Imagination Abroad

While Lincoln Center Institute’s advocacy on behalf of imagination, creativity, and innovation in education and all aspects of life and work constantly gains new ground in the U.S., we are acutely aware that there are many parts of the world where our ideology has not yet made inroads. Since a part of our vision is determinedly global, as we believe that imaginative education must nurture a deep understanding of diverse cultures, it is encouraging to know that we’re by no means alone.

In July, as LCI readied for its own American Imagination Summit, GFEN held a series of nationwide conferences with the theme “For an Other Education.” Promising—but, ask you, what is GFEN?

GFEN stands for Groupe Français d’Education Nouvelle, that is, the French Group for New Education. It was created in 1922, by educators and scientists who, picking up the pieces in the wake of a world war, were determined to educate the next generation of students in a way that would teach them that war was not a solution to human differences. They have come a long way since that initial imperative, although it has remained painfully relevant to everyone on Earth.

GFEN’s motto, “All are able! All are seekers! All are creators!”, places them squarely within LCI’s sphere of thinking. So does one of its founding principles: “The new education prepares the child not only to be a citizen capable of completing his/her duties toward the community and humanity at large, but also to be a human being conscious of his/her dignity.”

Founding their practice in the thinking of many of the philosophers and educators whose ideas LCI has followed as well—such as Piaget, Freire, and Dewey, some of whom were members of GFEN—the new educators developed their ideas (and learned as they went along) in the classrooms of partnering schools in Paris in the sixties, where they succeeded in demonstrating that what were known as “sociocultural handicaps” need not be accepted as incurable. It was in the seventies that they articulated their belief that education should not require the student to “docilely receive instruction,” but should instead “put to work students’ intelligence and their potential of creative imagination, in order to ‘build’ their knowledge and make of it a lever of transformation in their relationship with themselves, with others, and with the world.” This “auto-socio-construction of knowledge,” as GFEN coins the phrase, need never cease to enrich itself, thus “bringing a practicable answer to the failure of education and the myth of the talented versus the un-talented student. It creates the conditions necessary for the content of knowledge to not be merely transmitted as a finite product, as evidence that must be accepted, but be ‘built’ by the student him/herself.” It is a process that integrates reasoning and the imaginary, one in which “everyone is guided to seek, question, elaborate, create, structure, and discuss, thus putting into action all his/her cognitive and creative potentials.” Transforming themselves, students become “the authors of their own formation.”

GFEN has developed its educational strategies in a variety of institutions, from cultural to agricultural, and has engaged parents, social workers, and organs of the community through workshops and other educational opportunities. Among these is a particularly intriguing writing workshop, in which “the written language is experienced as a specific form of thought.”

GFEN has formed international alliances, notably in Russia, where a six-year exchange resulted in a project on the development of democracy. Groups of New Education have been created in several European countries. This is very important for the GFEN educators, since they, like LCI, believe that in a multicultural environment, every individual can have a role in possible changes of given conditions and situations.

From the beginning, GFEN has fought what it describes as “fatalism,” the acceptance of the status quo as unchangeable. In that, they echo the sentiments of LCI, whose motto might as well be that simple, wonderful phrase that comes to us from Maxine Greene: “…imagine things as if they could be otherwise.”

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