The question of teaching is inseparable from that of education, as is the relationship between knowledge and desire. How has this school project, a weekday boarding school born from the events of May 68, been carried on for 40 years by adults and children, articulating Law and Desire, history and (re)creation?
a timeless dream place
We dreamed of this place without knowing that it existed, on the school benches counting the days that would separate us from freedom, the freedom of choice, the freedom of a true relationship to knowledge and thus to the world and to life, I thought then. « It is out of school, or outside of school, that everyone learns to live, to speak, to think, to love, to play, to swear, to manage, to work. » (1). A bitter taste of lost time, wasted time, endless waiting. How could I have imagined that I would be interested in this question of the school, and this because it touches the heart of the individual-society articulation…
la neuville, a pedagogy edge
It was because of this problem that I went last summer to the Clinique de La Borde, where I encountered the work of the late Dr. Jean Oury (2)this generation that has known the war and its horrors and has observed the alienated society and the institutions with their totalitarian potentialities. After the liberation, there were many meetings between innovators in psychiatry and pedagogy: François Tosquelles, Célestin Freinet, the Oury brothers, Fernand Deligny, Félix Guattari, etc. « (…) it is not by chance that these great architectures — hospital and school — simultaneously pose similar problems ». (cf. J. Oury). It is above all a question of considering the institution as a psychic place requiring all our vigilance and of creating a collective life which puts the group in a capacity of permanent questioning, thus paradoxically supporting the emergence of a singular word.
At La Borde, I meet Maïder, a former « adult » of the Ecole de la Neuville.(3) She spoke to me about their tools, about the institutional pedagogy of Fernand Oury, Jean’s brother, from the Freinet Modern School movement. » The institutional pedagogy class is finally the Freinet class that enters into analysis »(4). The links with institutional psychotherapy are numerous; we find the same concerns in the relationship to time, to rhythm, to daily life, to ethics, to the individual, to the collective, to democracy and even to therapy. Children and the insane: how does society view them? A political choice, the collective? The two brothers work on their own to create a living environment which, to begin with, would not be harmful and where « we leave them in peace! (cf. J. Oury).
What strikes me while visiting La Neuville is that despite common reflections, the place here is much more structured and governed by laws than at La Borde, in response to the specific needs of the child. Just like in La Borde, the project cannot be done without the participation of all, where it is. » The share of responsibility and work entrusted to the children is real, concrete, without their participation, the common project could not be carried out. They know it. They also know that by participating they have the best chance of making the school look like what they want it to look like. »(5). Here we don’t pretend!
cinema at school
« Living in harmony with your ideas was the great myth of our youth »(6).
Fabienne d’Ortoli, Michel Amram and Pascal Lemaitre(7) were 20 years old in Paris during the events of May 68. « We had the impression of belonging to a lost generation ». (p.30). This questioning of an archaic, unchanging society is the basis of their desire to create a different place: « Itwas not a question of creating a place of dreams but of dreaming about what this place could be ». (p.32). They are not teachers, but they go to the film library every day and make short films. When they talk about their history, it is their interest in cinema that they place at the origin of this adventure, dreaming of a place that would have the atmosphere of the films they loved.(8) » We didn’t want to fit into anything that already existed. This is one of the reasons why we had ruled out, among others, the idea of working within the national education system. We wanted to use our freedom to think, to act ». (p.30). In 1976 they created the G.A.P. (Groupe d’Action Pédagogique), because the word « school » seemed to them to be reductive to their project, which would later become the Ecole de la Neuville, named after the small Norman village where they settled.(9)
During my visit, Michel Amram explained that what they wanted to do was to create a place of exchange, a school with a capital « E », where one dares, without fear of the teacher. They felt that a society had to be rebuilt, and that this began precisely with education. This school had to function in a subversive way by not respecting the criteria of the well-meaning society, while knowing what they wanted to transmit: democracy.
dolto-oury, famous sponsors
At the beginning of their project, the three friends called upon their elders: Fernand Oury and Françoise Dolto would become the godparents of the school until their death. The first, a teacher, had never been able to create his own place but had tried to change the profession according to his famous maxim: « change the profession or change the profession! He recommends that they go see Françoise Dolto, the famous child psychoanalyst. She recognized in this still incipient project the doctor of education (10) she dreamed of becoming as a child. « School adjustment is now, with very rare exceptions, it must be said, a major symptom of neuroses ». (cf. F. Dolto).
But the school can also cure, as long as the « unconscious » is not put in the checkroom and the child is considered as an individual and not as an empty head to be filled with the teacher’s knowledge. « It is necessary that the child is already alienated to the submission to the power, to accept such a dependence » writes Dolto who will assure to the Neuville a role of supervision and will send them children that she followed in analysis. About the presence among them of this first « different » child, the Neuvillians will say that he was « the educator of his educators ». Even today, there is a mix of ordinary children and children with great difficulties, not only academic, usually under the responsibility of the specialized institution.
The school is situated between filiation and creation, considering that any theory, however good it may be, including institutional pedagogy, cannot be effective if it is not thought of collectively, in a perpetual movement. In the same state of mind, here, we do not hide the dysfunctions either. Indeed, how can we ask children to grow and evolve if there is no evolution of the school itself? This daily creation is the guarantee of the astonishing longevity of this « working utopia ». They compare themselves to farmers who never do two years alike.
« We take care of the school and the school takes care of the children »
The sentence that Dolto addresses to them « You are not researchers, you are finders » is often taken up by Fabienne and Michel who explain that if they find it is precisely because they seek and test things, some of which remain in gestation for a long time. They ask themselves simple questions, touching on the most banal things, while thinking about the mayonnaise of the whole because « the school is never finished ». A permanent construction site for this couple for whom it is the work of a lifetime. A school that has been based for 40 years on the fundamental desire of its founders, who are present every day, living on the spot: « We take care of the school and it is the school that takes care of the children ». A unique school that cannot be duplicated and whose recipes cannot be applied in a cookie-cutter fashion. Nevertheless, we can think, question, be inspired by what exists, dream, desire and finally… do!
the word and the law, the exercise of democracy
« You could say the school is a little republic, » Sacha, a former student of La Neuville.
The children who show me around the Neuville talk about their school as an anthill. Like a beehive, one has the feeling that everything here is extremely well organized, thought out, and that everyone knows what to do. We could not be further from laissez-faire and anarchy.(11) The different places but also the different times are differentiated, which already has a very calming effect for the participant of the open day that I am. We begin our visit in the meeting room, the largest room in the castle, sitting in a circle, adults and children mixed together, waiting for time to pass in a large hourglass.
I will describe here only a few of the inventions of the adults and children here, as they are so numerous and complex. The way in which the school goes about managing the daily conflicts of each other, inherent to this living together in the boarding school, seems to me to reveal the whole of the thinking in action here. The complaint always the same: « Madaaaaaaame, there is so-and-so who… », often forces us to make a judgment in record time while appeasing the wounded egos! Here it is not settled in the heat of the moment, but through ritual and symbolism, it is not the all-powerful adult who passes judgment. The children write down their complaint in « The Notebook », this writing exercise already having a calming effect. The child can thus continue the week more serenely because he knows that the word will be discussed collectively at the Friday meeting, an exercise in speech and shared power. We can always go if need be to sulk at the « Four Stones » explain the children to me. (These are four stones placed around a tree). In meetings, a dark belt presides, and each adult and child vote counts equally. We listen to each other and the inter-individual conflict becomes an opportunity to exercise power democratically with the essential tool of speech. We invent rules together, which correspond to a need to live together and to think about the school. These laws are transmitted orally but the decisions are recorded in The Notebook. If the laws have been forgotten or if they have become obsolete in practice, it is a sign that they need to be rethought. Here there is no punishment but a reparation, in connection with the damage suffered. For example, a child will fix a broken tile or buy a jar at the school grocery store. At La Neuville, children grow up with a real place as individuals because they are involved in the daily organization of their school.
There are many more exciting tools to describe, including the belt system devised by Fernand Oury and drawn from his experience as a judoka. On the tatami, we don’t give the same holds to beginners as to advanced students! The different colors of schooling and behavior belts are a great tool to empower and grow the child, especially with the sponsorship of an older child with a younger one.
desire to learn and to be learned
At La Neuville, only the morning is devoted to the classroom because here school is an activity just like any other. The afternoon is freely articulated between workshops of the order of need, such as cooking (there is no cook), and workshops of the order of desire, such as arts and sports. Adults do what they know but above all love and want to do, and thus take the children with them. There is no antagonistic hierarchy of body and mind. The manual/concrete work is as essential as the intellectual/abstract. We are constantly making connections between knowledge. It is thus considered that the discovery of a field where the child is successful results in the contamination of the other fields.
Above all, we try to create » a school where people are happy to live « , a remedy to the spiral of boredom, school dropout, lack of self-esteem and violence. » A place where everyone can come, come or return to the world, a necessary condition for the desire to be there and to grow. What the children find in La Neuville is desire. Desire to be in the world, to communicate, to see, to know, to grow ».. (cf. F. Oury). Where the classic school asks for « all the same » by proposing a menu that one must swallow even if one is not hungry, the Neuvillois make the successful bet of proposing a place where each one would be at home, a place where one can take time, each one at his own pace and each one according to his own style. « Allow children to do what they want to do ».
from the private to the a.s.e.
The Neuville School now has a staff of about ten adults for forty children from 6 to 18 years old, divided into three classes. It is a private school without any contract with the National Education, which allows them a great pedagogical and ideological freedom.(12) The private school therefore has a financial cost but avoids the trap of the school reserved for a social elite, many children being sent to them by the A.S.E. (Aide Sociale à l’Enfance). (Social assistance to the Child). The latter takes charge of the day’s cost, finding here, unlike in a Foyer, the interest of a school place inside the boarding school. Fabienne d’Ortoli goes on to explain their desire for the school’s population to reflect the French population, multi-ethnicity being one of their assets. As for the question of whether the child had been a failure before coming to the Neuville, they were not interested, considering this information unreliable and stigmatizing for the child. They prefer to turn the question around: isn’t it the school that is failing? And to conclude that one cannot educate without educating.
The Neuville school can be said to be bringing back to life children whose parents had never heard a single positive word from the traditional school that sees the student, rarely the child. And it is precisely this success that disturbs. At the mercy of the inspectors, who practice the policy of the umbrella (I prohibit to avoid) this high place of thought is never totally safe from closure. Fabienne d’Ortoli and Michel Amram explain that their freedom of action is great but that it remains fragile.
It is therefore perhaps up to us, the disillusioned generation, to draw inspiration from this formidable model while taking into account our times, and thus to continue to think and find an alternative school…
- Ivan Illich, 1971, Une société sans école, Oeuvres complètes, Fayard.
- Voir à ce sujet mon article du Kairos n°11, p 8–9, Qu’est-ce que je FOU là?
- Ce terme est préféré à celui de «professeur» à la Neuville, les «adultes» y sont à la fois enseignants, éducateurs et surtout individus. Etant donné qu’il s’agit d’un internat, ils encadrent tous les autres moments de la vie quotidienne. Il y a donc les «adultes» au même titre qu’il y a les « enfants ».
- cf. Jacques Pain, professeur émérite en Sciences de l’Education à Paris x.
- Amram M., d’Ortoli F., Cahiers pédagogiques, n°505, mai 2013, p.62.
- Amram M., d’Ortoli F., L’école avec Françoise Dolto, Le rôle du désir dans l’éducation, 1990, Hatier, p.40.
- Pascal Lemaitre terminera l’aventure neuvilloise en 1984.
- Le cinéma restera une de leurs préoccupations, réalisant eux-mêmes plusieurs films sur leur école ainsi que sur ses rapports avec Dolto et Oury. Par ailleurs, à la Neuville, tous les soirs, c’est ciné club obligatoire. Les enfants connaissent ainsi tous les anciens films français! Michel Amram leur transmet sa passion en analysant des séquences au préalable. Un outil essentiel pour décortiquer l’image et les publicités notamment.
- L’école de la Neuville est aujourd’hui installée dans un château à Chalmaison en Seine-et-Marne (région parisienne).
- Françoise Dolto raconte qu’enfant elle voulait être «médecin d’éducation», souhaitant mettre ensemble prévention et éducation.
- Nous faisons ici référence au mouvement libertaire dont s’inspire Summerhill, école créée en 1921 — et toujours en activité — par Alexander Neill et dont La Neuville, malgré des principes très proches se distingue. “La pédagogie institutionnelle refuse en bloc l’approche non-directive. Un enfant à qui on laisse faire tout ce qu’il veut ne peut pas avoir envie de grandir. Un enfant peut se constituer contre une loi, mais pas contre du brouillard. Il faut qu’il y ait des lois en classe qui ne soient pas transgressées. Si elles le sont, on en parle au conseil.” (Wikipedia).
- Alors que les techniques Freinet sont utilisées pour les plus jeunes, la Neuville est très soucieuse de l’après et prépare ainsi progressivement l’enfant à l’entrée au Lycée et au programme de l’Education Nationale.