|Educational reform from a micro-analytical point of view. Belgian intellectuals and New Education in practice (1900-1930).|
|Most research in the history of education has been done from a macro- or meso-perspective. Micro- analytical research on the educational practice is less developed. This has more to do with heuristic problems than with theoretical and methodological standings. In this contribution I will focus upon the ‘educational mentality’ of a group of intellectuals, who were close friends, and educational professionals, namely the inner circle of Céline Dangotte (1883-1975), a forgotten key figure in the organized Belgian feminism before 1914, and her husband, the poet and amateur-philosopher Raymond Limbosch (1884-1953). In an attempt to give shape to their ideal world, the couple got inspired by pioneers of experimental pedagogy. From the city of Ghent they strengthened the ties with the Brussels’ circles around the French anarchist Elisée Reclus and with the organizations Ovide Decroly used to promote his innovating scientific views upon educational reform. The ego-network of Limbosch and Dangotte also had transnational branches. The cultural transfer that shaped the educational mentality of the social group studied in this contribution, was partly facilitated through the agency of the philosopher Jean Delvolvé and the German feminist and professor of education Marie-Anne Kuntze.
In particular Céline Dangotte was very active in the application of the ideas of New Education. She started a new school (1908-1909) on the outskirts of Ghent. The school, inspired by Paul Robin's libertarian school in France and the methods of Ovide Decroly, remained ephemerally. The catholic countryside was not ready for such an initiative. The edition of a journal was more successful. From 1909 to 1914 they reached hundreds of parents and children. The creation of a children’s library, whose organization was ‘imported’ from the United States, was also relatively successful. After choosing a career as a business women she became responsible for young delinquents placed by the juvenile court of Brussels. The professional standards also shined through the discourse on their own children’s education and the education of their friends’ children. Although it is difficult to describe them as educational professionals, the innovation and propagation of New Education, was not only a concern of qualified professionals, but also of male and female engaged intellectuals.
The ego-documents left by Céline Dangotte and Raymond Limbosch do not only give us a rare view on the field of tension between theory and educational practice. It is also possible to take into account the point of view of the children. In the house of Limbosch-Dangotte there was a coming and going of their friends’ children, among them writers May Sarton and Johan Daisne. The letters from Sarton and Daisne and the Limbosch children in combination with autobiographical novels allow a ‘history from below’. We can conclude that the individual (dominant) characters and an unconscious bourgeois mentality interfered with some principles of New Education, for instance the way of dealing with authority. This was a fortiori the case in the education of their own children.