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
- Learning cannot be decreed or imposed.
- People initiate their own learning and starting to learn requires some confidence.
- Each person learns in a distinctive but not fixed way which can be modified and developed through experience.
- Learning is difficult and so it is important to provide learners with the environment and the support which are likely to make it easier.
- 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.
- It is impossible to separate process and content in learning: no process operates in a vacuum and no content can be learnt without process.
- 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.
- 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.
- 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.
- Everyone can learn and no one can decide that learning is not possible for any individual.
- 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?