France dictates its education structure, which in turn serves its centrally-planned overlord

by Dana on January 5, 2010

The fact that the president of France has the right (and the time?) to dictate the country’s history curriculum seems rather absurd. The Economist concurs:

Perhaps the most striking thing about this row is not that French scientists will learn less history. It is that the central government still dictates to all schools exactly how much time to devote to each subject every week, down to the last minute. That is a legacy of Napoleon, who codified the curriculum—classics, history, rhetoric, logic, maths and physics—by an imperial decree in 1808. Just don’t expect all of next year’s school-leavers to know that.

But I’m sure the French don’t see it that way.  Take the French movie, The Class, which attempts to showcase the dynamism of a new generation of French classroom instructors.

The HuffPo critic says:

As a sociological document, the film testifies to how the French educational system — even today — is based on the idea that one does not “educate” students (i.e. “lead” them) but “forms” them, puts them in the moule. It is telling that the climax of Cantet’s film is a “disciplinary” problem. A boy is kicked out of school and forced to go back to Mali, because of an outburst in the classroom.

Indeed, The Class, despite its intentions to show dynamic pedagogy at work, reveals its the opposite: how “learning” in France consists of accumulating “facts”: basic mathematical and linguistic skills; points of geography and history; the properties of a triangle. A poem is discussed in terms of its meter, a country in terms of its rivers. The aim is not to inspire talents, but to accumulate enough facts to be a well-functioning citizen of the Republic.

And as testament to the depth of cultural divide between the French and the non-French.

“What a great film,” a French Belgian said. “It shows how hard it is to be a teacher today, to discipline these kids.”

A moment later, I spoke to an Anglo-Canadian journalist at the press coffee bar: “A great film,” he said. “Shows how oppressive the French school system still is. Everyone has to fit in, or they’re out. Look what they did to that boy from Mali!”

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