The theory underlying Freinet’s techniques is set out most clearly and fully in his Essai de psychologie sensible appliquée à l’éducation: for him the essence of his techniques is ‘experimental trial and error’. Schools, of course, are there for learning, but the learning process is something that cannot be imposed from outside: The essential input must come from the learner himself or herself. The urge to know is aroused by the obstacles encountered, by gaps in the evidence, by failure to understand and by searching for what will make understanding possible. To be effective, this search must be spontaneous, actuated by the internal need of the sector, and there will inevitably be mistakes along the way. It is by feeling their way, by trying first one approach then another, that the child and the adult achieve real learning. To the classical theory of trial and error learned from Pavlov, Freinet adds two essential points: firstly, the trial must be made in response to a need; secondly, success brings about spontaneous memorization of the successful procedure and its later repetition in similar situations—therein lies the essence of learning. In 1964 Freinet was to go even further: “We claim that none of our acts results from an objective and scientific choice, as is often believed, but that they are all the outcome of experimental trial and error. This trial-and-error process governs all the acts of our life. It is the single, universal process of all life, and Teilhard de Chardin considers it to be the principal law of the universe”.
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