Article Index

A History of Pedagogy

By Etiennette Vellas, PhD in Educational Sciences

Throughout the passage of time, it has always been necessary to educate children. And there have always been pedagogues – that is, people developing pedagogical programs through the rethinking of their own experience. Practitioners and theorists of the educational process, as they’re now referred to today. Due to the absence of written language, their traces were lost to the mists of time even before the advent of antiquity.

Art, science or applied science?

In order to trace the history of pedagogy, it’s important to first define the concept of “pedagogy” itself, whose meaning has undergone numerous iterations over the centuries. The concept has always been associated with the history of the development of thought, instructional institutions and the advancement of knowledge, on which thinkers – educators – have always relied.

Photograph: © Institut Florimont

 LN 1662Pedagogy is an art

Right from the beginning, education was assigned the status of an art – the art of teaching, of leading children to knowledge. This concept reminds us that the profession of educator first emerged in Ancient Greece. Back then, the role of educator was performed by slaves, who were given the noble task of walking the master’s children to school, taking care of their physical appearance, and accompanying them during their chores and play. The founding father of education is widely considered to be Socrates (5th century BC).

Pedagogy is a science

At the end of the 19th century, the development of such scientific fields as sociology and psychology is accompanied by the emergence of pedagogy as an applied science,” that is, it starts to be viewed as a true science. Pedagogy is now treated as a science with the understanding that its ultimate objective, as in the other cases, is not so much to describe or explain but instead to guide the process of teaching and learning. That is, it’s a field of science that just might to teach us how to teach. It’s no coincidence that we’ve used the subjunctive mood here, since pedagogy – as the science of teaching and learning – is not a fully-formed discipline, thereby leaving room for other educational sciences, a plural science. It became clear over time that the exotic science known as “Pedagogy” could not be soluble there.

Pedagogy is an applied science

Today, we no longer debate whether pedagogy is an art or a science. We live at a time when pedagogy – just as medicine or politics – is viewed as an “applied science,” that is, as a discipline geared towards the practical application of acquired knowledge.

Thus, the history of pedagogy is the history of pedagogues or, as Jean Houssaye put it, of the practitioners and theorists of the instructional process. At issue are the men and women “engaged in the actual educational process, using both theoretical concepts and practical skills combined in such a way as to obscure the extent to which the practical skills employed in the educational process are more important than theoretical concepts, and vice versa.”

“And, as the pedagogy specialist points out, this particular side of the issue has frequently remained hidden and unknown. Has this been intentional? No, but for some reason, preference has often been given to the loftier element of the equation – that is, to the theoretical.” For this reason, many pedagogues were relegated to the ranks of philosophers, educational theorists and thinkers – that is to say, it was commonplace not to refer to them as pedagogues at all. Nevertheless, in other instances, people entirely ignored the other aspect of pedagogy – its theoretical side, thereby assigning pedagogues a purely practical role. In such cases, pedagogues were viewed as teachers and instructors. Such a classification only took the practical aspect of their occupation into consideration, ignoring the theory behind teaching and instruction.

Today, it’s extremely important to provide a precise definition of “pedagogy.” It’s essential to avoid the overlapping of ideas, imprecision, and demonstrate that education has its own raison d’etre, since lurking behind its status the battle rages on. Finally, it’s vital to establish the rightful place education should occupy in today’s structure of modern science. Defining pedagogy as an “applied science” should help calm the polemic by demonstrating that the specific knowledge acquired through educational practice is actually fundamental knowledge. This knowledge, however, cannot replace theoretical, scientific knowledge in the given discipline, but may only serve as a complement thereto. Both the theoretical fundamentals and the practical skills are essential.


Fabre, M. (2003). La pédagogie. Une théorie orientée vers la transformation de la pratique. Educateur, 3, 17-20.

Fabre, M. (2002). Existe-t-il des savoirs pédagogiques ?. In J. H. Houssaye, M. Soëtard, D. Hameline, M. Fabre, Manifeste pour les pédagogues (pp 99-124). Paris : ESF.

Hameline, D. (199). Pédagogie. In R. Hofstetter et B. Schneuwly. Le pari des sciences de l’éducation. Paris-Bruxelles : De Boeck. Collection Raisons éducatives.

Hameline, D. (1998). Pédagogie. Le statut. CD-ROM. Encyclopédie Universalis.

Hofstetter R., Schneuwly B., Lussi Valérie & Haenggeli-Jenni Béatrice (2006). L'engagement scientifique et réformiste en faveur de la «nouvelle pédagogie». Genève dans le contexte international - premières décades du 20e siècle. In R. Hofstetter & B. Schneuwly (Ed.)

Passion, Fusion, Tension. New Education and Educational sciences – Education nouvelle et sciences de l’éducation (end 19th - middle 20th century – fin 19e - milieu 20e siècle) (pp. 107-142). Berne : Lang.

Houssaye, J., Soëtard, M., Hameline, D. et Fabre, M. (2002). Manifeste pour les pédagogues. Paris : ESF.

Houssaye, Jean (2002). Premiers pédagogues: de l’Antiquité à la Renaissance. Éd. ESF

Houssaye, Jean (2007). Nouveaux pédagogues (T1). Pédagogues de la modernité. Éd. Fabert.

Houssaye, Jean (2007). Nouveaux pédagogues (T2). Pédagogues contemporains. Éd. Fabert.

Houssaye, Jean (2010). Nouveaux pédagogues (T2). Pédagogues de demain. Éd. Fabert.

Meirieu, Philippe : Site Histoire et actualité de la pédagogie

Minois, G. (2006). Les grands pédagogues. De Socrate aux cyberprofs. Paris : Éd. Audibert.

Pastiaux Georgette et Jean (1997-2014). La pédagogie. Retenir l’essentiel. Éd. Nathan.

The great pedagogues

These are the pedagogues and educators who, relying on their own experience, developed methods of instruction that combined both theoretical fundamentals and practical skills. They are referred to as “the greats” because they had an undisputed impact on the development of educational studies for centuries to come.

Their names are given in order of the great ages in which they lived:

- Educators of Antiquity. Middle Ages. The Renaissance
- Educators of Modernity (18th – 19th – 20th century to 1960)
- Educators of the New Era (from 1960 to today).


Houssaye, Jean (2002). Premiers pédagogues: de l’Antiquité à la Renaissance. Éd. ESF

Houssaye, Jean (2007). Nouveaux pédagogues (T1). Pédagogues de la modernité. Éd. Fabert.

Houssaye, Jean (2007). Nouveaux pédagogues (T2). Pédagogues contemporains. Éd. Fabert.

Houssaye, Jean (2010). Nouveaux pédagogues (T2). Pédagogues de demain. Éd. Fabert.

Meirieu, Philippe : Site Histoire et actualité de la pédagogie

Minois, G. (2006). Les grands pédagogues. De Socrate aux cyberprofs. Paris : Éd. Audibert.

Pastiaux Georgette et Jean (1997-2014). La pédagogie. Éd. Nathan.

Le Jeu des pédagogues :

Prominent pedagogical streams

There are numerous pedagogical streams and means of their classification. Comparing the different pedagogical streams is the same as trying to solve a challenging brain-teaser! Yet, it’s still possible to conduct a classification by comparing the ultimate objectives set by the respective educators, or by contrasting the various educational concepts against the practical teaching methods involved.

Selected examples (in French):

Qu’est-ce qu’un courant pédagogique ? What is an educational stream? Author – Laurent Sampson, St. Paul College; as supervised by Suzanne Guillemette. Université de Sherbrooke.

Provided below is an overview of the four main streams of education (humanistic, cognitive, constructive (socio-constructive) and behavioral).

1. Streams classified according to theoretical teaching model

- First stream: Empirical concept of teaching > Instructional methods that presuppose the gradual mastery and memorization of material.

- Second stream: Behavioral concept of teaching > Instructional methods that entail training through psychological influence and the subsequent reinforcement of newly-acquired skills.

- Third stream: Constructive and socio-constructive theory of teaching >
Instructional methods presupposing an active process whereby the student constructs new ideas and concepts based on previously-acquired knowledge through interaction with the surrounding world.

- Fourth stream: Cognitive and socio-cognitive theory of teaching. Instructional methods entailing the processing of information, drawing on the unseen part of learning in the educational process.Such teaching methods constantly employ the data found in cognitive and affective neuroscience.

- Fifth stream: Holistic theory of teaching > Holistic methods of instruction that presuppose a creative approach to learning.


Avanzini, G. (1985). Esquisse d’une comparaison entre les pensées pédagogiques du XVIIIe et du XXe siècles. Éducation et pédagogies au siècle des Lumières. Angers : Presse de l’Université Catholique de l’Ouest.

Avanzini, G. (1996). La pédagogie aujourd'hui. Dunod.

Prigogine Ilya (1996). La fin des certitudes. Temps, chaos et les lois de la nature. Éd. Odile Jacob.

Hameline, D. (1986/2000). Courants et contre-courants dans la pédagogie contemporaine. Sion : ODIS.

Hameline, D. (1992). L’éducation dans le miroir du temps. Paris : Lep. Loisirs et pédagogie.

Giordan André. Des modèles pour comprendre l’apprendre : de l’empirisme au modèle allostérique

Giordan André. Le modèle allostérique et les théories contemporaines sur l’apprentissage

Giordan, André. Les nouveaux modèles pour apprendre : dépasser le constructivisme ? / André Giordan. In: Perspectives. - Paris. - Vol. 25(1995), no 1, p. 109-127.

Meirieu, Ph. (1994). Histoire et actualité de la pédagogie, repères théoriques et bibliographiques. Outils de base pour la recherche en éducation. 1. Université Lumière-Lyon 2.

Morin, E. (1999). La tête bien faite. Paris : Seuil.

Morin, E. (1999). Relier les connaissances. Le défi du XXIe siècle. Paris : Le Seuil.

Morin, E. (1999 b). Les sept savoirs nécessaires à l'éducation du futur. Éd. Seuil. Disponible sur le Site de l’Unesco :

Not, L. (1979). Les pédagogies de la connaissance. Toulouse : Éd. Privat.

Puozzo, I. (2013). Pédagogie de la créativité : de l’émotion à l’apprentissage. In Les cahiers du CERFEE. N˚33.

Gauthier Clermont et Tardif Maurice (1996). La pédagogie. Théorie et pratiques de l’Antiquité à nos jours. Éd. Gaëtan Morin.

Vellas, Etiennette (2007). Comparer les pédagogies : un casse-tête un défi. Éducateur. Numéro Spécial 2007. En ligne :

Modern scientific theories of education capable of influencing existing teaching methods

The analytical grid, proposed in part by André Giordan, is built on the basis of three main discriminants, used most frequently in literature: knowledge, student, society, teaching methodology, creativity. This method makes it possible to divide today’s numerous teaching methods into fifteen groups, sorting them by six main vectors:

- knowledge: academic theories, technological theories, behavioral theories, epistemological theories;

- society: social theories, socio-cognitive theories, psycho-social theories, multidirectional theories;

- learning: humanistic theories, genetic theories, cognitive theories;

- spirituality: spiritual theories;

- teaching methodologies: teaching theories, allosteric model;

- holism: theories of creativity, theories of complexity.

Giordan André. Le modèle allostérique et les théories contemporaines sur l’apprentissage

Fert Jean-Marc (2011). Éduquer à la complexité. (Teaching complex thinking). Communication au 8ème Congrès de l’Union européenne de Systémique. Bruxelles. En ligne :

Fert Jean-Marc (2008). Eduquer pour une société durable. Dieux et autorités en crise.

Fert Jean-Marc (2012). Apprendre à penser complexe (tome I). Se relier au monde. Éd. Odin.

Fert Jean-Marc (2012). Apprendre à penser complexe (tome 2). Reliances humaines et personnelles. Éd. Odin.

2. Classification of streams by ultimate objective (models of man and society

Any form of education necessarily entails navigation in a system of values, and consequently touches on the fundamental problems that constitute the objective of the educational process itself. It is these values that determine the direction of instruction.

Methods of instruction can be divided into three expansive groups:

- individual approach: assumes an individual impact on the subject (student);
- communal (collective) approach: primarily focused on the education of the person as a member of society at large;
- approach that combines the two foregoing methods: education of the person as both individual and citizen.

3. Classification of streams depending on pedagogical circumstances

Jean Houssaye (1988), an pedagogue, proposed the concept of “pedagogical triangle” as a model for understanding the educational process. The triangle makes it possible to conduct an analysis by comparing various pedagogical situations. Each situation assumes the existence of three separate elements – student, knowledge and teacher, two of which always prevail over the third.

The triangle makes it possible to model three processes, each of which develops in its own direction. If the Knowledge/Teacher direction dominates the pedagogical situation, it means that the teaching process is developing as the teacher conducts a dialogue with Knowledge while the Learning/Student direction is in a state Jean Houssaye refers to as the “inaction position.” If the Teacher/Student direction prevails, it means that the process of knowledge acquisition is underway and it would be difficult to say who’s “inactive.” If the Student/Knowledge direction prevails, it signals the memorization process, while either the teacher or the student is left “inactive.”

Here, Houssaye explains that the term “inactivity” is being used in the sense of game theory (as in cards). “In other words, the cards have been dealt and the player must play, although he cannot. Yet, his presence is essential for without him, the game cannot continue. He is vital but his role is secondary, determined by the other players who are controlling the situation.” The intensification of any of the directions carries the risk of turning the “inactive” participant into an “insane” one: noise or other forms of protest on the part of the students engaged in the learning process; errors and misunderstandings in the process of knowledge acquisition; disengagement and detachment from the educational process as a whole.


Educnet :

Houssaye, J. (1988). Le triangle pédagogique. Théorie et pratiques de l'éducation scolaire. Peter Lang.

Houssaye, J. (2014). Le triangle pédagogique. Les différentes facettes de la pédagogie. ESF.

4. Classification of educational streams by type of teaching situation

Any educational activity forces the instructor to choose the appropriate teaching situation. This may involve consideration of the circumstances in which the student finds himself and which allow for a blossoming of his individuality.

It is important to ensure maximum alignment between these proposed circumstances and the classroom instruction process. That is, all discoveries, inventions, creative processes and tests are conducted not in a research laboratory but in the “living laboratory” that is the school.

Types of proposed situations:

- Frontal lessons: classes and lectures;

- Performance of various assignments: individual projects, collective projects, joint projects;

- Solution of planned tasks: problem situations, handling of problems and tasks without prompting, auto-social-constructive lessons, research;

- Game situations: free games, symbolic games, role-playing games, modelling and social games;

- Management of life and school work: What’s new, student council, school board, methodological council; Or situations prompted by the hint “What if – what if not;”

- Evaluative situations: evaluation sessions that take into consideration personal qualities (various kinds of tests, explanatory discussions, creation of a portfolio, collective assessment of a given situation, and evaluation of systems, tasks and situations themselves;

- "Contract work": weekly plan, work plan, employment contract (individual or collective);

- Analysis of completed work: methodological council, convened for the purposes of analyzing the educational process, etc..;

- Making discoveries: special-interest clubs, visits to museums and exhibitions, meetings with crafts people and artists, social work;

- Scientific research: collection of information, review of different sources;

- Work at specialized studios: literary circles, art studios, music groups or pottery clubs.

- Work with the mass media, information technologies and computer graphics.

Pedagogical movements

Pedagogical movements and teacher associations bring together people who have set themselves particular goals in the area of education and instruction. They strive to disseminate the knowledge they have acquired and offer specific pedagogical instruments designed to simplify the education process. They write scientific works, lead discussions, organize workshops, create special-purpose organizations – all while doing their daily work as employees of schools and other educational institutions.
Provided below is a list of such organizations, arranged in alphabetical order.

• National Association for the Advancement of New Teaching (ANEN). Founded in 1970. Brings together schools that promote new teaching methods and sharing the principles outlined in the Association Charter.

• Association for the Advancement of Explanatory Pedagogics (APPEx). Founded in 2007. The aim of the Association is to pursue the dissemination and practical application of the principles of explanatory pedagogics.

• For Equality (CGÉ). Belgium. Established in 1970. Socio-pedagogical movement in favor of continuing education. Publishes the journal Traces de Changement.

• Educational Research Association (CRAP) – Pedagogical Exercise Books. Founded in 1945.

• Center for Alternative Methods of Education. (CEMEA). Founded in 1937. Movement of proponents of new teaching methods and association for adherents of popular teaching methods, organizer of scientific research and thematic meetings.

• Education and Development (E&D). Established in 1984. Group for communications, ideas and new proposals.

• Francas Federation. Founded in 1944. National social federation that brings together various structures and movements primarily focused on the advancement of education, society and culture. The federation strives to make high-quality recreation available to all children and adolescents.

• Education League. Founded in 1866.

• Association for International Cooperation in the Area of New Teaching Methods (LIEN). Founded in 2001.

• Belgian Association for Supporters of New Teaching Methods (GBEN). Founded in 1985.

• French Association for Supporters of New Teaching Methods (GFEN). Founded in 1922.

• Luxemburg Association for Supporters of New Teaching Methods (GLEN). Movement for scientific research and the training of teachers.

• Romance Association for Supporters of New Teaching Methods (GREN). Founded in 1999. Journal: Dialog.

• Central Office of School Cooperation (OCCE). Pedagogical Cooperative. Journal: Forms of Teaching.

• Freinet Pedagogics. International Federation for Supporters of the Modern School (FIMEM). Freinet Pedagogics. Founded in 1957. An association that brings together like-minded people from different countries who support the idea of popular education and cooperative instruction (Freinet pedagogics).

• Freinet Pedagogics. Cooperative Institute of the Modern School (ICEM). Founded in 1947.

• Panote – for the abolition of school report cards.

• Classroom questions. Alternative learning website: struggle and education.

• Athletic Association of First-Rate Education. USEP.