Man is an animal suspended in webs of significance that he himself has spun...

Friday, April 29, 2011

French Education - A View from the Inside

The other day we were having yet another dinner-time debate and the topic turned to the education system here in France.  After listening to much moaning and groaning, I challenged the Frenchlings to stop complaining and start thinking about what they would change if they had the power.  I told them that I would  publish their ideas and experiences on this blog.  The first installment comes from the younger Frenchling.  

Hello. I am the younger ‘Frenchling’ (although I don’t care much for the term), and my name,  for the purpose of this article that is, after all, going on the Internet, is Blackcatgirl.

For those of you familiar with my mom’s blog, you will know that I am a Franco-American girl, who is bilingual in French and English (I’m currently working on being trilingual, as I have an large interest in Japan), has lived in the US, Japan, and most of her life in France. I’m currently doing an OIB (Option Internationale du Baccalaureat).

I am mainly a fantasy writer. Given even a small subject, phrase, word, whatever, and I’ll make up a story like zap. But, I have unfortunately almost no experience in other kinds of writing. Hence, my cameo on my mom’s blog. It was her idea.

Probably because I have been educated in the French educational system, and so we come to the subject of this article. You will be treated to an overview of exactly what I think is wrong with the French system, from the perspective of someone who has spent almost ten, long, years, in it.

So, my main issue is that they do not encourage us to think for ourselves. Sometimes I think they don’t want us to think at all.  For example, in French, we started doing dissertations. It goes like this: they give us a quote from a famous nobody, and we have to answer, and comment on it.  But here’s the catch.

You’re not allowed to disagree.

Oh, you can if you want to, just don’t expect a good grade. You are expected to argue, in a first paragraph, for, and in the second, against, the idea given. And in the conclusion, you have to say something along the lines of ‘But this person remains right.’ My sister, who has to study 8 hours of philosophy every week, tells me it is pretty much the same in that subject. I am not looking forward to it.

On the subject of philosophy, my mom recently asked my sister what she was studying, to which my sister rattled of a long string of long dead philosophers.

My mom asked her if she was studying Peter Singer, to which my sister replied, ‘Who?’ My mom was appalled.

It turns out, my sister is studying no contemporary philosophers at all. Nothing shocking, nothing new, nothing fresh, nothing thought-provoking. In fact, her teacher made a speech at the beginning of the year about how much he hates contemporary philosophers.

It's the same in French History-Geography, just mindlessly learn by heart and spew it back on paper during a test, and you’ll be guaranteed a good grade. In French dissertations, it’s a bit better but you still have to agree with the given quote (see above point.)

Two exceptions are my English Literature and English History-Geography classes.   In those classes, I am called upon to think. In History essays, I have to make a point (like, who was most wrong in the American Revolution), and argue for it. In literature, same thing. I have to draw my own conclusion from the text, to analyze and think about it.

I see every day how new educational methods are being discovered, that have amazing potential.  Just today, I read an article about a school in New York that teaches through video games. And let’s face it, that would be fun.

And yet, France sticks to its tired old methods. It does have several things going for it, such as math which is taught at a higher level. But they aren’t teaching us to think outside the box, a fact I find profoundly disturbing. Any idiot can memorize a bunch of tired old texts and spit them back out. I think a genius is one who can think, argue, and be creative. For I believe that thinking creatively,  logically, is the greatest tool a person can have to help solve world problems.

To give the French system a break, it’s not entirely their fault. Every time they try to pass a reforme, students riot, often without knowing why. They don’t think, they just see a chance to get off school, which in all fairness is incredibly boring (from 8 to 5, four to five days a week). If they knew how to look at all the facts, instead of mindlessly following, they would be able to draw a proper conclusion, whether or not the reform is bad, and act accordingly.

So, to sum up, I think some serious changes are in order for the French educational system. They should encourage creative thinking, through more debates, stop forcing us to adopt the same views as people regarded as ‘famous’, or whatever, and start making us thinking.

For thinking, creating new original solutions is, in my opinion, the best way to solve world issues.

And it wouldn’t hurt to make it more fun along the way.

3 comments:

Anonymous said...

Ah, but it is Exactly The Same in the yoo-nited state. Everything in school was parrot the party line. My experience was from 1959-1971 in California.
Even the high school 'alternative' program was very limited.
The only times that I got to think for myself was the 3rd grade, in a private school. In my room there were 3,4,5,6 grades kids and the sum was about a dozen. For 6 weeks I was the entire 3rd grade.

The other was my last semester in school before I hit the road. I was in the alternate school. I was the only white, middle class, non-pregnant, non-doper, never arrested kid in the entire school.
I got to read anything I wanted as long as I wrote reports. I got to say that Loren Eiseley's book The Immense Journey was a good read but bad philosophy. And he was alive at the time.

No, it is not just France......

To quote John Lennon "noone could pay me enough to ever be a teenager again"

betty said...

Ah, but it is Exactly The Same in the yoo-nited state. Everything in school was parrot the party line. My experience was from 1959-1971 in California.
Even the high school 'alternative' program was very limited.
The only times that I got to think for myself was the 3rd grade, in a private school. In my room there were 3,4,5,6 grades kids and the sum was about a dozen. For 6 weeks I was the entire 3rd grade.

The other was my last semester in school before I hit the road. I was in the alternate school. I was the only white, middle class, non-pregnant, non-doper, never arrested kid in the entire school.
I got to read anything I wanted as long as I wrote reports. I got to say that Loren Eiseley's book The Immense Journey was a good read but bad philosophy. And he was alive at the time. I also read french and russian literature, in translation.

No, it is not just France......

To quote John Lennon "noone could pay me enough to ever be a teenager again"

Victoria FERAUGE said...

Yep. As much as both school systems talk about creating "critical thinkers" the original purpose of the public school system was to create citizens. I think this is as true today as it was in the past. Is it possible to move beyond that? I'm not sure.