The Pedagogical Ideas of Célestin Freinet

Many of the educational ideas of Célestin Freinet have been an important legacy to modern pedagogy. In this article, we'll look at the main characteristics of his pedagogical thought.
The Pedagogical Ideas of Célestin Freinet

Last update: 28 May, 2021

Célestin Freinet was a French teacher and pedagogue born on October 15, 1896, in a village in the French Alpes-Maritimes. During his lifetime, he developed a pedagogy that defended a natural education around life. At the same time, he connected with other social fields, such as family and politics. Mainly, Freinet’s pedagogy focused on respecting the child’s own nature and possibilities.

The main characteristics of the pedagogical thinking of Célestin Freinet

The most distinctive feature of the pedagogy developed by Freinet is that of being an active pedagogy. That is a pedagogy that sought to constantly link the school with the social environment. Furthermore, a pedagogy that sought to connect with family life and with people.

Once again, as we’ve mentioned, Freinet’s pedagogical thinking puts the focus on the child and not on the educator. This means deep respect for the child’s nature and constant attention to their needs. And, at the same time, it involves an important methodological development around their activity.

In this sense, Freinet believed that school activities should awaken children’s interest in order to represent real learning for them.

Fundamental principles of Freinet’s pedagogy

Based on the needs of the child and their education connected to life, Freinet built his pedagogy on some fundamental principles:

Highschool students paying attention in class.

  • Individualization. This supposes a deep knowledge of the student and their personality, and the possibility of communication and expression on the part of each child, of their particular needs and curiosities.
  • Activity, experimental experimentation, and autonomy. It implies that the child can discover new knowledge through investigation and activity. In other words, through trial and error. And through the progressive learning of methods of analysis and synthesis, children can become increasingly autonomous and develop a critical spirit.
  • Cooperation, participation, and socialization. Freinet advocated for team learning in order to learn better and to compensate for the differences generated by the inequalities of the social environment. Moreover, for Freinet, teamwork promotes constant socialization and, therefore, participation as well as the development of a sense of responsibility.
  • School, life, and functionality. For the pedagogue, the school should be useful for life, and vice versa. That’s to say, the school should provide answers to life situations, and life should be studied in the classroom. Because it’s our life that provides us with geographical, arithmetical, social, political, labor, and other events to think about and reflect on at school.

“It’s the students themselves who must educate themselves and grow with the help of adults. We shift the educational axis: the center of the school isn’t the teacher, but the student. We should no longer look for the teacher’s comfort and preferences. The life of the child, their needs, their possibilities, are the basis of our method of popular education.”

-Célestin Freinet-

The school, life, and work connection

Influenced by socialist and Marxist thought, and by operating currents, Freinet developed a popular pedagogy and advocated a school for the people and for work. Coinciding with the New School movement, his educational and pedagogical concept was a critique of the traditional school.

As we’ve said, Freiner’s pedagogy was characterized by being very active. This implied consistency with a natural method, which, in practice, implied connecting the classroom with life outside the classroom, for which Feinet carried out his pedagogical work through diverse activities that motivated children; activities that stimulated discovery, research, curiosity, and teamwork.

Freinet’s “techniques of life

In accordance with his natural method, and with the activities with which Freinet wanted his pupils to experiment, the pedagogue devised and implemented some very particular educational techniques, or working keys, with the aim of helping children to develop their creative capacity to the maximum.

Among these techniques we highlight the following:

A teaching helping her students with their classwork.

  • Freewriting. In other words, a text made by the children themselves individually and in which they could express themselves freely on any topic. Then, the texts were read to the whole group to practice reading, intonation, and voice modulation.
  • Correspondence or school printing. Freinet believed that the freewriting created by the children should be shared with the people. So, he set up a small and simple printing press that allowed children to disseminate their texts.
  • Assemblies, conferences, and work plans. These techniques or methodologies are aimed at guiding the joint work of the class group and at raising the discussion and solution of problems. According to Freinet, these techniques served to achieve a better organization and general planning of the course.
  • Library. Its material was organized according to the different dynamics of the classes. Thus, students could freely consult books and magazines, as long as they maintained order and took care of everything.
  • The workshops. These were fundamental places for Freinet so that students could connect the classroom with the work and social environment. To this end, within the school, there were spaces for the use of tools and the learning of trades and professions.

On the legacy of the pedagogy of Célestin Freinet

To conclude, the theoretical and practical contribution of the pedagogy developed by Célestin Freinet to the field of modern pedagogy and to a constructivist conception of learning is immense. In short, his vision of a free child and that of an educator, mediator, and guide to help students develop their maximum capacities is a great contribution to the achievement of meaningful learning in students.

Moreover, his vision of a school, its classrooms, and students, organized in work teams, where cooperation and a sense of responsibility prevail, has not lost its relevance. On the contrary, it’s still very much present today.

Nor has the need for a school connected to the world, to daily life, and to work lost its relevance today. In short, a school capable of forming critical and enterprising people.

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