Popular education: founding pillar of youth emancipation

A non-exhaustive overview of popular education, its history and its values, at a time when the City of Marseille is endeavoring to establish it as founding pillar of youth development.

The concept of popular education originated at the end of the 19th century in a French society that was still fiercely unequal despite the foundation of principles inherited from the French Revolution.
It can be defined as an educational approach aimed at contributing to the emancipation of individuals and their autonomy in order to transform society.
The revolutions of 1830, 1848 and 1871 caused decisive turning points. Three currents were born, each producing in their own way a form of popular education: a secular republican current, a social Christian current, and a worker and revolutionary current.
Throughout the 20th century, the notion of popular education evolved, became institutionalized, took on various political colors.

At the genesis, the heritage of the communes and the social Christian movement

In 1871, the Paris Commune decreed several reforms, including free secular education, as well as professional education provided by the workers themselves.

In our city, it is the most radical Freemasons who develop, through education, a real policy of mutual aid, which includes the range of opponents of Napoleon III. These are the beginnings of a real desire for social policy. (See our article The Commune of Marseille: 150 years later, a look back at an insurrection that changed the course of history).

A French movement developed throughout the country via the friendly associations, mutuals and cooperatives created in the years 1810-1820. The repression of the Commune destroying this movement, it was not until 1880 that it was fully reborn, becoming a powerful force in political life. In the 1890s, the labor grants created by the municipalities to regulate the job market, are taken over by the revolutionary trade unionists. The stock exchanges are equipped with mutual aid services, libraries, evening classes.

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Social Christianity, on the other hand, is a movement bringing together the sons of notables and young workers and peasants. It is structured more around the fight against misery and poverty.

The Glorious Thirties and May 68

The idea of ​​pedagogy of democracy evolves towards a concept of socio-cultural animation, attached to leisure. State recognition entails the creation of rights and the allocation of resources. Thus, the creation of Works Councils (1946), the law on the right to continuing vocational training (1971) or the construction of infrastructures such as the MJC (Maison des jeunes et de la culture).

At the end of the 1960s, a strong desire for self-management emerged accompanied by the desire to rethink popular education as a powerful lever for transforming society. Thus, on May 25, 1968, the directors of the Maisons de la culture published the Villeurbanne declaration which stipulated: “Any cultural effort can only appear futile to us as long as it does not expressly propose to be an enterprise of politicization: that is to say, to invent relentlessly, for the intention of this non- public, opportunities to become politicized (…). Politicizing here being “politics” in its broader sense, that of civility concerning everything related to the exercise of power, the organization of society, the sense of the collective…

And today ?

In recent years, sociology has developed the concept of capability, in the sense of increasing everyone’s capacities within the framework of a benevolent approach and promoting self-confidence. As we have understood, the “Marxist” approach has disappeared in favor of a dimension advocating the ability of citizens to act on their living conditions, their social context, to reclaim their daily lives by being able to decide for themselves. Thus, they can transform the collective.

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A lever for emancipation, an educational policy in its own right, lines of thought to understand how everyone can flourish and contribute to inventing a fairer, more egalitarian society… Popular education is also all this .

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