A PIONEER IN THE WORK WITH DEMOCRACY AND JUSTICE

FOR ALL CHILDREN: JANUSZ KORCZAK

Colette Charlet, France Member of Groupe Francais d´Education Nouvelle



The goal of the workshop was the task of examining, in the context of practice, universal values useful to the development of human rights and education towards peace. Korczak, a Jewish-Polish doctor and educator who died in Treblinka with the orphans for whom he was responsible, has left us a humanistic work that concerns educators today. Being professionally involved in managing school programs, I immediately encountered unimaginable obstacles with pupils with difficulty. Yet I encountered people on my path who transmitted to me the cultural heritage of Korczak and Freinet.

We explored together how projects are constructed where children can build know-how and find occasions to express themselves democratically. Each person present had the opportunity to speak about his own experience and commitment.

To construct a democracy is inseparable from the transformation of minds and pluralistic and collective reflection. The educational field must be a privileged place of encounter where research and sharing knowledge and responsibility are required. Debate which allows contradiction is experienced, solidarity is discovered and tools for transforming reality are elaborated.

Conditions for the development of democracy.

How can a school or other educational environment contribute to the development of a democracy? An important question! Korczak used to say to his educators: "If you want children to change, you must first change yourself". All these experiences have proven that we must establish places for free expression (council, parliament, etc.), fight against exclusion and segregation (the rise of xenophobia demonstrates this necessity), practise mutual aid in the process of learning and favour intercultural exchanges. The importance of analysing work was emphasized, rather than penalising it with a mark. The penalising mark forces individuals to place themselves in a competetive race at a very early age. This is not without consequence in this period of crisis. Those who fail, feel this failure as a profound injustice.

In Monde Diplomatique, January 1997, Ignacio Ramonet, editor, analyses the phenomenon of "la pensee unique". School is impregnated with the idea that there is no alternative to the current path of social and economic evolution, and the social issues are always subordinated to economic laws as his latter were laws of nature. The many political and business scandals, revealed for the moment by the press, provoke shock waves that undermine democracy and deepen social suffering. What responsibility do we have to create other alternatives, alternatives that break a logic of social exclusion that mutilates so many individuals?

Educate and implicate individuals in the transformation of social practice

Children are not in school to execute assignments thought up in high places. They are selforganising subjects, initiating projects that permit them to create their own citizenships. They are capable of this, only if the appropriate conditions are created. For example: they can investigate various social problems, participate in existing governmental activities concerned with children, create conventions and unions, ask questions of public figures, etc... In short, it is they who are building the future. How can economic "experts", even the International Monetary Fund, believe they can decide for themselves what "solutions" to "administer"?

In a country that calls itself, and wants to remain, democratic, the school system in many countries is a bastion of anti-democracy, where everything comes from above and is relayed by intermediaries who are trained to submit obediently to the superiors and exercise great power over subordinates. This situation bears a name: insurrection. And it is what is happening. (E. Carmeux). So, are we so far from the preoccupations of Korczak, who in his orphanage, at the beginning of the century, instituted self-mangement, a parliament, a court, a newspaper? Freinet had the same objectives at the same time, in France. We have a duty to the memory of those educators to resist the rise of new barbarities that threaten democracy.

Bibliography:
- "Le choc de la paix", Association des Amis du Dr. J. Korczak, Ed. La Nachelle 1995
- "Le droit de l´enfant au respect", Janusz Korczak, Ed. R. Laffont


WRITING AND INTERCULTURAL EDUCATION

Colette Charlet, workshop notes

Aim of the workshop: Facing the intercultural aspect as the basis of today's society.

The workshop illustrated concretely what was discussed around the idea of democracy.

The participants had to reflect about situations of poverty (either children´s or adults´), in a context already specified.

As a teacher specialized in teaching children with difficulties, I have often led intercultural projects where differing realities confront each other. This is why I ask my classes to reflect upon photos by Marie Dorigny, taken from the book "Children in the shadow" (OIT, Geneva 1993). Here I presented Andrès, with wrinkled hands making bricks.

This is how the workshop involved the participants:

- Presentation of the photo, close-up of the hands and the peaksaxe. What age is this person? Give the reasons for your answer. Imagine his life!

- Confrontation of responses. Usually it is not realized that he is a young child. Beyond bearing witness, how can we escape the old patterns of functioning that are so ineffective in the present situation?

- What do you want to do? Propositions from the participants. Now I reveal the age of Andres. A big shock to my audience. I showed the projects elaborated by my students.

- You were shocked, but what was most intolerable for you? What is your response - imagine a form of protest. A number of suggestions, from writing to authorities to making a film.

- Given the initiatives mentioned above, which of them do you find most important to develop and what are the obstacles to fulfilling them?

The most exploited people do not need our pity. What happens far from our social and cultural reality concerns us as well. We gain from the solidarity of everyone. As the Cinese proverb says: "Teach me to fish instead of giving me a fish."

 

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