Scientific Pedagogy of Learning for Life: Holistic Curriculum of Dr. Ovide Decroly

                                                                                                                                                 

 Doctor Ovide Decroly (l871-l931)  was a physician, a neuropsychiatrist, a psychologist and a professor at the University of Brussels. He is best known as a highly influential pedagogue and the pioneer of experimental pedagogy. Decroly was particularly interested in the relationship between philosophy and psychology, both normal and pathological. He founded two educational establishments based on the principles of human biosocial needs (Ecole Decroly). Decroly's method of study was based on first-hand observations of children in a milieu which suited them... an evironment which was conducive to the full development of their personalities, their capacities and their human potential. He introduced an educational methodology with which to educate children 'for life and through life' ('pour la vie par la vie'). The guiding principles of his 'method' are always fresh and effective for both teaching and learning because they are based, not on some a priori theoretical base of political or social doctrine but on biological principles underlying the intrinsic need of the human organism as a social organism to adapt to changing social conditions. The method is based on an understanding of and respect for the hman personality or 'human nature' as a function of the psychological motives for human learning behaviour or  'human needs'.

According to Decroly the fundamental purpose of education is to learn how to live successfully. "To educate in its fullest sense is to create conditions in which the child can live-and is led by these conditions led to live-as fully as possible through each succeeding stage of his development, meeting and solving in his own experience the problems of each stage as it comes, and so gaining the power to meet and to solve the problems that await him in further stages. Such conditions it is for a school to provide. ("Badley, J.H. from book Dr. Ovide Decroly  Editor Albert Decordier, Amicale Rijksbasisonderwijs, Renaix, Belgium)

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Biography of Ovide Decroly  Decroly was born  July 23, l87l in Renaix, a small town in the Belgian province of East Flanders. His father was a worker of French origin. As a child he was greatly interested in the natural world of the countryside. His interest was encouraged by his family and especially his father who spent a lot of time with his children, working in the outdoors and at the same time demanding obedience and respect. Decroly's childhood interests in the natural sciences led to his scientific interests and the medical profession in adulthood. As a medical student at the University of Ghent he engaged in laboratory research in experimental and infantile pathology and then published his observations with personal analyses which influenced his later work in education. .From experimental research he learned that in order to draw valid conclusions about the behaviour of the invariable in any rigorous description of an experimental situation, one must adhere to the fundamental rules of scientific investigation and abide by the concept of the 'experimental control'. In l898 he did research on the action of toxins and antitoxins on general nutrition for which he received a scholarship for a six-month study at the University of Berlin in pathological anatomy, neurology and psychiatry. He spent the following year in Paris studying neurology and psychiatry. When he returned to Brussels he became associated with the Neurological Clinic where he was in daily contact with handicapped children. In l90l the Decroly family home became the Institute for mentally handicapped children (Institut du Vossegat). In l9l0 it was transferred to a rural setting in Uccle, Brussels where it continues to function today. His pedagogical methods were so effective that often the so-called 'retarded' children truned out to be more advanced than children of the neighboring official school who were with traditional methods. His successful teaching experience inspired him to open his family home  to mentally handicapped children. In 1901 the  New School was founded at 47 rue de la Vanne and then was transferred  in l9l0 to a rural setting where it continues to function today. He was its doctor-director for more than thirty years. On the school grounds there were animals to raise, seeds to plant and harvest children were provided with many occasion to observe the natural environment and participate actively  in real life situations.

In l902 Decroly was placed  in charge of the medical inspection of special education classes in Brussels. During this time he organized and directed the first psychological clinic for handicapped children.

In l907 he created a school for so-called 'normal' children...  The Hermitage School (l'Ecole de l'Ermitage) still functions today. Until l930 the school comprised a kindergarten section for 4-6 year old children, six primary school grades and the first three secondary grades. In l936 the Science section was added and in l938 Greek and Latin Sections were added offering secondary school certificates for the completion of the last three years of secondary school. In l946 the section of the kindergarten for 3-4 year old children was added to the kindergarten section for 4-6 year olds. The school continues to function with three years of kindergarten, six years of primary school and six years of secondary school, offering the baccalaureate university standard certificate to l8 year olds completing the official state requirements.

In l9l5 Decroly founded the Home for Orphans.

In order to fully understand the school's program, as well as the social environment, it is necessary to visit classes and demonstrations and speak with students and teachers and administrative personnel. Decroly realised that with the majority of children there is a latent interest in natural phenomena and this provides a wealth of subjects about which they can be led to think, talk, calculate and write about in the most normal and rational manner. In his time, Decroly had an international audience in the field of education. For successful results in schools of all kinds, he recommended an attentive and respectful attitude towards the originality of child and argued for the free expression of the child, his needs, and social harmony - an  argument based on his own scientific observations.

Decroly came away from his years of scientific experience with the conviction that an ethic and a philosophy impregnated with science was the only proper way to find solutions to the problems facing humanity 

He published over a hundred works and left numerous manuscripts including lecture notes from his professorship at the University of Brussels, and other educational institutions.

The unifying principle of all his pedagogical work: in the education of children, the most effective dynamic for motivation and learning is the spontaneous activity of the child. The best environment is one in which the child....is faced with real problems to solve...and where he sees adults occupied at the basic profession.

Decroly's educational theory stems from three the integration of three sciences: biology, sociology, sociology

Decroly's political conception of education: based on life, concrete reality, action, commitment, it must be democratic, cultivating social intelligence.

From birth to 8 years the function of globalization which 'links matter to thought', transforming immediate sensation into perception and representation, is utilised in comprehension in response to the child's needs and interests. The child wants to analyse his own global perceptions. From 8 years on: globalization structures cognitive curiosity around centers of interest. (Annual work plan around a cernter of interest) Centers of interest: central axis built around the basic needs of living organisms such as eating and reproduction, protectipn and adaptation, defense and fighting, working and recreation. An annual work plan is designed to coordinate learning activities around the centers of interest, able to incorporate the diversity of subject matter and also integrate the main current events.

Globalization becomes a scientific method (?) The child is respected as a person and is given the opportunity to evaluate his own work and progress on a non-competitive basis .

Decroly's holistic curriculum is based on the biological principles of human development... 'biological model' centered on the need for adaptation of the human organism to the natural and social environment:  The guiding principles of the the Decroly school in Brussels, are based on the recognition and respect for intrinsic human needs. Founded by experimental pedagogue Dr. Ovide Decroly (1871-1932), the school is for education for life. It is based on educational policies which which foster the maturation of intellect, of personal potential, of social intelligence, of individual capacities and sensitivites. Dr. Decroly's pedagogy is of significance to the definition of a rational basis for brain-based wholistic education.

Dr. Decroly was interested in a true 'science of education' and a 'natural' pedagogy. He recommended a new 'method' of education. Based on biological and psychological principles, it was referred to as 'psychopedagogy'. In the formulation of the method, his reasoning and his approach were both scientific and pragmatic. He focused on the convergence, their interrelationships and their relationships to education of biology, sociology and psycholgy. The term 'science of education' implied a continous process taking into account the growing child's changing psychological and social neeeds. Like any other science, the science of education would comprise both pure science, called 'pedology', science of the child based on objective methods, and applied science, called 'pedotechnie', techniques for the improved education of the child.

 Decroly's reasoning for his method of teaching was the following: given that, for the child, the aim of education is effective learning; given that the crucial factor for the generation of motivation towards effective learning is a child's spontaneous interest; given that the crucial factor for the maintenance of the child's motivation is the proper development of concentration; then the most effective method of teaching would be one which maintains the motivation arising from the child's spontaneous interest. With such a method, school activities revolve around a central core of interest. Decroly called his method "la methode des centres d'interet" (the method of central interests).

 Referring to the inclusion of psychological principles along with ...

 Principles of the Decrolyen biological educative system... 'Decroly plan': the method of 'centres of interest'

"To educate in its fullest sense is to create conditions in which the child can live - and is led by these conditions led to live-as fully as possible through each succeeding stage of his development, meeting and solving in his own experience the problems of each stage as it comes, and so gaining the power to meet and to solve the problems that await him in further stages. Such conditions it is for a school to provide". (Decroly cited by J.H. Badley, Dr. Ovide Decroly  ed. Albert Decordier, Amicale Rijksbasisonderwijs, Renaix, Belgium) 

The Decroly 'plan' is a biological model centered on the needs of the human organism for adaptation to the natural and social environment. 1.Children's needs are considered in terms of  the fact that the child is a behaving organism. 2.Consequently there is a rational biological basis for schooling 3. A rational curriculum is based on knowledge of biological needs which provide the themes for learning activities... survival needs for food and water, protection, defense. Cooperation in work is needed to satisfy the survival needs. In practice, each of these four fundamental needs of general interest are the object of study over several months of the school year. All the other activities converge on the central theme, the 'center of interest'. The four centers of interest are 1. need for nourishment 2. need for protection against the elments  3. need for defense against the various dangers to life 4. need for cooperation in work and development - important as a means for satisfying the first three needs... 'biosocial needs'.

The guiding principles of the Decroly school in Brussels are based on the recognition and respect for intrinsic human needs and 'metaneeds'. Founded by experimental pedagogue Dr. Ovide Decroly (1871-1932), the school is for education for life... it is based on educational policies which foster the maturation of intellect, of personal potential, of social intelligence, of individual capacities and sensitivites.

Self-preservation depends on productive work which involves skills of problem-solving and decision making; acquisition of food depends on knowledge of cultivation, preparation, nutrition etc.; acquisition of water depends on knowledge of ecology and successful defense depends on knowledge of biology, physiology, health protection etc.

   According to his pedagogical principles, the subject matter is organized into three main categories which correlate with the three stages of mental activity, namely observation, association and expression.

Obervation is the rational basis of all thought processes. Therefore the rational basis for educational exercises is observation of palpable and living materials directly accessible to the child's senses; living animals instead of stuffed animals, real plants instead of dried plants, contact with living beings, with objects, with facts, with events, in effect with reality. Consequently children must have plants and animals in the classroom so they can follow their development, as well as objects which they collect during the course of the school year. They classify and compare the objects and materials which they themselves bring to the school and the classroom. Exercises on continuous and discontinuous quantities which can be estimated as numbers can be connected to the comparison of objects and give rise to the conventional number system and arithmetic. And when the comparisons are related to length, weight, time, value etc. the child first uses natural units, that is to say by means which nature puts at his disposal, such as arm length etc. to resolve the more usual problems of comparison. Decroly summarizes the essence of observation exercises in the following terms: The intelligent faculties must be made with materials collected  at first hand, which means associating with the work the acquisition of vocabulary and then elements basic to reading and writing, as well as exercises of comparison, a part serving as a basis for arithmetic calculations, and finally exercises of judgement as a basis for committing to memory a collection  of ideas." ("Il s'agit de faire travailler l'intelligence sur des materiaux receuillis de premiere main, c'est-a-dire associant a ce travail a la fois l'acquisition du vocabulaire et, par suite, des elements sur lequels porteront la lecture et l'ecriture, ainsi que des exercises de comparaison dont une partie servira d'occasion de calcul, enfin des exercises de jugement aboutissant a fournir a la memoire un bagage d'idees a conserver." page 83).

   The aim of the exercises in association is to classify the data acquired by the exercises in observation. Where direct contact with reality is not possible, the exercises of association  serve to reinforce what the students already knew, to jog their memories and at the same time have them assess their own vocabulary and expression as well as the extent of their understanding of the subject matter. Decroly divided these exercises of association into two categories: l. those concerned with objects and facts considered from the point of view of actuality and space, in places which are not accessible to observation. These are exercises of association in space, usually referred to collectively as 'geography'. 2. the exercises which consist of the examination of the same subject matter from the point of view of time, allowing comparisons of the present state with that in the past. These are exercises of association in time, traditionally referred to as 'history'.

    The third group of exercises are those of expression which  refers to everything which allowing for translation of thought and feelings: words, reading, writing, drawing, handwork, music,  theatre, etc. Expression consists of a concrete form and an abstract form and both have to be connected closely with the central ideas, and to the various exercises of observation and association.  Decroly demonstrated that the memorization of words for reading is more visual than auditory, that the visual function develops earlier and more rapidly than the auditive function and that sight results in more numerous and more precise notions than the hearing function. Furthermore the visual function is distinctly "globalisant ou syncretique", which means that it has the capacity for informing us rapidly about certain characteristic signs, especially those  relative to the form of an object or an ensemble of objects, of an individual or of a crowd, of a apparatus or machine at rest or in motion.  Decroly concluded that the usual procedure of teaching of reading by way of auditive phonetics, beginning with the study of sounds and syllables to arrive at words and sentences, was not valid from the psychological point of view nor from the pedagogical or methodological. His experiments prove that the sentence which expresses what the child has observed or an idea known by the child is more simple, more concrete than the word, the syllable, the letter. The attempts to apply this procedure proved that normal children of six years learn to read everything which they can understand at the end of six months to a about a year, and after several exercises are able to read ordinary books; they spend less time learning to read than children learning with the traditionnal method. Furthermore, with the method called "lecture globale", the child acquires a large number of words and enriches his spoken vocabulary, develops his speech and improves his elocution and spelling. The pupil succeeds more quickly with the mechanism which allows him to write short spontaneous sentences on the subjects of his own observations and feelings.

    The method uses a center of interest as a pivotal idea - an 'axis' of the curriculum - allowing for the expression of spontaneous motivation and at the same time serves as a springboard for gaining knowledge of the natural and social sciences. The stages of mental operations are followed in the learning process: first observation, then association in time and space and finally expression in written and verbal discussion. During the course of study, the program can be interrupted and time allowed for the pursuit of information regarding an important contemporary event which is presented in a manner appropriate to children's ages. Documentation in the way of objects for young children and pictures and texts for older children are collected by the children themselves, discussed and classified according to the prevailing themes of the center of interest. As a response to questions raised by children themselves, the method is successful in motivating children to learn. As a means of training children in the habit of consistent and integrating work, the method is successful in meeting the demands of intellectual study.

 The curriculum is based on children's instinctive motivation to satisfy the basic needs for self-respect and self-esteem in the process of mature growth or 'self-actualisation'. The curriculum includes opportunities for experiential enrichment through metamotivation to satisfy metaneeds.

The Decroly program is one which is designed around the biological needs of 'subjective biology' -the biologically based spiritual needs or 'metaneeds' of the value-life... the 'higher' pychological needs... as well as the physiological and basic psychological needs for self-esteem the 'ego needs'.

We only understand when we create ourselves...

 

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NOTES:

He explains himself briefly on the origin of his theoretical position but his pedagogical writings are significant in this regard. First he considers accomplished works, notably since the end of the eighteenth century, concerning abnormal children and takes interest in the studies of Seguin and Bourneville, the Abbe de l'Epee on the deaf and dumb, Valentin Hauy on the blind children, Pinel, Claparede, Condillac and Itard known for his attempt on the reeducation of 'l'enfant-sauvage' of Aveyron, France.

Establishments of scientific pedagogy were founded; l899 in Antwerp l906 in Liepzig; l9l2 in Geneva are some examples They were connected with universities. l9ll the first international congress of pedagogy with Decroly the president, activities interrupted by l9l4-l9l8 War l921 Congress an International League for new education was founded led to intense movement for the renovation of official schools; renovation of the school system. In Italy Montessori. John Dewey visited Turkey and schools adopted Decroly method. l896 The Active School-Dewey- inspirational idea for the American public

  Decroly 'method'... based on notion of 'globalization'...is brain-based pedagogy:Decroly's 'method' was valid because it was not supposed to be connected with any political or social doctrine but was based on the biological need of the human organism - a social animal - to adapt to a rapidly changing environment.

"The old education philosophy: children have to be 'taught' the values which adults admire. The 'new education' philosophy: to help children's auto-construction." "The new education is a revolution, but a revolution without violence. It is the nonviolent revolution." (Montessori, Maria. The Absorbent Mind. Translated from Italian by Claude A. Claremont. New York: Holt, Rinehart and Winston 1967. 215)  Montessori and Decroly were the founders of the 'new education' of the 20th century called the century of the child. Starting with the study of the 'abnormal' child, they combined techniques of their precursors with their own inventions. (Medici).

 Dewey - "How We Think" Global perception and mental activity (l'activite globalisatrice)

The fundamental purpose of education is 'learning for life'.

Avanzani: "Is there reproducibility of didactic models independent of their authors?"

Decroly inspired some of his disciples to reproduce the procedures which he initiated and others to promote his innovative attitude. Students of Decroly can adhere to either camp but in any even are of the conviction that in studying the past one is working for the future.

 Introduction: In his time, Decroly had an international audience in the field of education. For successful results in schools of all kinds, he recommended an attentive and respectful attitude towards the originality of childhood. The author proposes an argument - based on Decroly's scientific observations- for the free expression of the child, his needs, and social harmony.

 Decroly did not want to unify in one doctrinal synthesis the ensemble of his conceptions and principles of education and psychology. A picture of Decroly from his lectures, interests, his medical training and his own manner of facing reality - - It is in the role which he attributed to education, in the methods which he preconise to improve the functioning that we try to look for his theoretical position, if it is true that according to the expression of Auguste Lecompte, "every veritable system of education suppose the preliminary rise of a veritable philosophical and social doctrine which determine its nature and destination."("L'influence du positivisme dans l'oeuvre scolaire de J. Ferry", Paris, Lib. Riviere et Cie, l961, 255p)

It is in the role which he attributed to education, in the methods which he preconise to improve the functioning that we try to look for his theoretical position, if it is true that according to the expression of Auguste Lecompte, "every veritable system of education suppose the preliminary rise of a veritable philosophical and social doctrine which determine its nature and destination."("L'influence du positivisme dans l'oeuvre scolaire de J. Ferry", Paris, Lib. Riviere et Cie, l961, 255p)

 First fomulate a philosophical position as a basis for formulating a position of education and pedagogy.

 Decroly had faith in reason and the rational means of resolving problems. That is why education is the terrain for preparing for the future if it is conducted according to the right principles, which means that it is based on an objective knowledge and understanding of the child.

 Decroly's philosophical background for his theories on education...

 Decroly said education must be based on knowledge of progressive evolution of the young; one must regard the work from the point of view of the child... the aim of education should be the 'epanouissement de l'etre"

Decroly was influenced by Herbert Spencer, Comte

For a long time he contemplated the writings of the philosopher Herbert Spencer whose theses expose the foundations of an education finalisee par une demarche rationnelle et scientifique, and expressed the opinion that the most useful knowledge which children can acquire is science. Science in the sense of exact knowledge, (positive science by precise observation-see p.382 on Spencer Story of Philosophy by  Will Durant, Simon and Schuster, l926)

 These perspectives were combined with ideas of numerous pedagogues and psychologists of the end of the nineteenth and beginning of the twentieth centuries.

'Pains are the corellatives of actions injurious to the organism, while pleasures are correlatives of actions conducive to its welfare.' (Spencer Ethics)

Spencer admits that in our present culture many cases of 'perverted pleasure odf pain experience occur, and he explains this phenomenon by the contradictions and imperfections of society. He claims that 'with complete adjustment of humanity to the social state, will go recognition of the truths and actions are completely right only when, besides being conducive to future happiness, special and general, theya are immediately pleasurable, and that painfulness, not ultimate but proximate, is the concomotitant of actions that are wrong.' (page 52 Herbert Spencer, "The Principles of Ethics" Volume l New York, D. Appleton Co., l902)..

Spencer parallels his theory of the biological function of pleasure with a sociological theory. He proposes that 'remoulding of human nature into fitness for the requirements of social life must eventually make all needful activities pleasurable, while it makes displeasurable activities at variance with these requirements.' (page l83 Spencer's Ethics) And further 'that the pleasure attending the use of means to achieve an end, itself becomes an end.'(Spencer's Ethics page l59

"In Spencer's Ethics we find one of the most comprehensive and systematic discussions of the pleasure principle, which we can use as an excellent starting point for further discussion. The key to Spencer's view of the pleasure-pain principle is the concept of evolution. He proposes that pleasure and pain have the biological function of stimulating man to act according to what is beneficial to him individually, as well as to the human race; they are therefore indispensable factors in the evolutionary process." (Fromm Man for Himself, Holt, Rhinehart, Winston New York l947 p. l77)

 The common effect of all these notions, to reach a better understanding of the child in order to elaborate a concept of education which respects the child's mental possibilities and the child's affective and physical needs. Everywhere one hopes to effectively mobilise the attention and the activity of the student. In order to reach these objectives, the school must adapt to the students, articulating the educational strategy starting from their interests instead of the preoccupation with the transmission of subject matter.A child-centered education  is proposed. The future of a people depends on the organization and the influence of the school ("C'est de l'organization et de l'influence de l'ecole que depend l'avenir d'un peuple." "Plaies sociales et remedes", Revue contemporaine, Molenbeek-Brussels, no.l, pp 2-6)

 AUGUSTE COMTE from Will Durant,Story of Philosophy, Simon Schuster l926: Auguste Compte associated with the beginnings of the "positivist" movement, born in Montpelier in l798. He idolized Benjamin Franklin and called him the "modern Socrates." He held the idea that social, like physical phenomena, might be explained by scientific rationality, and that one of the functions of philosophy (philosophical thought) should be to contribute ideas for the resolution of mankind's moral and political problems. Philosophy should focus on the moral and political problems of mankind. He wrote a five volume work entitled "Positive Philosophy" and a four volume work entitled "Positive Polity." He classified the sciences in the order in which the scientific method was applied to the study of the subject matter, thus mathematics, astronomy, physics, chemistry, biology, and sociology. Historians could see three stages of development. At first,the subject was conceived in terms of problems explained by the will of some deity ("Will of God") and this was the theological perception. Next the subject was conceived in terms of problems explained by metaphysical abstraction (examples, Plato's "Ideas", Hegel's "Absolute Idea", stars moved in circles because circles were the most perfect figure). Finally the subject was conceived in terms of problems explained by precise observation, hypothesis and experiment. The scientific method was applied in the study of problems, which were then explained in terms of scientific theories and "laws" describing the regularities of natural cause and effect. Auguste Comte said that it was time for philosophers to abandon metaphysics and look to science; that philosophy was not different from science, but was the coordination of the sciences and its function was to improve human life. This was "Positivism." human history manifests the passage from theological to philosophical thought and then to "positive" or scientific reasoning. (Hence "positivists" and "positivism") Progress in human history is based on the growth of the capacity for reason to which scientists have contributed.

PHILOSOPHY OF EDUCATION

 AIMS OF EDUCATION FOR NEW SCHOOLS There have been many attempts by educationists to define the fundamental aim of education. These include l.learning to know 2. learning to do make a list of aims stated by people, say who, when and under what circumstances.

 A NEW MODEL FOR EDUCATIONAL THEORY AND PRACTICE Teachers must become facilitators of learning...for teachers to become facilitators, a new model for educational theory and practice is desperately needed. Brain research provides the evidence for a rational basis of brain-based learning and wholistic education. recognise childrem's biosocial needs growth need for motivation educate children according to the requirements of their basic biosocial needs. attempts to formulate 'aims of education' for 'the society' without regard or respect for the needs of those individuals who make up the 'society' are bound to fail. biological model: centered on the adaptation of the human organism to the natural and social environment,

The successful realization of a rational education depends on appropriately trained teachers.

 The method is based on children's biopsychological needs: the natural primary instincts for survival and self-protection, sustenance and food-getting the secondary instincts of curiosity, self-esteem, property ownership the social instincts.

This does not mean that teachers should subordinate their educational role to those children's immediate temporary interests which are not related to the intellectual demands of the learning process or the curriculum. ...guide teachers in their role as educators. (Decroly "La fonction de globalisation et l'enseignement" ed. Ecole Decroly l979)

"Ovide Decroly, psychologue et educateur" by Jean-Marie Besse, Editions Privat, l4 rue des Arts, Toulouse, France A synthesis of Decroly's work In the preface (by G. Avanzini) the author poses the question "Is there reproducibility of didactic models independent of their authors?" Writing on the basis of thorough reading and analysis of the texts of Dr. Decroly, he reconstructs his thoughts, ideas and principles. Decroly inspired some of his disciples to reproduce the procedures which he initiated and others to promote his innovative attitude. Students of Decroly can adhere to either camp but in any even are of the conviction that in studying the past one is working for the future.

First fomulate a philosophical position as a basis for formulating a position of education and pedagogy.

Research from the medical and pedagogic points of view on the abnormal is of great scientific and practical interest for the education and preservation of the normal. As hygiene was born from medicine, so mental hygiene i.e. preventative education against degeneracies and follies must arise mainly from medico-pedagogy. As our study of sickness has considerably enriched our knowledge of anatomy, physiology and biology, so a study of the abnormal must resolve a number of troublesome psychological enigmas and will help to unravel the marvellous mechanism of thoughts and feelings, of dreams and actions." (Ovide Decroly, "Le traitement et l'education des enfants irreguliers", L-mertin , Brussels, l925)  

 

"Ovide Decroly, psychologue et educateur" by Jean-Marie Besse, Editions Privat, l4 rue des Arts, Toulouse, France A synthesis of Decroly's work In the preface (by G. Avanzini) the author poses the question "Is there reproducibility of didactic models independent of their authors?" Writing on the basis of thorough reading and analysis of the texts of Dr. Decroly, he reconstructs his thoughts, ideas and principles. Decroly inspired some of his disciples to reproduce the procedures which he initiated and others to promote his innovative attitude. Students of Decroly can adhere to either camp but in any even are of the conviction that in studying the past one is working for the future. Introduction: In his time, Decroly had an international audience in the field of education. For successful results in schools of all kinds, he recommended an attentive and respectful attitude towards the originality of childhood. The author proposes an argument - based on Decroly's scientific observations- for the free expression of the child, his needs, and social harmony. Decroly did not want to unify in one doctrinal synthesis the ensemble of his conceptions and principles of education and psychology. A picture of Decroly from his lectures, interests, his medical training and his own manner of facing reality - It is in the role which he attributed to education, in the methods which he preconise to improve the functioning that we try to look for his theoretical position, if it is true that according to the expression of Auguste Lecompte, "every veritable system of education suppose the preliminary rise of a veritable philosophical and social doctrine which determine its nature and destination."("L'influence du positivisme dans l'oeuvre scolaire de J. Ferry", Paris, Lib. Riviere et Cie, l961, 255p) First fomulate a philosophical position as a basis for fprmulating a position of education and pedagogy.

 In his time, Decroly had an international audience in the field of education. For successful results in schools of all kinds, he recommended an attentive and respectful attitude towards the originality of childhood. The author proposes an argument - based on Decroly's scientific observations- for the free expression of the child, his needs, and social harmony. Decroly did not want to unify in one doctrinal synthesis the ensemble of his conceptions and principles of education and psychology. A picture of Decroly from his lectures, interests, his medical training and his own manner of facing reality - It is in the role which he attributed to education, in the methods which he preconise to improve the functioning that we try to look for his theoretical position, if it is true that according to the expression of Auguste Lecompte, "every veritable system of education suppose the preliminary rise of a veritable philosophical and social doctrine which determine its nature and destination."("L'influence du positivisme dans l'oeuvre scolaire de J. Ferry", Paris, Lib. Riviere et Cie, l961, 255p)

(Spencer Ethics) Spencer admits that in our present culture many cases of 'perverted pleasure of pain experience occur, and he explains this phenomenon by the contradictions and imperfections of society. He claims that 'with complete adjustment of humanity to the social state, will go recognition of the truths and actions are completely right only when, besides being conducive to future happiness, special and general, they are immediately pleasurable, and that painfulness, not ultimate but proximate, is the concomotitant of actions that are wrong.' (page 52 Herbert Spencer, "The Principles of Ethics" Volume l New York, D. Appleton Co., l902)...

Spencer parallels his theory of the biological function of pleasure with a sociological theory. He proposes that 'remoulding of human nature into fitness for the requirements of social life must eventually make all needful activities pleasurable, while it makes displeasurable activities at variance with these requirements.' (page l83 Spencer's Ethics) And further 'that the pleasure attending the use of means to achieve an end, itself becomes an end.'(Spencer's Ethics page l59) (page 52 Herbert Spencer, "The Principles of Ethics" Volume l New York, D. Appleton Co., l902)..

"L'ecole pour la vie, par la vie et Ovide Decroly" by Jeanne Jadot-Decroly et Jean-Emile Segers , Brussels translated from book: Dr. Ovide Decroly, Ed. Albert Decordier, Amicale Rijksbasisonderwijs, Renaix, Belgium (78-85) According to Docteur Edouard Claparede, Dr. Decroly changed the school (in Belgium) dramatically. "...d'une prison de l'enfance, il a fait un petit paradis." Decroly was a medical doctor interested in neurology and psychtiatry who focused on abnormal children, "l'enfance anormal", named by him as "l'enfant irregulier" and defined as the child unable to adapt to familial and school environments, is consequently unable to fulfill a useful role in society and thus constitutes a potential burden if not danger to the society. He held that given the appropriate educational opportunities, the 'irregular' children could become normal, at least able to avoid becoming a burden of a danger to their their fellow human beings. To this end, he studied each case in order to find the cause of the child's retardation or anomaly. On the basis of this scientific research, Dr. Decroly proposed first, that the child be placed in an environment capable of stimulating and fostering the activities necessary for his adaptation to the milieu in which he would have to live upon reaching adulthood; second, that the goal to be reached should be proportional to the child's physical and mental capabilities. These pedagogical experiences and experiments led to his thorough understanding of the obviously innate need of the child to learn to adapt to the environment. He adamantly opposed the conditions of the Belgian traditional schools, constructed more like army barracks, in which teaching methods were rigid and authoritarian, and where children were perceived as lifeless beings. Instead he perceived of the classroom as a "pis-aller". As a result, the school which he created became a 'school for life, through life' (ecole pour la vie, par la vie). His school was situated in the country, with animals to raise, seeds to plant and harvest, and with many occasions to observe, and be active in real life. Decroly realised that with the majority of children there is a latent interest in natural phenomena, providing a wealth of subjects about which they can be led to think, talk, calculate and write about in the most normal and rational manner. ("Je me suis penetre de la verite I realized the truthg that with the majority of pupils, the latent interest for natural things, beings and phenomena,of que chez la majorite des eleves, l'interet latent pour les choses de la nature, etre et phenomenes, would make it possible find a n inexhaustible mine of subjects to permettrait d'y trouver une mine inepuisable de sujets capable with the capacity of serving as a pretext for thinking, discussing, calculating and writing about in the most normaland rational manner de servir de pretextes a penser, a parler, a calculer et a ecrire de la maniere la plus normale et la plus rationelle." He declared that the traditional school program, predomonantly preoccupied with the its aim of general knowledge, was at fault in failing to take into account the knowledge of child psychology. Decroly wanted to formulate a program which would incorporate this knowledge and which in the meantime a value like initiation to the intellectual heritage of humanity,"qui ait cependent une valeur comme initiation au patrimoine intellectual de l'humanite, which would be like qui soit comme un raccourci an abridged version of the experience of men and could serve as a means of general cuylturede l'experience des hommes et puisse servir de moyen de culture generale. He wanted to ... an ensemble of subject matter ble toserve as opportunities for teaching Il a voulu agencer un ensemble de matieres puvant servir d'occasions d'enseignement, qui exerce harmonieusement which at the same time would exercise the varied facultiles diverses facultes de l'enfant tout en le prparant aa comprendred les grandes lois de la vie et dela nature, et tout en mettant a sa portee les richesses scientifiques et artistiques accumules par les generations qui l'ont precede. Dans ce but, il s'est efforce de tenir compte de l'etat actuel de la science psychologiqde l'enfant d'une part, des necessites socialeset de l'ambiance dans laquelle l'enfant devra vivre dautre part. Il s'est pose la question suivante: 'Que doivent connaitre tous les enfants ; et quelles sont les connaissances pour lesquelles ils ont le plus d'interet?' Decroly repond: 'CE QUI L"IMPORTE LE PLUS D"ETRE CONNU PAR L"ENFANT, C"EST LUI_MEME EN TOUT PREMIER LIEU: comment il est fait, comment fonctionnent ses organes, a quoi ils servent, comment il mange, respire, dort, travaille, joue; comment fonctionnent ses sens et comment remuent ses membres, surtout ses mains, et quels services ils lui rendent; pourquoi il a faim, soif, froid, sommeil; pourquoi il a peur ou se fache; quels sont ses defauts et ses qualites." The basis of Decroly's pedagogy was self-knowledge and the reasons for self-knowledge. It is natural that a child wants to understand himself, the environment and the world in which he lives. This fundamental affective characteristic-the child's interest, sign of profound needs and feelings-provides the most effective lever for motivation in the learning process. The evolution of interest with development, extensively studied by psychologists, is therefore central to an effective means of education, with the different areas of subject matter connected to each other as well as to the child's experiences, thus forming an ensemble, an organic whole. Decroly considered the relevance of these studies to the formulation of a school program for six to twelve year old children. The causes for interest are not always the same and it is not always possible to know a child's reasons for a particular interest. For example, one's interest in a fruit could stem from a number of reasons depending on whether the purpose is to eat it, to draw it, to paint it, to study its composition, or to examine the structure. The evolution of interests is determined by several factors, notably the evolution of instincts and tendencies, intellectual capacities for the manipulation of symbols in speaking and writing, influence of the environment and experiences, education, imitation and habits. In formulating a program, the evolution of each particular child must be considered as well as the evolution of the child in general. Decroly based his program and teaching method on the essential needs which are common to all children such as the need for food, shelter, protection from danger, need for activity, for work, for recreation, and for adaptation to the group. In a setting with materials appropriate to the needs of their age, children are motivated by their latent interests to engage in meaningful learning activities. By way of imitation as well as appropriate organization of environment and activities, children could develop that most important habit - working with joy. Thus Decroly's program for schools, based on instinctive passion for knowledge and learning, was centered logically around the motivating interest of the child. With regard to the methods of teaching the subject matter, Decroly criticised traditional procedures, especially the divisions into disciplines, and the parcelling of time into units of a schedule which continually distracted the child's attention. Worse still, school life experiences were disconnected from real life experiences at home and in the world outside. In the traditional system, the child's role was to be an obedient listener and follow the instructions of an authoritarian teacher. Using traditional teacher centered methods of subject presentation, the child was denied the right to learn the means by which he could develop his own capacity for thought necessary for adaptation and survival to the social environment. According to Decroly's reasoning, the traditional methods effectively ruined the crucial factor for motivation towards effective learning - a child's spontaneous interest. He reasoned that if effective learning is the aim of education and if motivation is generated by the child's spontaneous interest, then for effective learning to take place, that interest must be maintained. He affirmed that the crucial factor for the effective maintenance of interest in the subject matter is the proper development of the child's powers of concentration. In order to be able to maintain their interest in the subject matter, children must be permitted and encouraged to concentrate on one idea, one theme, several related ideas or several related themes around a central interest. This principle is in conformity with principles of child psychology, according to which the various mechanisms of intellectual thought processes function, not in isolation, but simultaneously or in very rapid succession. Furthermore, in the normal development of cerebral mechanisms for sane and intelligent thought processes, the effective functioning of the neural circuits in the higher brain or cerebrum requires proper impulses from the lower brain which functions in the processing of information from the senses(Footnote from Korzybski).

 For the child in any democratic society, the aim of education is effective learning, which implies both the acquisiton of knowledege and the ability to think. Therefore it is logical to present subject matter using a format whereby the various school experiences are related to one central idea, theme or interest. In the process of effectively learning the required content of the subject matter, the child learns how to think.

 "The looking within for the real self is a kind of 'subjective biology' for it must include an effort to become conscious of one's own constitutional, temperamental, anatomical, physiological and biochemical needs, capacities and reactions i.e. one's biological individuality. It is also the path to experiencing one's specieshood, one's commoness with all other members of the human species. That is, it is a way to experiencing our biological brotherhood with all human beings no matter what their external circumstances.(185.. It should be possible to design an educational program around the instinctive needs of 'subjective biology', the 'metaneeds' as well as the basic physiological and psychological needs."  (Maslow, A. Psychology of Being. )

 Education in Belgium was not yet compulsory when Decroly was suggesting that the methods in use at the time would have disastrous effects if they were implemented for compulsory education

 Decroly and the biological model: centered on the adaptation of the human organism to the social environment... biosocial needs.

 

 Decroly demonstrated the importance of the affective, emotional environment as children grow up and learn . Proper emotional development needs love... a necessary factor for the proper development of rational thought, confidence and courage.

 Decroly 'method' as brain-based pedagogy Dr. Ovide Decroly, Belgian medical doctor, psychologist and pedagogue asked the question "For the child, what is the aim of education?"

(The Active School and School Open on Life (l'Ecole Ouverte Sur La Vie)

Decroly method as logical innovation The presentation and analysis of the Decroly method "depend on careful organization of ideas and unimpassioned arguments." What are some of the main ideas of the Decroly method and how can these ideas be effectively organized? What are 'unimpassioned arguments?' What are some 'unimpassioned arguments' in favor of the Decroly method? The Decroly method as a logical innovation because it is reasonable... based on 'reason' solving problems with rational means... scientifically - using scientific method...

Decroly had faith in reason and the rational means of resolving problems "...education is the terrain for preparing for the future if it is conducted according to the right principles, which means that it is based on an objective knowledge and understanding of the child."

 What are the criteria for qualifying the Decroly method as 'reasonable?' It is appealing because it has an "orderly, sensible probability of working."

The guiding principles of Decroly's method for teaching and learning are not based on some theoretical notions a priori, but on the nature and the needs of the child. The principles are always fresh and effective.

Decroly method as reasonable innovation The Decroly method is reasonable because it is based on biological principles of biology and psychology. The method is a biological model centered on the needs of the human organism for adaptation to the natural and social environment. The 'program' is organized around the child's characteristically wholistic perspective realized from the child's point of view... is philosophically valid, scientific and humane. The Decroly 'method' is brain-based pedagogy. The Decroly method tends to organize a narrow reciprocity between the needs and activities of the child and the environment. An individual is only validated to the extent that he can develop all his innate affective, intellectual and moral aptitudes but sain development and even any development, is possible if it is perpetually oriented towards the environment, regulated and controlled by the environment. The child's development must take place in the framework of the environment, and for the environment, that is to say at the heart of the environment to which he must adapt. Decroly drew these conclusions on the basis of his profound, healthy, and vigorous sense of reality. In the framework of the Decroly principles, what is meant by respect for the 'free' expression of children's curiosity and needs? The Decroly method comprising globalisation in teaching, centres of interest, successive learning processes of observation, association and expression, is based on scientific experiment and takes into account some of the characteristic aspects of children's mentality. In addition the school environment is arranged and equipped to favor the children's naturally spontaneous tendencies to be fully expressed. Decroly recognized the inherent risks of the practical applications of his principles. The method requires individual freedom of expression within a context of collective freedom. However it is important that teachers be instructed to appreciate the significance of 'freedom in education'. It does not mean allowing children complete freedom. Allowing the growing child complete 'freedom' meaning 'license' - as the word is commonly interpreted - could encourage children to express their negative tendencies: to be greedy, crude, rude, noisy, gossipy, restless, dirty, cruel, undisciplined, disobedient, rebellious, lazy and so on.

 

References


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Besse, Jean-Marie. Ovide Decroly: Psychologue et Educateur. , France: Editions Privat, l4 rue des Arts, Toulouse1982.

Besse, J.M. "Decroly: un modele d'ecole?" Psychologie de l"enfant et Pedagogie experiementale, 623, II, 1990... synthesis of Decroly's work: reconstruction of his thoughts, ideas and principles on the basis of thorough reading and analysis of his texts.



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Decroly, O., et Buyse, R. Les Applications Americaines de la  Psychologie a l'Organisation Humaine et a l'Education.  Bruxelles: Lamertin, 1923.

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Consequently it is important for the development of children in a stable school setting that interests of the group have priority over individual interests. When there is conflict between individual and collective freedom of expression, it is in the interest of the individuals if the group's interests have priority. Yet allowing the growing child complete 'freedom' meaning 'responsible freedom' can and does encourage children to express their favorable tendencies, to be civil, polite, considerate, sincere, loyal, tolerant, kind, generous, self-disciplined, thoughtful, cooperative, hygienic, careful, industrious and so on. In order to favor children's constructive freedom of expression the educational environment must be designed, arranged and organized according to their developmental instincts, needs and interests. When children are free to exercise their own self-discipline and responsibility to themselves and their group, the problem of discipline is effectively managed. Allowing the child freedom means helping children to discover their world; it means helping them to discover for themselves what they can and like to do; it means helping them prepare the vocation of their future; it means letting them use their imagination; it means letting them be constructive and creative; it means letting them build something good from their own inventions. Teachers working in the context of principles which respect the freedom of children must be properly informed and trained in the rational guidelines of the 'method' which Decroly investigated scientifically and to which he and others were committed. Effective teachers respect children's humanity and their human needs, discourage and restrict children's negative and destructive tendencies, acknowledge and encourage children's positive tendencies. ...pedagogical principles based on experimental studies, he proposed a global, wholistic view of the questions of childhood and education. He emphasized that it is impossible to treat educational questions in a fragmentary fashion: like the adult, the child is a 'psychic whole' with different aspects of personality and character which are connected. To fully understand the child one must address the 'whole child'. (See p. 147)

("Qu'entend-on par education nouvelle et comment la realiser?", Vers l'Ecole Active, no.l0, pp. 145-151 l930) He based his psychopedagogical method on a solid foundation of the objective understanding of the child based on scientific observation. In view of the psychobiological need for the child to adapt eventually to the adult social environment, it is necessary to obtain information regarding the modes of learning specific to each developmental stage and chronological age. Taking into account the characteristic mental processes of each developmental stage, effective methods of a rational education can be designed to incorporate those activities which are conducive to the child's own objectives in thinking, in feeling and in working. In curriculum planning, the formulation of a general aim is bound to lead to failure. In designing a curriculum and an educational environment it is important to bear in mind that "a child is not what you want him to be but what he himself can be." "L'enfant n'est pas ce que l'on veut, il est ce qu'il peut" (cited by Xirotiris. E. "Les ecoles experimentales et les progres de l'education" Athenes, Alikoitis, l56 300p) A curriculum should be designed within the framework of two basic questions: the first, what does the child desire to learn as a child and what must he know as an adult? the second, at different stages of his development, what can the child learn with advantage? ("Psychologie du dessin", l'Ecole nationale, Bruxelles, vol. 5, no. l8, pp. 546-548) Decroly was interested in all aspects of the child's character and personality, including the genetic psychology, affectivity, intelligence and others. This wholistic view of the child along with his clinical experience and scientific investigation of the child were the predominant personal features which influenced his formulation of a psychopedagogical 'method' of education. As he reasoned, everything which contributes to a better understanding of the child must necessarily lead to an improvement of education and thence to an improvement in the quality of social life. Decroly was convinced that with a 'science of education' the scientist-pedagogue and educator could make a significant contribution to the improvement of humanity. ...of learning constitute a rational foundation for the formulation of effective pedagogical methods. With increased emphasis on the integrating factor of a global perspective, the different branches of school subject matter are perceived in terms of their interrelationships, increasing the effectiveness of the learning process. (Decroly "La fonction de globalisation et l'enseignement" ed. Ecole Decroly l979)

The representation or knowledge of subject matter can only be genuinely understood when the student discovers the understanding for himself without explanation. We only understand when we create ourselves. It is to Decroly's credit to have shown the common source for all the different types of expression: gesture, mimicry, drawing and language. With these forms of expression which he learns from the society, the child recreates and in his turn contributes to the society. Through the various forms of expression, the child learns to adapt and integrate into the society setting up a perpetual two way communication. The Decroly principles are applicable to the secondary level of education. Modifications should take into account the two characteristic traits of adolescents. First, the emergence of altruistic sentiments can be directed to the acquisition of knowledge of human beings in general. Second is the need of adolescents to understand the logical reasoning behind the information. Their observation extends beyond their immediate natural and social environment. They observe people of former times through their literary, historic and geographic activities, through sciences, technologies and civilizations. Young peoples' intelligence and sensibilities are enriched through the contact of the intelligence and sensibilities of people who lived before them. Secondary education studies should be the literary, historic, geographic, esthetic and scientific humanities. From Fasicule number 35, l983 of Documents Pedagogiques Ecole Decroly, Dreve de Gendarmes, 45 Bruxelles Article: The biological foundations of the system of Dr. Decroly by P. Brien, professor of Brussels University, taken from "La Semaine Pedagogique Dr. Ovide Decroly". Editor Labor, La Louviere l934

 The practical and philosophical conclusions drawn from the scientific work of Decroly, the "decrolyen principles of education", have their foundations in the knowledge of the biology of the human organism. Trained as a medical doctor, Decroly remained a biologist, applying his medical training throughout his career in the study of child development and pedagogy. In the same way that a naturalist would observe any animal in nature, he studied the child in order to understand the human organism.  In the same way that every organism is born into an environment, the child is born into a social environment. The growth processes of the human organism involve external environmental factors as well as internal genetic, physiological and psychological.The resulting interdependence betweeen the organism and its environment forms the basis of the decrolyen principles of education. With this solid biological basis, the pedagogical principles which he formulated can be adapted to new needs and circumstances. They do not constitute any rigid theory and continue to be original, flexible and fruitful. They remain valid and effective for each new generation of children and for children in different cultural and social environments. The growth of an organism depends on intrinsic organismal factors and external environmental factors. The organismal factors of interest to the educator are those connected with the child's psychology. An understanding of the child's psychological make-up requires objectivity and tenderness. Decroly's love for children explains the depth and practical value of his pedagogical conceptions. The environmental factors of interest to the educator are connected with the complex social milieu, comprising ethnic, moral, cultural, religious and economic values. The formulation of a valid pedagogy, involving a synthesis of biology, psychology and sociology, requires the educator's constant and intense investigation. Decroly conferred prestige on the educator's important role in society. Decroly's pedagogy is not individualist. It does not subscribe to any doctrine which assumes that the individual, and not society, is the aim of eduction. The maturation of the child is not perceived as a rare and solitary creation, but a natural process. The child naturally develops in harmony with the social environment, with the society, its functions, its laws and its capacities for individual freedom of action and thought. Decroly's pedagogy is not designed to be of service to some state, regime or political doctrine, but is based on the biological and social needs of children. Characteristically humane, his pedagogy is based on universal human needs and is applicable in any human society. In the context of his educational principle of organism-environment, Decroly understood that biology, psychology and pedagogy were interrelated. Developing in parallel, these three sciences had different languages, methods and points of view. Since the end of the nineteenth century, it has been recognized that both psychology and pedagogy can be understood only in the context of the fundamental biological concept of the species as a group of genetically similar individuals. Although human individuals exist as a function of the genetic legacy of the abstract human species, each child as an individual human organism has a unique genetic endowment. Children cannot be treated as a group for the implementation of some philosophical doctrine. Therefore, to educate the individual child means allowing that individual human organism to grow, live, and manifest his unique individual functions and capacities in a social environment. The aim of education is to favor and foster the harmonious and total growth of the human organism. For this reason, the psychologist and the pedagogue must think in terms of biology more than in terms of philosophy.

 The principles of the Decroly conception of pedagogy can be outlined in the following way: First, the teacher treats the children individually and with respect. Not only does each child have a unique genetic legacy and a unique preschool home environment, but goes though many changes during his development. The adult stage represents the synthesis of the preceding morphological, physiological, and psychological stages. Second, the great art of the educator is to match the pedagogy with the potentialities of each stage of the child's development. As a biologist, Decroly came to this conclusion from his studies of child develpment (psychogenese) which he did with the ingenious wisdom and perspicacity of the biologist when he analysed abnormal and backward children the psychic mechanism involved was called "syncretism" also known also as "globalizastion." The psychic mechanism of the young child and the animal follow the same process. Each has an approximate global perception which seems like an immediate and hasty generalization, with the difference that the generalization proper is conscious and is realized after thought and analysis. With the child and the animal, globalization is spontaneous and unconscious. He analyses in order to reach a perception of the concrete at a later stage. From this principle which modifies the classical concept of psychology, Decroly derived his famous method of "globalization" which is one of the characteristic features of his system. Third, in education, everything is directed towards the child, and everything radiates from the child ("C'est vers l'enfant que tout se dirige, c'est de l'enfant que tout rayonne"). His sensitive study of the life and growth of animals and children resulted in his method of "centers of interest" ("centres d'interet"), the most important and most original of Decroly's concepts. This method conforms so well to the nature of the psychic development of the child that one is astonished it took so long to discover it. To understand it required a naturalist pedagogue. Education methods using the centres of interest technique are adaptable to each individual student, allowing for variation in styles of teaching. The educational principles of Decroly are based on the concept of the biological interrelationship between organism and environment. An animal society, of whatever species, originates from the process of interattraction, an imperative need to live in contact with other members of the society, a sort of unavoidable tropism towards its fellow beings. The animal asociations which result from interattraction range from the group to the society. The social animal cannot develop or even survive if torn away from the group. Modern man of the human species is an intelligent social animal, with the scientific name of "homo sapiens" meaning "knowing man." The environment for the human organism and thus the developing child is a social environment. As a social being the child can only develop in the context of a group or society. It is here that the Decroly principles reach their highest moral and social significance. Social life is the result of a profound need, even a physiological need known as the process of interattraction. The child experiences this interattraction particularly for other children. Excluding older children and adults, young children form groups, which represent little worlds of activity, illusions, dreams etc. For their own physical and spiritual development, they formulate moral codes which are manifested as group ethics. As a biologist and psychologist, Decroly understood perfectly this imperative social need and the repercussions for education and pedagogy. In effect, the need for contact between members of the human society and the fundamental process of interattraction constituted the biological basis for the decrolyan pedagogical principles. In the Decroly school, the class becomes the social environment which the children create in the spiritual plane which is their own. If we return to the essential character of an animal society, we note that the interaction experienced by the members of the group leads to a coordinating interaction. As a result the society becomes a synthesis, and each animal no longer the same as when alone, lives and behaves as a function of the group. The quality of the interaction between the individuals depends on their psychological make-up. Animal societies are not always identical. Insect societies will be different from higher animal societies. As they are on different levels, they cannot be compared. For the same reason, the evolution of societies in different groups of vertebrates is a function of psychic development. Coordination and social life are most developed amongst the higher mammals. Amongst the higher mammals, the best organized societies are the human societies. The human society is graded into hierarchies, under the leadership of a chief. Members of the group work in collaboration towards the common goal which is the welfare of the individuals in the group. The society is consolidated by the development of the social conscience and the eminently social values of cooperation, courage and abnegation. The richer the psychological faculties of the individuals, the higher the level of social conscience. In the human species, the form of society and the social conscience vary according to the types of human beings. For the same type of human being, they vary according to the history and type of civilization. The social conscience and the force of human societies is a function of the spiritual development of the individual human beings. The "higher" the civilization, the "higher" the values and civic responsibilties of the members of the society. The education of children must be implemented in view of this "law". This is the main preoccupation of the Decroly school. Not only is the school a microcosm of the society, but it is an open social environment incorporated in the larger social environment into which chilren are born. The school integrates with the society, participating in the social activities, getting involved with the social problems, and contributing to social awareness and the social conscience. During his school education as the child grows and develops, his faculties of intelligence and sensibility mature and strengthen, and he learns through the appropriate pedagogical methods to adapt and contribute to the human society of which he is a self-respecting and responsible member. There is no conflict between the individual and society, no more than there is between an individual and his environment. Similarly, there is no conflict between the individual student and the social environment of the school, characterized by the awareness of each person's human dignity and respect for each person' s individuality. By way of the decrolyan pedagogical principles, each person's individuality is formed and strengthened in harmony with the society within the school, itself indispensable to the physical, moral and intellectual development of the children. As a microcosm of the society, the school is in a position of responsibility to the child and to the society. According to Decroly's ideal for education, as the personality grows, the social conscience grows with it in a way that the society is enriched and consolidated in the common respect for human dignity.

"I came to the realization that with the majority of pupils, their latent interest for natural things, beings and phenomena would make it possible to find an inexhaustible mine of subject matter which could in the most normal and rational manner be used as pretext for thinking, discussing, calculating and writing."

According to Decroly, the traditional school program was preoccupied with the aim of general knowledge education for all children. It failed to take into account the known principles of child psychology. He wanted to design a program which would incorporate this knowledge, reflect the value of the intellectual heritage of humanity and serve as a means for general culture. He wanted to create an ensemble of subject matter which could provide opportunities for teaching, exercising the varied faculties of the child while preparing him to understand the great laws of life and nature beyond it, and at the same time expose him to the scientific and artistic riches accumulated by the generations which preceded him. With this aim in view,  he took into account the current trends in child psychology as well as the necessities of the social environment to which the child would have to be able to adapt and function when an adult. He asked himself the following question: "what is it that all children must know; and what knowledge is of most interest to them?" He answered his own question as follows: the knowledge of most importance to a child is knowledge of himself: how he came into being, how his body works and how his organs function; how he eats, breathes, sees, hears, sleeps, works, plays; how he can use his legs, his hands, and what they can do for him; why he gets hungry, thirsty, cold, sleepy; why he is afraid, angry; what are his faults, his qualities, and so on. 

"Decroly, encore toujours actuel" from book Dr. Ovide Decroly

(pages l54-l57)   Remarks by Walter Kerckhove, Echevin de l'enseignement et de la culture , Renaix, Belgium, l98l

    Even though he was completely anchored in the cultural norms of his society in his time, and present circumstances are quite different, Decroly is a pedagogue of great value today. Most importantly, he was both a scholar and a teacher, a doctor  of psychology and a pedagogue, who wanted to close the gap between theory and practice. Going further than intellectual work, scientific theory and advice, he created a school based on his own conceptions and scientific knowledge. The school still functions and remains an example for all those currently occupied with scholastic and pedagogical problems. His 'strategy', to use a contemporary term, is functional today and should be the object of study for all educationists,  theoreticians as well as practicioners, philosophers as well as teachers. His ideas and practice of education were based on unified and realistic thought. As a scholar-teacher who went beyond scientific study, he was preoccupied with the reality of children's daily school life accepting it as the  point of departure for his theoretical reflections, and also as the final goal for verification of the validity of his ideas. For his time, this was a complete novelty. He was especially interested in the interaction of theory and practice and did not hesitate to change his ideas in the light of new evidence or possibility.  It is therefore erroneous to reproach Decroly for not having elaborated a definite and coherent pedagogical theory. His aim was not to build a theoretical work of permament value. He worked with children to experiment with his ideas because he wanted to create a better school. According to him, the value of his scientific work was determined by the effectiveness of his ideas in real learning situations. He knew that reality does not bend to fit in with a theory but the theory must bend to fit in with reality. He did not feel superior to the point of denying reality. Even for his time he was a "scientific researcher on the job" who tried to unite into one concept the results of his scientific research and its practical applications. That was his great merit. It was this aspect of his personality which makes his ideas still valid today. Carrying out his method of teaching, the ideas were passed on to collaborators, teachers and students of his school in which the exercises of observation, association and expression contributed harmoniously to create a new behaviour in daily life. His school is successful because the demands of reality are integrated with the scientific findings of teaching and learning.