Montaigne and active pedagogy

Have you ever bothered to read the Essais de Montaigne? At the very least, those on education through pedantry (chapter 24) and the institution of children (chapter 25)? Do you find this gentleman too… old school ? Possibly, since his essays were published at the end of the 16th century. But think again. Michel de Montaigne is probably the father of modern education and even, in a certain sense, of the educational renewal!

Essays, book 1, chapter 24: On pedantry

Pedantry is peculiar to the being who displays his book knowledge in a vain, arrogant and complacent way. In this regard, Montaigne clearly displays his colors by promoting knowledge that is useful rather than bookish. He hates above all pedantic knowledge (p. 204), denouncing that we only work to fill memory and leave understanding and consciousness empty (p. 208). We learn, not for life, but for school (p. 215). In other words, Montaigne claims that school knowledge is often meaningless for young people and that they are out of step with a practical application in everyday life: we must not only acquire wisdom, but also benefit from it. (p. 212).

Would knowledge-based education stifle the mind? Paradoxically, would it harm the training of students? We have to believe that the MELS skills-based approach is appropriate and that it is not such a bad idea to spell the end of the knowledge-based approach! Learning is not an end in itself, except to apply this learning in an empirical context! Nevertheless, the last years in the Quebec education world have enabled us to understand that in fact, a competency-based approach does not necessarily remove knowledge from school curricula. Quite the contrary. They must be integrated in order to serve the development of skills.To instruct not by hearsay, but by the test of action, by shaping and molding them vividly, not only of precepts and words, but mainly of examples and works (p. 219). So learning must be done in action and reinvested in the same way. Would Montaigne have laid the foundations for active pedagogy at the end of the 1500s?

Essays, Book 1, Chapter 25: On the Institution of Children

Indeed, active pedagogy and the socioconstructivist approach seem omnipresent in the conception of education for the wise French: I only aim here to discover myself, who will be by adventure another tomorrow, if new learning changes me ( p. 227). When he painted the landscape of the education world at the time, there are unfortunately strong similarities to what our students experience today, almost 450 years later. Has the Western education world aged badly?

(…) A child of the house, who seeks letters, not for gain (…) nor so much for external conveniences, as for his own and to enrich himself and adorn inside, rather wanting to to succeed, a clever man, a learned man, I would also like people to be careful to choose a conductor for him, who would rather have a well-made head, rather than a full one: and that both of them were required, but no longer manners and understanding than science: and that he should conduct himself in his charge in a new way. We keep shouting in our ears, as if pouring into a funnel; and our charge is only to repeat what we have been told. Learn by making her taste things, choose them, and discern for herself. Sometimes opening the way for him, sometimes letting him open it.(p. 230).

Faced with such a finding, it is useless to organize research in all directions to understand the root causes of the disinterestedness of our students and their demotivation: Our soul only shakes on credit , or under the authority of others. (…) Our vigor and freedom is extinguished (p. 231). Who follows another, he follows nothing: He finds nothing: even he seeks nothing. Let him know that he knows at least (p. 232). Have we been training automata all this time?Is the school a tasteless place where many teachers contribute, daily, unconsciously, to train full heads conditioned to ramble what they have learned there, and this, during the duration of their life, in context? personal, family, institutional and professional? Sadly, we are aiming for the development of critical judgment in our young people… Those who want to learn most often undermine the authority of those who teach (p. 231).

Probably this bad tradition which has been perpetuated until now has been able to maintain its rhythm thanks to a certain darkness due to the dictatorship of knowledge exercised by the school world, while access to knowledge necessarily passes through the teacher . Now, access to knowledge has become more democratic with the advent of technology and above all, thanks to its multiple possibilities of portability. Currently, a large number of students hold in their pockets, very often against the rules of their school, the sum of knowledge produced by humanity. Smartphones give immediate access to Google and all those giants that allow information to flow freely.

Currently, knowledge is accessible in its vastness. No teacher can compete with the internet. If he tries to do so, he will certainly get entangled in his knowledge which he will dispense in a bookish and pedantic way: unfortunate self-sufficiency , only pure bookish self-sufficiency (p. 234). What today’s students need is the didactic and pedagogical aspect of knowledge management, which only a teacher can provide. The teacher is more than ever a didactician, an educator and an educator in the noblest sense of the term. Teaching 21 thcentury, requires being a strategist of knowledge since one aims at its integration in a complex way in the pupil, through different skills to be reinvested in the action in order to be integrated in a sustainable way. To do this, it is important that the teacher comes down from his traditional platform to be directly active with his proteges: And is the effect of a lofty and very strong soul, knowing how to condescend to his childish ways, and guide them (p . 231).

The world of education is definitely in flux. The integration of technologies is the spark which allows this conservatism to be evacuated in favor of new teaching strategies. This revolution is currently in full swing and every day, new teachers join the ranks of this force for change, for the benefit of the students we train. For, as Montaigne so aptly quotes it, moist and soft is clay; now is the time to hurry and shape it indefinitely on the nimble wheel (p. 251).

** The quotations from Montaigne are extracted as is, in old French, and are taken from: DE MONTAIGNE, Michel, Les Essais, Paris, Librairie Générale Française, 2001, 1853 p.