Being and knowledge – liberation

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From March 17th to 19th, 2022, the first National Popular Education Meetings will take place in Poitiers. A political, social and cultural response to tomorrow’s challenges. “Liberation”, partner of the event, proposes a round table on March 18th at 8:30 p.m. Continued on our site.

Let’s start with the paradox. Today in France popular education is omnipresent. Between the walls of clubs, on sports fields, in hostels for young workers, at the foot of buildings, in fablabs, squats, MJCs… And yet, who really knows it? Or rather… who knows it as such? In a 2012 poll commissioned by the National Federation of Francas, two-thirds of French respondents admitted they didn’t know what to associate with the term. Ten years later, the observation is more or less the same.

In defense of our concerned citizens, the term – in addition to its old-fashioned ring – is broad and its definition general. “It is the belief that education is not limited to school and that civil society actors have the same right to be involved as schools,” explains Emmanuel Porte, in charge of studies and research at the National Institute for Youth and Popular Education. We can isolate “two main invariants in the experiments conducted over the last two centuries, adds the historian Jean-Claude Richez, promote access to culture for as many people as possible and make this access one of the conditions of citizenship”. Everything, he adds “through active methods that make the citizen the actor of his emancipation”. “It is a pedagogy at the service of social justice, cultural democratization and the fight against exclusion”, answers for his part Philippe Meirieu, researcher“combative in pedagogy” and President of the Centers for Training in Active Educational Methods.

Sacred Zone of Turbulence

It is above all a diverse and tangible reality at the level of women, men and territories. The figures of the sociologist Francis Lebon (1) bear witness to this. In total, there are more than 200,000 animators in France. About 50,000 Bafa diplomas are issued each year in France, while community service affects 80,000 young people each year. The extracurricular area of ​​Paris City Hall alone mobilizes 15,000 professionals every year. Not forgetting, at national level, the iconic summer camps: around 1 million children a year. Everything is supported by a rich network of associations: the Committee for Relations of Youth Associations and Popular Education claimed in 2017 that “more than 630,000 adult education associations” and “more than 6.3 million volunteers”. In short, there are people on deck.

A complex and multiple set, not easy to characterize. “One could, to schematize it, distinguish three categories, tried Francis Lebon. First, the world of animation, which depicts most of the troops. It is not very politicized and is aimed primarily at children. Then there is the “official” sector, that is to say the large associations that are highly integrated and marked by the state. Finally, rather marginally, but very audible in the debate, popular political education. Gladly radical, it is aimed more at adults.

The latter, critical of the “institutional”, contributes in its own way to the renewal of the movement. Because popular education experienced a hell of a zone of turbulence before it reappeared at the end of the 1990s. “In the 1970s and 1980s it was weakened by the collapse of the main ideological currents [marxisme, communisme, christianisme… ndlr] but also through the liberalization of the leisure sector, which was its spearhead”, emphasizes Philippe Meirieu. In addition “a growing indifference on the part of the authorities and a progressive vassalization of the actors treated by the municipalities as service providers”.

Political spillover

The institutionalization process is led, for example, by members of scop le Pavé (founded in 2007 and dissolved in 2014). The judgment ? The Pop Education mainstream betrayed his origins, lost his autonomy and sold his soul. “The large associations have renounced social transformation, co-education in democracy and civil power, says Anthony Brault, co-founder of Le Pavé, now coach. In doing so, they gave in to a public policy of recreational use.

The rise in politics is also the result of a bitter failure: that of cultural democratization. As a symbol (and scapegoat?) of the false paths of the artistic world, the Festival d’Avignon embodies for many the togetherness of the class, the resignation of militancy and the instrumentalization of consensual artists by political power. A criticism passionately defended by activist Franck Lepage (who politely dismissed us “not to be associated directly or indirectly with the National Meetings on Popular Education” produced in partnership with release). In a landmark “gesticulated conference,” this ex-pavé, the most heard voice of the radical current, summarizes the complaint: “This thing that we call cultural democratization in our country is the idea that they grow by throwing cultural fertilizer on the heads of the poor.” “Like Avignon and a theater that produces more and more shows but always the same audience , the elitism advocated by Antoine Vitez did not take place”, also appreciates Philippe Meirieu.

Apropos: Confronted with its own failure, popular education has been trying to reconcile itself with its ideals for twenty years. “Two dynamics coexist, notes the researcher Emmanuel Porte. The resurgence of traditional players looking to reconnect with the basics and the emergence of new players using the repository to integrate it into their software. Example of these neoconverts? “The Attac movement, the student network Animafac, the Unis-Cité association or the Association of Student Foundation for the City.” About the latter, which turns out to be “the first network of solidarity students in the neighborhoods”, 8,000 young people carry out mentoring missions in 350 French territories every year.

Regain lost autonomy

“”Fablabs”, joint workshops, adult education centers, citizens’ initiatives for the climate, inclusion or the commitment of young people in the life of the city… Thousands of projects are thriving today outside of the established framework”, also observes the historian Jean-Claude Richez, for whom the first imprisonment in 2020 revealed the valuable presence of popular education in troubled areas.

What about quarrels? They do not worry the researcher Philippe Meirieu. “Public education has always been a heterogeneous movement, a flow made up of many flows. Boy Scouts, Communists, Freemasons, Social Catholics, Anarcho-Libertarians… That plurality defines them.”

A plurality that has its work to do. Times are not without challenges. Emmanuel Porte notes that three themes dominate: the relationship to information and knowledge; ecological transition; digital life (privacy, online citizenship, access to public services and a shared culture).

Another, more fundamental front will be to regain the famous lost autonomy. The municipalization of popular education has done its damage, as has the way public services are financed by delegation. “The implementation of tenders condemns the freedom of initiative of associations”decodes Jean-Claude Richez. “It creates an obligation to deliver and budgetary pressures that are inconsistent with the ambitions of popular education”, believes Philippe Meirieu. Another project that recognizes voluntary animation. In particular, a special position would allow it to be remunerated more equitably and to integrate it into the validation of pre-learning. In order to convince the very moderately involved authorities, some pedagogical work is required.

(1) Between Education and Citizenship: Animation and Popular EducationChamp social, 2020.

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