Thursday, June 26, 2008

Jacques Duez: On listening to the children

In the last week I was very absorbed by Jacques Duez's work and busy preparing an event where I presented it to teachers. Jacques Duez has worked for more than 30 years as an ethics teacher in Mons (Belgium). In his early teaching he was very soon frustrated with giving lessons to students during which they were When he noticed that what students brought up themselves was much more interesting to them and to him, he started first tape recording and soon video recording what they said about a certain topic and to share those recordings among different classes. He became famous in Belgium at the moment where Wilbur Leguebe a director of documentary movies working for the national broadcast company RTBF and Agnès Lejeune a journalist made a series of five TV documentaries on Duez's work. One of the most interesting aspects of these documentaries was that they contacted Duez's former students to find out what memories they had of their primary school years and their ethics lessons with Jacques Duez, and to what extend it influenced their later life. The sequences showing young adults sharing their perception of themselves as children while reviewing video tapes showing them during their discussions ten or fifteen years ago are quite remarkable.

When I discovered Jacques Duez's work a few years ago (unfortunately after having left teaching) I was very much impressed by his approach, his way of talking to the children and their profound reflections. His approach is very close to that of Vivian Gussin Paley and in the best tradition of people like Françoise Dolto the famous French doctor and psychoanalyst. I was particularly impressed by a story of a boy whose difficult family situation affected his behavior in school and generated the usual difficulties in the relationship with his teachers, classmates and of course with learning. Only after viewing a video sequence on how this boy explained his situation in Jacques Duez's class his teachers realized how difficult this boy's life was, how little they knew about him and how they had kept teaching and expecting a certain behavior from him without any regard to his social background.

What I intended by showing extract of Duez's work was to sensitize teachers to the potential of children's reflecting and to the importance of considering their socio-cultural background when judging their behavior in an educational setting. I also wanted to sensitizing teachers to the fact that school development needs to be considered not only in the light of meeting new or higher standards. First and foremost, school development should aim at improving the general context for learning and for reflecting about learning, and I see listening to children and children's thinking as one of the preconditions to meet that aim.

Event announcement:
Event picture gallery (pictures by Xavier Maquil, Luc Gilbertz, Christian Schwarz)

Parents / Enseignants … La guere ouvert? Book including DVD and one documentary by Jacques Duez :

Le Temps des Enfants (printed document with DVD, edited by the Observatoire de l’Enfance, de la Jeunesse et de l’Aide à la Jeunesse:


  1. I deeply appreciated that evening and think that one should make this type of insight available to a more broadened public. Thank you for your initiative!

  2. Thanks a lot George. It was a great pleasure for me as well, for one to meet Jacques and Wilbur again, and to have all those people on one spot who really care about bringing a deeper change to education in Luxembourg. So we definitely should try to keep it up. One teacher said that it was like a class reunion for those who participated in quite e few research projects years ago. A great moment indeed!


Some Reading Milestones

  • Towards reflexive method in archaeology : the example at Çatalhöyük (edited by Ian Hodder) 2000

  • The Book of Learning and Forgetting (Frank Smith) 1998

  • Points of Viewing Children's Thinking: A Digital Ethnographer's Journey (Ricki Goldman-Segall) 1997

  • Verstehen lehren (Martin Wagenschein) 1997

  • Computer im Schreibatelier (Gérard Gretsch) 1992

  • The Boy Who Would Be a Helicopter. Uses of Storytelling in the Classroom (Vivian Gussin Paley) 1991

  • La cause des adolescents (Françoise Dolto) 1988

  • Scuola di Barbiana. Die Schülerschule. Brief an eine Lehrerin. (Edition of 1980) / read in German 1982
    Letter to Teacher by the Schoolboys of Barbiana (1970)
    Lettre à une maîtresse de'école, par les enfants de Barbiana (1968)
    Lettera à una professoressa (Original Edition) 1967

  • Vers une pédagogie institutionnelle (Aïda Vasquez, Fernand Oury) 1967

Documentary Films on Education

  • Eine Schule, die gelingt (by Reinhard Kahl) 2008

  • Les temps des enfants (Jacques Duez) 2007

  • Klassenleben (by Bernd Friedmann und Hubertus Siegert) 2006

  • Lernen - Die Entdeckung des Selbstverständlichen
    (Ein Vortrag von Manfred Spitzer) 2006

  • Die Entdeckung der frühen Jahre
    Die Initiative "McKinsey bildet" zur frühkindlichen Bildung (by Reinhard Kahl) 2006

  • Treibhäuser der Zukunft - Wie in Deutschland Schulen gelingen (by Reinhard Kahl) 2004

  • Treibhäuser der Zukunft / Incubators of the future / Les serres de l'avenir; International Edition (by Reinhard Kahl) 2004

  • Journal de classe, 1ères audaces (1), Les échappés (2), Sexe, amour et vidéo (3), L'enfant nomade (4), Remue-méninges (5) (by Wilbur Leguebe, Jacques Duez, Agnès Lejeune) 2004

  • Spitze - Schulen am Wendekreis der Pädagogik (by Reinhard Kahl) 2003

  • Journal de classe, (by Wilbur Leguebe and Agnès Lejeune; Jacques Duez) 2002

  • Etre et Avoir (by Nicolas Philibert) 2002

  • The Stolen Eye (by Jane Elliott) 2002

  • The Angry Eye (by Jane Elliott) 2001

  • A l'école de la providence (by Gérard Preszow) 2000

  • Blue-Eyed (by Jane Elliott) 1996

  • A Class Divided (by Jane Elliott) 1984

  • Eye of The Storm (with Jane Elliott) 1970

Past quotes of the day

For every problem, there is one solution which is simple, neat and wrong. Henry Louis Mencken

Traveler, there is no path. Paths are made by walking.
Antonio Machado

The best way to predict the future is to invent it. Immanuel Kant

The significant problems we face cannot be solved at the same level of thinking we were at when we created them. Albert Einstein

To paraphrase a famous quotation, all that is necessary for the triumph of damaging educational policies is that good educators keep silent. Alfie Kohn

We used to have lots of questions to which there were no answers. Now, with the computer, there are lots of answers to which we haven't thought up the questions. Peter Ustinov

I had a terrible education. I attended a school for emotionally disturbed teachers. Woody Allen

A professor is someone who talks in someone else's sleep. W. H. Auden

When I was an inspector of schools I visited one classroom and looked at a boys book. He'd written, 'Yesterday, Yesterday, Yesterday, Sorrow, Sorrow, Sorrow, Tomorrow, Tomorrow, Tomorrow, Love, Love, Love.' I said, 'That's a lovely poem.' He said, 'Those are my spelling corrections.' Gervase Phinn

Real thinking never starts until the learner fails. Roger Schank

If what is wanted is a reexamination of schooling in terms of purpose, structure and process, then testing programmes are the wrong vehicle (...) Caroline V. Gipps

Not everything that counts can be counted, and not everything that can be counted counts. Albert Einstein

Act always so as to increase the number of choices. Heinz von Foerster

Another way of avoiding teaching is by relying exclusively on a textbook, workbooks, and other commercially packaged learning materials. Teaching is reduced to administering a set curriculum without giving any thought to the substance of what the students area learning or to their particular needs. H. Kohl

The right to ignore anything that doesn't make sense is a crucial element of any child's learning - and the first right children are likely to lose when they get to the controlled learning environment of school. F. Smith

Learning is the human activity which least needs manipulation by others. Most learning is not the result of instruction. It is rather the result of unhampered participation in a meaningful activity. - Ivan Illich

Too often we give our children answers to remember rather than problems to solve. - Roger Lewin

I have never let my schooling interfere with my education. - Mark Twain