Freinet, Célestin (1896–1966)

Célestin Freinet was born in 1896 at Gars, a small town of Alpes-Maritimes, a then fairly poor region of southern France. He spent his childhood working in the fields and as a shepherd. He participated in World War I and was seriously wounded, an injury from which he never quite recovered. He returned to the region of his childhood as a teacher and after serious conflicts with local school authorities he founded his own school, establishing a free platform for his educational work. He developed a school program, laid the groundwork for a national movement of school reform, published several books on schooling and education, and wrote a great number of articles in professional and political journals like Clarté. He organized the production and sale of learning materials, organized several national and international conferences on progressive education, and edited the journal L'Éducateur (The educator). During the interwar years he participated in N.E.F., the federation of progressive educationalists. He died in 1966.

The hardships of everyday life in his native region and his injured health, not the heritage of educational theory, formed the basis of Freinet's ardent social, educational, and political critique of capitalistic and urbanized societies. His focus was on the process of learning. As a practitioner he brought innovations in the fields of reading, writing, spelling, and arithmetic based on what he called "techniques of living." He believed children should work in workshops or outdoors and learn as a process of experimental trial and error. He is best known for his printing press (now usually replaced by a computer) for learning spelling and developing free text.

Freinet held that education was a way to change humanity. The school of tomorrow should center on the full development of children as members of the community. He regarded learning as a serious labor in which children should find their own course. He was also inspired by the multidisciplinary teaching practiced by progressive Germans, by Belgian educational pioneer Ovide Décroly's approach to learning, and by GEORG KERSCHENSTEINER's approach to theprocess of labor.

Freinet's books and workbooks have been translated into several languages and his ideas, methods, and teaching aids have become known throughout the world. There are Freinet teacher groups in several countries, and he is especially popular in developing countries because of the simplicity of his methods and because his ideas are attractive to those fighting for freedom and self-determination.

See also: Age and Development; Child Development, History of the Concept of; Education, Europe; Progressive Education.


Freinet, Célestin. 1990. Cooperative Learning for Social Change: Selected Writings of Célestin Freinet, ed. David Clanfield and John Sivell. Toronto, ONT: Our Schools/Our Selves Education Foundation.

Freinet, Célestin. 1990. The Wisdom of Matthew: An Essay in Contemporary French Educational Theory. Lewiston, NY: Edward Mellon.

Freinet, Célestin. 1993. Education through Work: A Model for Child-Centered Learning. Lewiston, NY: Edward Mellen.

Jörg, Hans. 1995. "Freinet's Educational Methodology and Its International Sphere of Influence." In Progressive Education acrossthe Continents: A Handbook, ed. Hermann Röhrs and Volker Lenhart. New York: P. Lang.

Legrand, Louis. 1993. "Célestin Freinet." In Thinkers on Education, vol. 1, ed. Zaghloul Morsy. Paris: UNESCO.