The following text was originally published in PROSPECTS: the quarterly review of comparative education (Paris, UNESCO: International Bureau of Education), vol. 23, no. 1/2, 1993, p. 249–75 ©UNESCO:International Bureau of Education, 2001 This document may be reproduced free of charge as long as acknowledgement is made of the source.

JEAN-OVIDE DECROLY
(1871–1932)
Francine Dubreucq1

Anunforeseen career
Nothing in Jean-Ovide Decroly’s early life would have led to a forecast of a career in education. Coming from a strict provincial background in the small Belgian town of Renaix, hehad to face the demands of his parents, who were obsessed with the academic success of the most gifted of their children. His turbulent spirit led him to detest the two boarding schools that imposed aclassical Greek and Latin education, remote indeed from his passion for drawing, dancing, music and, above all, natural science. He appreciated all the more his years at the medical faculty of theUniversity of Gent, where he was a student assistant before turning to the highly experimental discipline of pathological anatomy. The young biologist was soon to discover the medicine of the mind. As thebrilliant winner of the University’s Competition and of the award of the Travelling Scholarship Foundation, he spent the 1896–97 academic year at the University of Berlin and the Salpêtrière Hospitalin Paris where he met avant-garde specialists in mental illness and turned towards neuropsychiatry, and then to psychology—just as Freud had done in the same places twenty years earlier. But Decrolysteadfastly affirmed that biological and mental phenomena, the ‘biological and mental foundations’ of all behaviour, were correlated. In 1898, Decroly moved to Brussels with his young wife, AgnèsGuisset. At the University of Gent he again took up his research on mental illness and on the pathological anatomy of the brain. The clinic in the hospital setting was of more interest to him than were... [continua]

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