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Emancipatory education

"I believe in the strength of the school, but not in its omnipotence"! says sociologist Jacques Cornet in a conference on emancipatory education.

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"I believe in the strength of the school, but not in its omnipotence"! Here is what the Belgian sociologist Jacques Cornet began with his conference on emancipatory education held on Sunday, November 26, 2017 at the Villa Arson of the University of Nice Sophia Antipolis.

According to the sociologist, school no longer makes sense because it preaches values contrary to
the society. Students also have difficulty giving meaning to their academic process and to the place where it takes place for the most part.

Severe criticisms of established pedagogical models

Cornet severely criticizes the teaching models or dominant school models:

The traditional school

The traditional school is based on submission to knowledge and to the one who holds this knowledge: the teacher. This therefore influences the educational position of the learner as well as his relationship to knowledge.

"Transmissive" pedagogies

In so-called "transmissive" or "traditional" pedagogies, there is no room for creativity in the classroom, "as in any totalitarian regime"! This is a powerful metaphor, which means that the teacher must control everything from the knowledge transmitted to the right granted to go to the bathroom!

According to Cornet, this model is the most widespread, although it is not based on a reflection of practice. It is hard to understand why such an obsolete model could have crept into our time.

The rational model

The rational model, such as that of explicit teaching, would be one based on activism and objectivism. The subject matter takes precedence over the method and over teacher-student relations. There is also a priority given to the verbal and the cognitive. According to Jacques Cornet, the main concern is to prove what works or not when it comes to "teaching".

"Active" pedagogies

The so-called “active” pedagogies or the socio-constructivist approach, they are contrary to the explicit approaches: the methods take precedence over the contents and the relational aspect of the pedagogical relationship.

The personalist model

The personalist model aims for self-fulfillment. The educational relationship takes precedence over content and methods. The emphasis is on the pleasure of being, doing, seeking and expressing oneself.


The solution: the emancipatory school

Faced with these criticisms, the sociologist comes to a conclusion: the dominant pedagogical approaches have failed, at least in part. For him, education as we know it is in crisis and emancipatory education brings elements of response that must be considered.

The latter wants to promote a democratic and humanist school by actively fighting against inequalities throughout schooling, which contribute, among other things, to dropping out of school. It wants to create a favorable learning climate by allowing students to self-manage, in particular by offering personalized courses to allow them to evolve at their own pace. In addition, the emancipatory school aims to be a place of identity construction thanks to sustained access to places of artistic and cultural expression.

Strongly focused on the interior transformation of an incoherent education system, it aims to contribute research from several human sciences such as psychology, sociology, anthropology and philosophy.

Without having ruled on the contents or the pedagogical functioning, the emancipatory school is more focused on the organizational structure. Here are some highlights of the organization it promotes:

  • The school would be managed by a “rotating” and “renewable” team of parents;
  • Frequent and inclusive assemblies would ensure the monitoring and planning of
    school activities;
  • The pupil would be considered as a full interlocutor, that is to say an individual with rights who plays a preponderant role in the organization of his school activities and whose decisions have an immediate impact on his environment;
  • Collaboration would be essential. The professional teams would work in collegiality and interdisciplinarity. By also being “rotating” and “renewable”, they would be adapted to the student's needs;
  • The collaboration would be complete and continuous between the parents and the school team;
  • A relaxed institutional atmosphere, friendly and respectful of the differences of all would prevail.

Renew learning activities

Regarding learning activities, Jacques Cornet suggests the following:

  • A review of school time, which would be better distributed throughout the year;
  • A revision of the rules of school attendance since, according to the supporters of the emancipatory school, the learning times vary according to the learners. It is therefore a question, without further clarification, of "decompartmentalizing school time";
  • The establishment of moments of mutual speaking and listening between the students and with the professionals who are at work with them;
  • A decompartmentalization of the school, regardless of school age, where students evolve according to their academic progress, would also be implemented.

In other words, the class would no longer exist according to the traditional conception that we have of it. There would always be physical spaces dedicated to meeting the needs of the students. Free movement between these spaces would be essential, and this at a time that suits the students the most.

This is a strongly left-wing vision, delivered by a self-proclaimed activist. Indeed, the sociologist does not hide his bias for the approach. Finally, it should be noted that it is influenced by the work of Célestin Freinet, who has also often been cited as an example.


This article is part of a series published by our author and collaborator Marc-André Girard, as part of his participation in the Laboratory of innovation and digital in education (LINE) at the University of Nice Sophia Antipolis.

You can read all the articles in this series here.

About the Author

Marc-André Girard
Marc-André Girard
Marc-André Girard holds a bachelor's degree in social studies education (1999), a master's degree in history education (2003), a master's degree in education management (2013) and a doctorate in education (2022). He specializes in school-based change management and educational leadership. He is also interested in the 21st century competencies to be developed in education. He is a principal in a public high school and gives conferences on educational leadership, pedagogical approaches, change in schools and the professionalization of teaching. He has participated in educational expeditions in France, Finland, Sweden, Denmark and Morocco. In September 2014, he published the book "Le changement en milieu scolaire québécois" with Éditions Reynald Goulet and, in 2019, he published a trilogy on the 21st century school with the same publisher. He is a frequent contributor to L'École branchée on educational issues. He is very involved in everything that surrounds the professional development of teachers and principals as well as the integration of ICT in education. In March 2016, he received a CHAPO award from AQUOPS for his overall involvement. He is a recipient of the Régent-Fortin 2022 scholarship awarded by ADERAE for the significant contribution of his doctoral studies to the development of practice and knowledge in educational administration.

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