organisations of one of the three elds being studied (schools, esplais
and childrens councils). A pilot study was subsequently carried out with a smaller
number of young people to rene and validate the content and nal draft of the ques-
16. These semi-structured interviews, lasting on average some 60 minutes, were prepared in
line with the guide and conducted by members of the research team. Subsequently,
inductive categorical content analysis was conducted using Atlas.ti software.
17. To facilitate this analysis, results on the scale (0 to 10) were converted to the number of
positive experiences: none,few,average number,quite a few and very many.
18. From here on our discussion of the results does not distinguish between responses that
were obtained via the open question in the questionnaire and those obtained from the
interview. To identify the educational area and the origin of the subjectsresponses,
however, we use the following codes: SC (school); LT (leisure-time education), CC
(childrens council); r (reply to the open question on the questionnaire), i (reply
recorded during the interview); and for the respondents, G1 and G2, in accordance with
the earlier explanation.
19. We use the word educator here in a broad sense; it includes the monitors and teachers
at school as well as the monitors, facilitators or educators in the leisure-time activities
or associated with the childrens council.
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... Its goal is to contribute to the development of relational social capital and greater social cohesion. In this respect, participation in leisure-based community activities in childhood and adolescence has proven effects in generating the social support necessary for individual and collective development (Bayón Martín and Ahedo González, 2011;Gómez et al., 2016;Morata and Garreta, 2012;Novella et al., 2014;Puig, 2009). Similarly, social support is one of the main elements that can provide protection in situations of vulnerability (Cardozo and Alderete, 2009;Manciaux, 2003;Zhong et al., 2014). ...
... Perceived social cohesion is strengthened by increased participation in leisure-based community activities, and also by neighbourhood support. Such authors as Bayón Martín and Ahedo González (2011), Gómez et al. (2016), Morata and Garreta (2012), Novella et al. (2014) and Puig (2009), all note that participating in leisure-based community activities during childhood and adolescence has proven effects in generating the social support necessary for individual and collective development. This influence also occurs the other way around: perception of the neighbourhood as a cohesive environment seems to encourage leisure-based community activities, and also has a direct effect on increasing perceived neighbourhood support. ...
To analyse the effects of leisure-based community activities in improving neighbourhood support and social cohesion, data were collected in two neighbourhoods of Barcelona (Spain) through questionnaires and interviews. The results indicate that promoting neighbourhood support requires a different strategy from promoting participation in leisure-based activities aimed at developing social cohesion within a community. The study also suggests various useful strategies to strengthen the effects of leisure-based community activities. The strategies recommended revolve around networking, use of the public space, recognition of diversity and conflict management.
... Desde esta perspectiva, la creación de espacios para la expresión, la participación, el respeto a la diferencia y la individualidad, así como para la resolución de conflictos (Acebes y Delgado, 2012; Rothman, 2007), pueden contribuir al desarrollo del capital social relacional y al incremento de cohesión social (Foglia, 2019;Souto-Otero, 2019). Son diversas las investigaciones que muestran como la participación en espacios socioeducativos con minorías étnicas y grupos raciales, permite que estos colectivos adquieran aprendizajes socioemocionales y oportunidades para el intercambio cultural en su proceso de duelo migratorio y arraigo en el nuevo territorio al desarrollarse en el contexto de las mismas relaciones de apoyo y conocimiento mutuo (Gómez, et al., 2015;López et al., 2019;Otras Seat, 2000;Scott y Scott, 1989). ...
Los centros socioeducativos que trabajan con infancia vulnerable y sus familias, y que cuentan con un elevado índice de población de origen migrado, favorecen una mejora de los recursos personales de los/las niños/as y de las familias que participan en dichos centros, así como de sus redes relacionales, actuando a su vez como promotores de cohesión social. Las familias de 6 centros socioeducativos de la provincia de Barcelona (N=42), mediante un cuestionario diseñado ad hoc, aportan su visión sobre la contribución de estos centros a la mejora de la cohesión social de los territorios.
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Se presenta una buena práctica y se reflexiona a partir de la descripción de vivencias cotidianas en las que los niños, niñas y adolescentes son actores sociales, diseñando el modo de relacionarse con su entorno, favoreciendo su propio desarrollo y ejerciendo sus derechos.
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¿Qué significa que los niños, niñas y adolescentes participen? ¿Cómo se comprende su ciudadanía social y política? ¿Cómo se construye? Experiencias mundiales de ciudadanía de la infancia y adolescencia presenta distintas realidades en las que los niños, niñas y adolescentes ejercitan su imaginación, su curiosidad y donde su capacidad de actuación es tenida en cuenta.
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El objeto de este artículo es fundamentar el derecho de la infancia a la participación social y presentar una propuesta concreta que haga posible el ejercicio de algunas dimensiones de tal derecho. En la primera parte se argumentan tres buenos motivos para promover la participación social de la infancia: es un derecho jurídicamente establecido, sirve para optimizar el funcionamiento de los ámbitos en los que se produce y constituye un excelente medio (por no decir el mejor) para la formación de la ciudadanía en los valores democráticos. En la segunda parte, se describe la experiencia de los consejos infantiles municipales como órganos de participación social y medios para la formación de la ciudadanía. En la tercera parte, se dilucidan y sistematizan las capacidades participativas y democráticas concretas que desarrollan los niños como consecuencia de su implicación en tales consejos. Se trata de un trabajo fundamentalmente teórico y de reflexión, aunque parte del conocimiento directo de sus autores de estas formas de participación.
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INTRODUCCION. El objeto de la contribucion es presentar algunos de los resultados de un estudio sobre los efectos diferidos del hecho de haber tomado parte, durante la infancia, en determinadas experiencias participativas realizadas en tres ambitos educativos diferentes: el escolar, el de la educacion en el tiempo libre y el comunitario por medio de los Consejos Infantiles Municipales. Los resultados que presentamos son los que se refieren a como los jovenes que participaron en experiencias participativas conciben actualmente el ejercicio de la buena ciudadania. METODO. Se trata de una investigacion evaluativa de caracter participativo, en la que se ha utilizado el cuestionario y la entrevista semiestructurada. Los participantes son dos grupos de jovenes de entre 18 y 22 anos: uno formado por aquellos que vivieron las experiencias de participacion infantil (n=277); y el otro por jovenes que no formaron parte de ellas (n=400). RESULTADOS. Los resultados que se presentan corresponden al analisis univariante y bivariante de los items del cuestionario referidos a la construccion del concepto de buen/a ciudadano/a. Asi como al analisis de contenido de las entrevistas sobre la caracterizacion del mismo en torno a cuatro dimensiones: respeto, civismo, participacion y sentido de comunidad. DISCUSION. Se ha podido constatar que el grupo formado por los jovenes que en su infancia vivieron aquellas experiencias participativas sostienen actualmente una idea de ciudadania mas elaborada y exigente, vinculada al humanismo civico y respetuoso en pro de la convivencia. En definitiva, conciben la ciudadania poniendo mayor enfasis en aspectos como la participacion, el sentido critico y el compromiso social y politico.
Todas las pedagogías que apuestan decididamente por promover la participación infantil parten, explícita o implícitamente, de dos hipótesis concatenadas. La primera es que las experiencias participativas vividas en la infancia inciden positivamente en la formación de futuros buenos ciudadanos. Y la segunda es que una condición esencial para que se cumpla la hipótesis anterior, es justamente que, en tales experiencias, a los niños y niñas se les trate ya como ciudadanos de verdad y no sólo como futuros ciudadanos. Este libro trata de algunas experiencias realizadas en tres ámbitos: el escolar, el de la educación en el tiempo libre, y el comunitario por medio de los consejos infantiles municipales. El libro también acoge, como epílogo, un texto original de uno de los mejores expertos internacionales en participación infantil: Francesco Tonucci.
This chapter is devoted to the whole range of after-school and free-time education opportunities. The first section deals with conceptual issues related to free time and leisure and their application with respect to children. The second section examines the relationship between education and free time. It begins by considering the justification for educational intervention in children’s free time by analyzing the values and countervalues of intervention. Subsequently, the various aspects of what we call the “pedagogy of leisure” (education in, for, and through free time) are systematized. Part of the second section is dedicated to identifying the factors that have influenced development of the education sector. The third section presents the numerous and diverse educational environments for free time, such as institutions, programs, facilities, activities, and resources. These are presented as an index, after which their shared characteristics are analyzed. In the epilogue, the possible limitations that should be imposed in the name of children’s welfare on the accumulation of institutionalized educational activities are discussed.