Pierre Larousse, knowledge and interactive learning

Pierre Larousse

At Greene’s we espouse the tutorial method of learning because of the way in which knowledge is consolidated and critical thinking skills developed in discussion between student and tutor.  As the story of Pierre Larousse shows; that knowledge and understanding can be gained through an interactive and creative learning process has not always been the case.

Pierre Larousse is best known for his seminal work the “Grand Dictionnaire universel du XIXe siècle” (1875) and his “Nouveau Dictionnaire de la langue française” (1856) – the precursor to “le petit Larousse  illustré” which is still updated and published every year.

Monument Larousse, Toucy, France

Before this, during 1837 and in the small town of Toucy in central France, Pierre Larousse became a teacher.  At that time, although French was the official language of instruction, for most people French was their second language.  Many of Pierre Larousse’s pupils did not speak good French at home and – because of archaic teaching methods and poor materials – retention of the material they covered in school was weak.  Republican thinking was that without a good level of reading and writing in French these pupils would be limited in their access to knowledge and would not be able to engage with and contribute to the society in which they lived.

In 1840, Pierre Larousse left the teaching profession and began a voyage of experimentation and learning that resulted in the publication in 1849 of “la Lexicologie des écoles primaires”.  This work included complete lessons in French language that taught pupils not just how to develop good handwriting but also how write and speak in French effectively and correctly.

Cover of the “Nouveau Dictionnaire de la langue française”

Together with his business partner Augustin Boyer, Pierre Larousse succeeded in producing an ever wider range of publications to help and improve teaching in schools.  One of their earliest colleagues was Georges Moreau – an illustrator by profession.  Georges was able to harness the pedagogic vision of Pierre with his own skills as an illustrator to produce even more engaging teaching materials.  The availability of the “Nouveau Dictionnaire de la langue française” in 1856 gave pupils the ability to engage with their learning by looking up and learning for themselves the meaning of words they did not understand.  Under the direction of Georges Moreau this developed into “Le petit Larousse illustré” – which was first published in 1905.

Petit Larousse – 1905

Although Pierre Larousse died in 1875 his work not only survived him but further evolved – enjoying huge popularity and success.  Under the management of Georges Moreau, Larousse continued to develop its mission in education – working with educationalists like Maria Montessori – and to make knowledge available to everyone.

The motto of Pierre Larousse, and perpetuated in Larousse’s publications is “Je sème à tout vent” (“I sow to all winds”).  For Larousse the reader is simply “everyone” and knowledge should be available to all, not just a privileged circle of the few.  With the technology available in the late 19th and early 20th centuries this meant publishing affordable dictionaries and encyclopaedias.  Today it means making knowledge freely available on the internet at the website: www.editions-larousse.fr

2017 is the bicentenary of Pierre Larousse’s birth and is being celebrated with a special edition of “Le petit Larousse illustré”.

For more information:
Encyclopédie Larousse en ligne

Posted on: November 28th, 2016 | Categories: Education, History, Literary