Philosophic Thought in France and the United States: Essays Representing Major Trends in Contemporary French and American Philosophy

By Marvin Farber | Go to book overview

THE PHILOSOPHY OF EDUCATION IN FRANCE

Henri Wallon*

Two definitions of education are possible, and both have their supporters in France. Durkheim for instance holds that its aim is to prepare the child for incorporation into the social or national group he is a part of, with its own "collective representations," beliefs in common, traditions, and tendencies, with an image of itself and an ideal. It is in the light of this heritage that each of its members should be formed. A contrary definition starts from the individual and sees him as a being endowed with aptitudes, needs, and aspirations to which education should give all the guidance desirable and all possible means of development. The collective life should be a result of the competition and emulation among individual activities or initiatives.

Evidently this second conception too, no matter how opposed to the first it may appear, corresponds to the image which a certain sort of society forms of itself. It seems less archaic than the other. For it is in primitive societies that tradition is held to be the supreme law, a vital necessity. There education properly so-called is replaced by initiation. More or less esoteric rites serve to attach the individual to his group by making him share in his ancestors' wisdom. In the caste system, there is the same overshadowing of the individual by his membership in this or that social category, whose functions and privileges it is his principal destiny to maintain.

This state of mind still survives today within nations and among nations. There are social classes who consider themselves superior, and

____________________
*
Born in 1879. Agrégé de l'Université; Docteur en Médicine; Docteur ès Lettres. Professor, Collège de France; Director, École Pratique des Hautes Études; Co-director, Institut National d'Orientation Professionelle; President de la Commission de la Réforme de l'Enseignement; President, Société Francaise de Pédagogie; President, Groupe Francais d'Education Nouvelle. Author of Psychologie pathologique, Principes de psychologie appliquée l'évolution psychologique de l'enfant, De l'acte à la pensée, Les origines du caractère chez l'enfant, Les origines de la pensée chez l'enfant, L'enfant turbulent.

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