The Origins of A Global Learning Network by Al
Rogers February, 1999
When did the largest and oldest global inter-school learning network
begin? No, this is not a history test. It is a history lesson that I hope will lead
many of us to a better understanding and appreciation of our own teaching practices as we
employ the Internet in our classrooms for inter-school projects.
We begin by peeking at a snapshot that records a classroom scene
familiar to many Internet-connected teachers:
Around the classroom, pupils are busily and excitedly writing. The
content of their writing varies, but much of it is about their own personal adventures,
the incidents that they have experienced inside and outside the classroom.
From time to time they gather into groups to discuss, correct and
edit one anothers writing. After one or several revisions, the children print out
their texts. Sometimes they assemble these texts to create a Class Journal or School
Finally, the students gather their various writings together and
send it off to other classes in other cities and towns, across the nation and around the
world. In turn, they are just as excited to read... and re-read
the texts they have
received in exchange from their partner classes.
Sometimes they become more project or subject focused. The students
meet with their teacher to organize a work plan that sets out their plan of work for a
certain period. Their project might be content-oriented, in which they gather information
and record their observations. Or it might be action-oriented, where they design and build
a new fountain or improve their local community in some tangible way. As they follow their
work plan, pupils may regularly leave the classroom to observe and to study both their
natural environment and their local community. Back in class, they present their results,
write, edit and print out texts, and produce journals or newsletters. Finally, once again,
they send all this material to their counterparts in other schools. Sometimes, they send
along collections of real artifacts, such as maps, photos, tapes, perfumes, seashells,
fossils, photographs, local toys, figurines, ribbons and lace, costumes, and other
examples of collected artifacts or local memorabilia, and so on. And, once again, they
look forward to reading and enjoying the project resources they receive from their partner
This snapshot could be taken today in countless thousands of
internet-connected classrooms around the world. The surprising thing about this particular
snapshot, however, is that it was taken in 1924 in a rural mountain classroom in Southern
France. There, classroom teacher Célestin Freinet and a colleague in distant Brittany
began an inter-school exchange that revolutionized their teaching and paved the way for
the birth of the global Mouvement de lÉcole Moderne (Modern School Movement). At
his death in 1966 this global learning network involved over 10,000 schools and 33 nations
and today remains the largest technology-based learning community in history.
Freinet and his pioneering colleagues started with printing presses
and the French postal network, and they adopted new technologies as they became available.
However, as the history of this long movement reveals, their practices were never dictated
by, or even depended on, technology. They were based on good and sound teaching
and then tested, refined and distilled in decades of collaboration,
reflection and success.
As we see our own classrooms and students in this 75-year-old
snapshot, it should remind us that good teaching is timeless. The true power of what we
do in our classrooms depends less on technology, and more on what we do with the
technology we have. Its also my hope that the historical and pedagogical legacy
passed on to us by Freinet and the Modern School Movement will help us in our efforts to
move our own inter-school networking projects from the realm of "high tech fad"
to the status of recognized and accepted teaching techniques.
The writings of Freinet and his wife, Élise, have been translated
into 17 languages and have influenced generations of teachers and students on every
continent, yet their work is largely unknown in the English-speaking world. The
information in this column is based on a chapter in Brave New Schools: Challenging
Cultural Illiteracy (New York: St. Martins Press, 1995) by Dennis Sayers,
written with Jim Cummins.
A search of http://www.dogpile.com
for Célestin Freinet hit on numerous relevant Web sites around the world (mostly French),
but only a few passing references in English. A few highlights:
http://www.orillas.org/: De Orilla a Orilla (From Shore to Shore) in Puerto Rico was one of
the earliest (1984) electronic intercultural networks to be based on Freinets work
and today remains a multinational and multilingual network faithful to Freinets
Resources related to inter-school networking