Cooperative pedagogies: from school to workplace

France has just been shaken by a major social crisis, that of the "yellow vests", and at the same time, an event has been in the legal news, the judgment of the managers of the company France Télécom accused of having, through their management methods, caused numerous employee suicides. 

I assume that these two events, which are of an unequal nature, are fundamentally linked.


Our country suffers from an evil that affects the school system on the one hand, and the business world on the other, which is the delay we have experienced in implementing cooperative education and action methods.


At school, the majority trend remains that of the transmissive approach, which is nevertheless completely outdated in the face of advances in the educational sciences. The teacher's role is still seen as a transmitter of knowledge, as if students were empty and passive containers that simply had to be filled with knowledge through a lecture. Every day more and more, the cognitive sciences are proving the great pedagogists of the beginning of the century right, who wanted to promote a new school: Dewey in the United States, Decroly in Belgium, Montessori in Italy, Claparède in Switzerland, Freinet in France, without forgetting Baden-Powell. All affirmed that knowledge is built by the child and not passively absorbed, and that this construction is implemented through dialogue - the exchange of reflections - experience - Freinet's experimental trial and error - and cooperation within a team that allows participants to review their mental models and build new concepts to solve problems together. In the cooperative classroom, and in other out-of-school educational environments, such as Scouting, young people learn to learn and experience a cooperative dynamic where everyone engages in a service role (team leader, tutor, class council president), and participates in decision-making. This experience allows them to acquire not only knowledge but also civic skills such as the development of collective rules to improve the life and work of the group. This is a far cry from the theoretical courses of morality or civic education that are not based on any real experience.


For those who want to know more about cooperative pedagogies, I recommend the excellent book " Apprendre avec les pédagogies coopératives, démarches et outils pour l'école " by Sylvain Connac, ESF. My friends in Scouting will be able to discover how much their method is an integral part of cooperative pedagogies. France has all the skills to generalize the practice of cooperative pedagogies throughout the school system. But progress is slow.


As a result, the majority of young people leaving school have learned to memorize information instead of learning to exercise their critical thinking skills; they have experienced individualism and competition instead of cooperation. They have very rarely experienced a dynamic of collective decision-making and service leadership. At worst, they have learned to be in a relationship of submission and dependence towards the authorities. 


If they take on a leadership role in professional and social life, they often experience it as a title that is due to them because of their personal qualities. Leadership is conceived not as an activity in the service of the community but as a privileged status. The leader must know and control everything or risk falling apart. He must therefore impose his views on others and not hesitate to oppose any resistance. We discover all this in the France Telecom tragedy.


Those who do not attain leadership status often develop an attitude of both dependence and revolt towards authority. They do not have the codes for collective engagement and representation. The unionisation rate in France does not exceed 11%! When social discontent reaches a critical level, the "fed up" often explodes outside the weak and disparate structures of representation. This is what happened with the "yellow vests" crisis. Significantly, it was not only social injustice that mobilized the protesters but also the rejection of a top-down type of leadership imposed both in the corporate world and in the world of political power. But a revolt that cannot or refuses to take root in structures of representation and negotiation cannot go very far.


In the world of business, as in the world of schools, a cooperative dynamic is seeking its way. An American author, Peter Senge, launched the concept of the "learning organization" based on 5 "disciplines": shared vision, team learning, personal mastery, mental models and systems thinking (Peter Senge, "The fifth discipline"). It is not uninteresting to know that Peter Senge has also written a book on the school entitled "The Schools that learn". Peter Senge, whose books date back to the 1990s, advocates a cooperative approach in both schools and companies.


Many business leaders are interested in a new management approach called "conversational leadership". Bob Veazie, the inventor of the "World Café" technique that allows large groups to discuss common topics and reach consensus, defines "conversational leadership" as the intentional use of conversation by the leader as a key process to cultivate the collective intelligence necessary to create social value, i.e. to nurture a process of positive change. Conversational leaders realize that they are unable, even with a few well-made and well-equipped brains, to cope with the complex challenges of our changing world. They conceive their organization as dynamic networks of conversation and consider conversation as a basic process for "putting brains online". It is time for politicians to commit themselves resolutely to such cooperative approaches.

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