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16.9.04

Ah, the Good Old Days

From Le Monde, September 15:

Luc Bronner, L'éducation nationale face à la nostalgie d'un âge d'or mythique (National education faced with nostalgia for a mythical golden age)

Interview with Hervé Hamon by Virginie Malingre, Les gens ne savent plus à quel point l'école des années 1950 était brutale, bricolée, peu performante (People don't know any more how much school in the 1950s was brutal, sloppy, and poor on results)

Virginie Malingre, L'ouvrage alarmiste qui a inspiré François Fillon (The alarmist books that inspired François Fillon)

Martine Laronche, Les enseignants sceptiques sur la restauration des "bonnes vieilles méthodes" (Teachers skeptical about restoring the "good old methods")


See also:
Interview by Nicolas Diat, François Fillon à l'école du Grand Meaulnes (Le Figaro Magazine, September 11)
In its Wednesday edition, Le Monde had a big spread of articles on the future of education in France. The television network M6 recently ran an extraordinarily popular reality show, Le Pensionnat de Chavagnes (Thursdays, 8:50 pm), in which students go through the educational program as it existed in France in the 1950s and pass the more rigorous certificat d'études as it was then. This is just one example, apparently, of the nostalgia in movies and books for the French educational system before the reforms of the 1960s. Now the conservative Minister of National Education, François Fillon, has proposed a reform of the French schools involving a return to a stronger authority for teachers and the use of more traditional methods. From Luc Bronner's article, in my translation:
For his first back-to-school season as Minister of National Education, Mr. Fillon chose to give a very nostalgic tone to his address. The first act unfolded in September's Le Monde de l'éducation: in an interview the Minister denounced the "crisis of values" afflicting society and spoke of his willingness to reinforce teachers' authority. The second act occurred during the back-to-school period. Mr. Fillon presented a very traditional pedagogical message: it is necessary, the Minister repeated, for middle school teachers to rely much more frequently on dictations, compositions, recitations, and grammar exercises.

The third act of this communication came during an interview with Le Figaro Magazine [see the list of articles to the right]. On that occasion, the Minister consented to a photo session in the old-fashioned setting of the Musée de l'école du Grand Meaulnes, in Epineuil (Cher). Being photographed on the steps of an old wooden staircase and then in front of a blackboard, the Minister admitted that he thus planned to encourage his "reflection on the future."

The Minister admits coming on a "pilgrimage" in this legendary school and said that he remembered his own classroom with affection, its wooden tables, its blackboard, its chestnut trees, and its "gate that opened the way to liberty." The Minister says, "I have a vision for education that is truly simple. Knowledge is a sacred thing, authority should not be something teachers have to search for constantly, school-related decisions belong ultimately with the teacher who is the sole captain of his ship. Authority is the clear and objective key to student success."François Truffaut, Les 400 Coups
I would think that François Truffaut's memories of his own education in the "good old days," memorialized in the humorous person of the young Antoine Doinel's teacher in Les 400 Coups (1959), would be enough to keep any French person from too much dangerous nostalgia about the old education system. Still, I find the whole idea fascinating, including the use of a book like Alain-Fournier's classic to sell the nostalgia.

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