Catherine L’Ecuyer: “The networks are, in immature minds, an incubator of fanatics”

Over the centuries, the way we educate has evolved. However, the children remain the same. This is what the educator Catherine L’Ecuyer (Canada, 1974) believes, who advocates a diverse and inclusive public education.

This doctor in Education and Psychology has dedicated part of her life to studying the different learning methods and to make people understand that, as she says, “knowing is growing, it transforms those who make what they have learned”. These words summarize the philosophy that emerges from his latest book, Conversations with my teacher (Sword, 2021).

In it, he tells, through different characters, what is happening today in the classrooms, opening a debate on the use of new technologies and the importance of emotional education.

“Before, children learned to resolve conflicts on their own without the constant mediation of adults,” he explains. Now, on the contrary, each one lives in his “digital cave”.

Families have to regain their leading role in the education of their children

In his book he mentions different philosophical currents that inspire learning methods. What does it consist on?

The first is the mechanistic current, in which the child is passive and education consists in instilling from the outside because the letter with blood enters. The second is the romantic-idealist. According to this vision, education is at the service of the political project, not the other way around; therefore, the classroom assumes a primarily social and political function.

The third current is the classical-realist, which considers that the end of education is the child himself. We are what we do, said Aristotle. To know is to grow, it transforms those who make what they have learned their own. Parents must be aware of these currents, know how to recognize them and be able to choose the one that corresponds to their family project.

What criteria should parents consider when choosing their children’s school?

Parents must be aware that they have the right to influence the education of their children. Regardless of the laws, educational freedom is only effective when there are five factors.

They must be aware of what their educational project is, there must be plurality in the educational offer and there must be clarity when transmitting the project of each center. The choice should be the result of the fit of these four pieces.

And the fifth factor?

It is the one that causes the most headaches. There must be a coherence between what the school wants to do (the ideology), what it says it does (the marketing educational) and what it does (day-to-day reality). In that regard, some schools are monsters with three heads, which become the worst nightmares of parents.

Educational innovation that disregards evidence will be obsolete tomorrow

But there are families that take into account other criteria such as the socioeconomic or cultural origin of the children.

I defend educational freedom, but I am not in favor of segregating based on socioeconomic status. It is elitist and exclusive. The problem is that we propose educational freedom with a social class struggle mentality (public versus concerted and private). That creates a social rift.

I propose an educational freedom that is never talked about in Spain. Is it normal that parents who pay taxes cannot choose their children’s educational project? Why are there no Decroly or Montessori schools in public schools? Why can only those with high incomes choose between different pedagogical models?

If there were freedom to choose in the public, another rooster would crow. We would find more people coming to her, and with a great mix in socioeconomic levels.

In his book he affirms that “to make a decision freely it is necessary to know the alternatives and their consequences.” Are children being trained so that they can make free decisions?

It depends from which of the three educational streams we are educating. Aristotle said that we are responsible for our decisions because they are ours, they do not depend only on the environment or others, nor are they directed by the force of destiny or by chance.

Today, education mainstream alternates between the behavioral and romantic currents. From behaviorism, the child is not free because it acts mechanically. For some years now, behaviorist education has been based on applying external incentives or stimuli that produce ephemeral pleasure to produce desired results.

From the romantic current, the exercise of freedom depends on what one feels, it consists of generating alternatives without committing to them.

Catherine L'Ecuyer: If a student cannot connect to class, there is a real risk of disconnecting from the educational system

Catherine L’Ecuyer: “If a student cannot connect to class, there is a real risk of disconnecting from the educational system”

A teacher indicates in the book that the validity of a method is determined by experience, not by theory. Is the educator’s experience or scientific evidence more important?

It is a false dilemma that is based on an imaginary war. The theory is not occurrences imagined by a handful of intellectuals sheltered in an ivory tower. It is the result of findings based on practice, in classrooms. It is the abstraction of observation.

Educational practice should be the application of a proven theory, based on evidence, in observation. The contempt for the proven theory always ends up being contempt for reality.

It is true that only the teacher is able to carry out that application in a way that makes sense, has the educational context at hand. But this work should not be done with its back to the evidence, since educational innovation that disregards evidence has no other ambition than to be what it is: something obsolete tomorrow.

SDG 4 (quality education) aims to take into account the needs of each child, but how do you work this in classrooms?

With ratios of 30 students per class, personalized education boils down to a claim of marketing educational. When we talk about equality, inclusion and diversity, we have to know that there are two completely different ways of asking these questions.

It depends on whether we mean equality of results or equality of opportunities. The first is for everyone to obtain similar results. Instead, the second is to support those who have more difficulty and provide challenges to those who are able to face them, so that everyone has opportunities that are adjusted to their possibilities.

Students need human contact, it is an essential luxury in education

Today, it is not politically correct to propose that second approach. And we opted to mix everyone up and level at the base. What we achieve is precisely the opposite of diversity: we achieve a homogenized mass.

Is emotional education necessary to achieve these goals?

Before, children played, they learned to resolve conflicts on their own without the constant mediation of adults. They also had dinner at home all together and it was a moment of sharing. Now, each one catches what they find in the fridge, they live in their digital cave.

To solve the problems, you have to go to the first causes. For example, it is urgent to promote conciliation policies, so that families regain their leading role in the education of their children, otherwise the children will arrive at school with more and more deficiencies that hinder learning.

Now, young people have things even before they want them, how do you teach them to manage frustration when their wishes are not fulfilled?

Letting normal situations occur. If we overprotect them, taking the sandwich they forgot at home to school, we are not letting that natural process occur.

Social networks are used to immediacy. They hinder that process and exacerbate frustration, because they provide an artificial context, devoid of physical and physiological limitations.

The digital divide is between families that limit the use of technologies and those that do not

The frustration threshold is getting lower and lower, as we are not used to having serene dialogues with people who think differently. Networks are, in immature minds, an incubator for fanatics.

The use of technology has been essential to follow classes from home during the pandemic. How do you rate the way in which it has been worked?

When we learned that this was going to last, it was the only idea that occurred to us. A fast and efficient way had to be found to communicate with the students. Now, I think there have been more or less successful ways to do it.

One way to mitigate the damage was to limit the use of the screen for live classes in interactive mode, marking a time limit per day. During that time, explanations are given to the students and the rest are left to do written assignments and read books.

Now that all of this is behind us, if there is one thing that has become very clear, it is that students need human contact. It is a luxury that we cannot do without in education.

I defend educational freedom, but segregating according to socioeconomic level is elitist and exclusive

And how to prevent the digitization of education from leaving the most vulnerable behind?

The argument of the digital divide during the pandemic, in an exceptional context of non-face-to-face education, makes sense because if a student cannot connect to class, there is a real risk that they will be disconnected from the education system. But in a face-to-face education context it is not supported by evidence.


Governments are committed to the massive digitization of classrooms, assuming that giving access to a device and to the Internet contributes to closing the socioeconomic gap. For a few years, the available data deny the hypothesis of the digital divide.

Common Sense published a study conducted in 2020 among children aged 0-8 years, showing that as the digital divide closes since 2011, there is a constantly increasing abusive consumption of technology in socioeconomically disadvantaged households.

Therefore, access to technology would not reduce, but on the contrary, it would increase the socioeconomic gap. The real gap exists between families who are aware of the need to limit the time of use of new technologies and are able to do so, and those who are not.

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