Teach differently?

educating the child while respecting his or her spontaneous interests is the proposition of alternative pedagogies. Submitting these promises to sociological criticism, Ghislain Leroy shows that they are not necessarily liberating and can contribute to reproducing social inequalities.

There Montessori method has benefited from growing popularity in recent years: in 2012, there were 125 Montessori schools in France; in 2021 this figure rises to 200. Other educational approaches called alternatives, like those of Freinet or Steiner, also seem to arouse the interest of an increasingly wide audience. What these approaches have in common is the desire to educate children differently, the project of a more emancipatory education which would strive to support the creative and expressive capacities of children. In Sociology of alternative pedagogies, Ghislain Leroy proposes to put these ambitions to the test with field research to question them in an objective and critical way. Are alternative pedagogies as liberating as they claim?? Are they able to reduce the reproduction of social inequalities?? Do these pedagogies, which we have become accustomed to bringing together under the same label, share the same ideological commitments??

Against traditional pedagogy: from new pedagogies to critical pedagogies

Leroy's starting point is a literal definition of the expression alternative pedagogies: those are pedagogiesthat is to say theoretical and practical propositions concerning the means of education, and they are alternatives, that is to say, they claim to do things differently than what is traditionally done in educational institutions. The criticisms that defenders of new pedagogies oppose to traditional school education are numerous: its methods (the use of textbooks for example) are considered boring and ineffective, its instructional content is considered elitist and useless, its hierarchical and disciplinary organization is denounced as alienating. By questioning these alternative projects on a historical scale, Leroy demonstrates the existence of two very different currents: new pedagogies and critical pedagogies.

New pedagogies were born at the beginning of XXe century. It is in this trend that pedagogues as different as Clestin Freinet, Maria Montessori, Ovide Decroly and Alexander Sutherland Neill belong. According to Leroy, this pedagogical tradition is aligned around the project of an education respectful of the natural spontaneity of the child. Here, educating children means refusing to make them work out of obedience or obligation: it is rather a matter of encouraging them to act for themselves according to their own interests. A very interesting dimension of the book lies in the way in which Leroy criticizes this notion spontaneous interest, arguing that it often leads to justifying practices which consist less of letting the child express himself than of making him obey without him feeling the weight of authority imposed on him, for example through benevolent incentives. On the other hand, the notion ofchild's interest often presupposes the idea that what the child does spontaneously when we let him play freely (that is to say without anyone trying to influence him) would correspond to the free expression of his natural character. Leroy recalls that research on child socialization tends to show that the development of the child's individual character depends largely on the environment in which he evolves from a very young age and that the child who plays freely tends to to recycle behaviors and valuations specific to their social environment.

Critical pedagogies, for their part, were born at the end of the 1960s. They were nourished by the proposals of Paulo Freire who, in his Pedagogy of the oppressed seeks to make individuals aware of the social inequalities of which they are victims, this awareness of oppression constituting the first stage of a possible emancipation process. Returning successively to feminist pedagogies, the pedagogies queercritical pedagogies of race, decolonial pedagogies or even critical co-pedagogies, Leroy reports on little-known approaches which illustrate the way in which alternative pedagogies are being renewed today around propositions that are very different from those of the interwar period. These pedagogies give a very important place to artistic activities (notably theater), often considered by their defenders as a means of expression where it is possible to emancipate from dominant norms, whether patriarchal, heteronormative or Eurocentric.

A significant part of the book is devoted to the question of the ideological commitments of alternative pedagogies. Leroy first shows that these pedagogies are far from being ideologically homogeneous: some of them, like that of Freinet, are frankly socialist and strive to make the child an individual capable of actively participating in the collective life of the class.; others, like that of Montessori, are much more liberal in that they tend to individualize the child by focusing on his performance rather than his cooperation skills. Leroy's sociological approach makes it possible to specify this ideological alternative in relation to the question of social inequalities: where pedagogies noble tend to maintain the inequalities of an unjust social order based on individualism, competition and profitability, socialist pedagogies (which Leroy more readily calls subversive pedagogies Or rational pedagogies) are looking for ways to make society more equal.

Who are the actors involved in alternative pedagogies??

One of the most original dimensions of the book lies in the way in which the author reports on the state of research on the sociological profile of actors engaged in alternative pedagogies. The educators of these pedagogies would more frequently come from dominant social categories. They would also be older and more experienced. According to Leroy, these forms of pedagogy would also allow school teachers to promote their work and compensate for a lack of professional legitimacy that they may feel while practicing a profession.

By addressing the question of their training and their way of working, Leroy also accounts for the individual mobilization on the part of teachers who wish to engage in this type of pedagogy. Alternative educational theories are in fact poorly represented in national education training courses, which leads teachers to train in them on their own, in particular by obtaining information on the internet or by financing expensive courses from their own funds that they follow in their free time. . Furthermore, alternative pedagogies would sometimes require more preparation than traditional pedagogies: the organization of unusual events (trips for example), the design of the teaching materials used as well as the needs for sustained teamwork would require teachers to make a greater investment. in their work.

The question of the future of students benefiting from these methods is also addressed. At this level, field surveys lead to ambivalent results. On the one hand, these students seem to adapt better to the demands of higher education. They also sometimes consider that these pedagogies have allowed them to acquire a critical mind that traditional education would not have given them. We can wonder, however, if these evaluations are not the effect of the way in which students internalize the educational discourse conveyed by their educators. On the other hand, other testimonies describe the difficulties they can experience when they find themselves brutally confronted with traditional methods. After leaping into heaven, falling into hell…one of these students will even go so far as to say.

Beyond the opposition between the alternative and the traditional?

A very interesting dimension of the book lies in the way in which Leroy strives to go beyond a simplistic opposition by questioning the way in which traditional pedagogies can assimilate certain propositions of alternative pedagogies. Leroy, however, invites us to remain suspicious: if these reappropriations exist, they are far from being ideologically neutral. Traditional approaches would thus only retain the most liberal proposals and would even go so far as to subvert the most socialist approaches by making them more individualistic and less liberating. According to the author, social constructivist approaches, which notably propose organizing instruction around problem situations that should allow the child to find for himself what he must learn rather than through lecture transmission, and which have inspired teachers and official texts for years 1980, result from the liberal instrumentalization of new pedagogies. Socioconstructivism, we are told, would remain focused on objectives of education, efficiency and performance and would put aside the ambition to fight against social inequalities.

However, if traditional practices can be influenced by liberal proposals and even, as Leroy briefly mentions, by conservative proposals, we do not see how the influence of socialist proposals would be excluded. Those involved in traditional education are not unaware of the existence of social inequalities and are entirely capable of taking them into account when looking for ways to improve their practices. By basing his reflection on an exclusive opposition between neoliberal pedagogies and socialist pedagogies, Leroy does not give himself the means to think finely about the tensions in which actors are caught when, for example, they seek to reduce social inequalities without renouncing the ambition to educate children. effectively. By pushing the reflection a little further in this direction, it would perhaps have been possible to present alternative pedagogies as places of experimentation decentralized from traditional educational institutions and which would make it possible to stimulate the reflection of actors on their practices (whatever they may be, for example). elsewhere, the ideological commitments which are theirs).

Furthermore, if the ideological critique of practices seems entirely appropriate here, we will regret that the descriptions that Leroy offers us of these pedagogies rational which intend to reduce inequalities are terribly imprecise. The only truly concrete example proposed concerns the experiments of Sandrine Garcia and Anne-Claudine Oller on learning to read. But the example must: we are told that this emancipatory pedagogy involves early work on decoding, dictations of syllables, reading aloud and a differentiated approach to support students in difficulty. Presented like this, we don't really see what differentiates Garcia and d'Oller's approach from those currently practiced in high school classes. CP the most traditional. Leroy also seems to suggest that one dimension of this mysterious rational pedagogy would be a pedagogy explicit who continually ensures that the child has a clear and distinct awareness of what he is learning. Without necessarily calling this proposition into question, we wonder once again whether this explicit pedagogy is distinct from that which is expressly prescribed by the official national education programs currently in force. Despite these reservations, Sociology of alternative pedagogies remains a very stimulating work which illustrates very well the type of critical insight that the sociology of education can offer to enrich pedagogical reflection.