What is learning? Philippe Meirieu

Philippe Meirieu is a French academic and Green party politician. His educational thinking starts from an ethical and egalitarian position and a commitment to emancipation through learning. He is actively involved in both educational and political debate and engages readily in constructive dialogue with his critics, often modifying his positions as a result. Criticised by some as an advocate of lower standards, he is passionately in favour of giving all young people access to a demanding universal cultural curriculum. He is a former member of the French Socialist party and is currently active in the Europe Ecologie Les Verts (EELV) Green Party and has been an elected councillor and parliamentary candidate. He has written extensively about education including the 1987 best seller “Apprendre…oui, mais comment?”(“to learn…yes but how?”) and most recently “Le plaisir d’apprendre” (“The pleasure of learning”) published this year.

I’m offering his “fundamental principles to approach the question of learning” as a brief introduction to Meirieu’s work:

Learning: some fundamental principles

  1. Learning cannot be decreed or imposed.
  2. People initiate their own learning and starting to learn requires some confidence.
  3. Each person learns in a distinctive but not fixed way which can be modified and developed through experience.
  4. Learning is difficult and so it is important to provide learners with the environment and the support which are likely to make it easier.
  5. Research on teaching methods, the psychology of learning and the observation of optimal conditions for learning can help us create contexts for effective learning. Such methods and contexts can make personal and social learning situations more likely to be successful but cannot substitute for the autonomy of the learner.
  6. It is impossible to separate process and content in learning: no process operates in a vacuum and no content can be learnt without process.
  7. It is impossible to separate the cognitive and the affective aspects of learning: the acquisition of knowledge requires the learner to reconsider their self identity.
  8. It is impossible to separate the personal and the social in learning: no one learns entirely on their own and ways of learning always involve an idea of society and the relationship of knowledge and power.
  9. To learn is to be enriched and to advance and therefore to go beyond what is given and to subvert any social order where each has a fixed place.
  10. Everyone can learn and no one can decide that learning is not possible for any individual.
  11. Learning builds humanity within people and offers them access to the universal culture which can emerge when people refuse to be subject to others but decide to subject themselves with others to peaceful exchanges.

This, rather free, translation is mine and I am happy to accept suggested improvements which readers feel better reflect Meirieu’s intention.

Philippe Meirieu: “Quelques principes fondamentaux pour approcher la question de l’apprentissage” is available in French here.

Meirieu’s excellent blog (in French) is well worth a visit. It has details of all his publications and some excellent historical and philosophical summaries.

See also my own 11 suggested points for agreement between educational progressives and traditionalists in my earlier post: Progs and trads: is a synthesis possible?

About Eddie Playfair

Principal of Newham Sixth Form College (NewVIc) East London. Blogging about education, politics and culture in a personal capacity. I also tweet at @eddieplayfair
This entry was posted in Education, Teaching and learning and tagged , , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

7 Responses to What is learning? Philippe Meirieu

  1. Emile Bojesen says:

    Thanks for this post. I’m a fan of Meirieu, particularly his application of some of Claude Lefort’s thinking to educational contexts. Meirieu uses Lefort’s concept of the ‘lieu vide’ in terms of the inability to fully or finally conceptualise the origin or foundations of powers which shape the social and political. I also like the quite simple but important distinction Meirieu makes in his definition of pedagogy, arguing that it cannot be reduced to a science because it works ‘with’ rather than ‘on’ children, thereby not being thinkable in terms of just achieving what is expected.

    • Thank you Emile, I will certainly look up Claude Lefort. I’ve only just started reading Meirieu so have a lot of catching up to do. He does seem to have got the balance right between the measurable and ineffable aspects of teaching. I’ve just bought ‘le plaisir d’apprendre’ and am looking forward to reading it. Also about to embark on ‘petite Poucette’ by Michel Serrres about the impact of global connectedness on education.
      Are there any other French education books you would recommend? I do think more of these should be translated into English as they might find an appreciative audience.

      • Emile Bojesen says:

        Hi Eddie, apologies, for some reason I was never notified of your (now rather ancient) reply – but I got a notification for Simon’s message below! You may have come across it by now but Jacques Ranciere’s ‘The Ignorant Schoolmaster’ is rather interesting and has been translated.

        Also, some of Catherine Malabou’s ideas (also translated) play quite well in educational thought. At the risk of ‘self promotion’ I can tell you that I had a paper published on her in Educational Philosophy and Theory last year.

        Bernhard Stiegler and Jacques Derrida offer important insights (particularly Derrida, but Stiegler more directly on education). Again, I’ve written something on them for Studies in Philosophy and Education.

        More recently I have been going back to Maurice Blanchot, who one would really not easily call an educational thinker. Nonetheless, I plow on and have published a paper on Passive Education in EPAT – which messes around with some of his ideas. It also throws a slight critique in the direction of Ranciere. I also touch on some of these things in a chapter on ‘Negative Aesthetic Education’ that came out in a book I help to edit called Against Value in the Arts and Education.

        If you’d like to have a look at any of these papers and don’t have access then please do let me know.

        It was nice to be reminded of your blog – I’ve enjoyed reading the more recent posts and will look forward to continuing to follow your thinking and reading.

      • emilebojesen says:

        Hi Eddie, apologies, for some reason I was never notified of your (now rather ancient) reply – but I got a notification for Simon’s message below! You may have come across it by now but Jacques Ranciere’s ‘The Ignorant Schoolmaster’ is rather interesting and has been translated.

        Also, some of Catherine Malabou’s ideas (also translated) play quite well in educational thought. At the risk of ‘self promotion’ I can tell you that I had a paper published on her in Educational Philosophy and Theory last year.

        Bernhard Stiegler and Jacques Derrida offer important insights (particularly Derrida, but Stiegler more directly on education). Again, I’ve written something on them for Studies in Philosophy and Education.

        More recently I have been going back to Maurice Blanchot, who one would really not easily call an educational thinker. Nonetheless, I plow on and have published a paper on Passive Education in EPAT – which messes around with some of his ideas. It also throws a slight critique in the direction of Ranciere. I also touch on some of these things in a chapter on ‘Negative Aesthetic Education’ that came out in a book I help to edit called Against Value in the Arts and Education.

        If you’d like to have a look at any of these papers and don’t have access then please do let me know.

        It was nice to be reminded of your blog – I’ve enjoyed reading the more recent posts and will look forward to continuing to follow your thinking and reading.

      • emilebojesen says:

        Also, did you ever get to reading Lefort?

  2. Simon Verwer says:

    Hi Eddie, great to see that Meirieu is also read in the UK. Love your posts.

    I’m a Dutch philosophy and French highschool teacher. I just translated his ‘Pédagogie: le devoir de résister’ last academic year which was published. We had a nice conference with among others Gert Biesta as a speaker. Do you know his work too?

    • Thanks for the feedback Simon. I’d be interested to know if anyone else is disseminating Meirieu’s work in English. I’d be keen to do more of this as I think he should be reaching a wider audience – I guess your translation is into Dutch.
      Let me know if there’s anything else I can do to help share Meirieu’s work more widely.
      I’m aware of Biesta’s ideas and am looking forward to reading ‘Beyond Learning’ and ‘The Beautiful Risk of Education’ as soon as I can.
      Do keep in touch and you’d be most welcome to visit us at NewVIc if you are ever in London.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s