Wednesday, December 9, 2009

Winock contra Sarkozy

Historian Michel Winock looks at Sarkozy's Le Monde column with historical lenses:

Ce qui déconcerte, c’est que toute la première partie du propos présidentiel porte sur la votation helvétique sur les minarets. Il fustige ceux qui ont critiqué ce verdict des urnes : « Réactions excessives » et « méfiance viscérale pour tout ce qui vient du peuple. La référence au peuple, c’est déjà, pour certains, le commencement du populisme. Mais c’est en devenant sourd aux cris du peuple, indifférent à ses difficultés, à ses sentiments, à ses aspirations, que l’on nourrit le populisme. Ce mépris du peuple, car c’est une forme de mépris, finit toujours mal. »

Un pareil discours aurait pu sortir, il est déjà sorti,de la bouche du général Boulanger en 1888-1889. Les adversaires du populisme, n’en déplaise à Nicolas Sarkozy, n’ont aucun mépris du peuple ; ils méprisent les démagogues qui jouent avec les « sentiments », les émotions, la peur répandue dans les couches populaires, qu’ils attisent de leur mieux en dénonçant les boucs émissaires. Qui a vu ces affiches du parti populiste helvétique représentant des minarets sous la forme d’une batterie de missiles plantés sur le drapeau suisse a compris la manière de la xénophobie agissante. Ce peuple, cette majorité électorale aurait-elle forcément raison, toujours raison ? Le « peuple » n’a-t-il pas acclamé Mussolini, chéri Hitler, pleuré à la mort de Staline ? Ce n’est avoir du mépris ni pour le peuple ni pour le suffrage universel que de s’opposer aux prophètes de malheur, aux tribuns racistes, aux ennemis de la démocratie.

Money Matters

Fitch has downgraded Greek sovereign debt to BBB. What will happen if Greece defaults? The EU has a no bailout clause, but you have to wonder what might happen.

Seuil

Anybody know what's really going on at Les Éditions du Seuil? Thierry Pech quit abruptly; Olivier Bétourné is now taking over. Feel free to share gossip and rumors.

The History Question

Will the proposed downgrading of histoire-géo in terminale S create (or reproduce?-Ed.) a generation of historically illiterate leaders, as critics claim? Or will it establish a new equilibrium in the lycées, as proponents contend? Here is a rundown of the debate.

Universities

French universities are often compared unfavorably to their American counterparts. No selection at entrance leads to high failure rates. Teaching is underfunded, and professors receive little support. The Université de Picardie is not Harvard. True, but neither is East Podunk Community College, which is probably a better comparison:

Low-income students are increasingly forced to attend inexpensive but under-resourced, non-selective universities and community colleges, where student results are often astoundingly bad. The average graduation rate at four-year colleges in the bottom half of the Barron’s taxonomy of admissions selectivity is only 45 percent. And that’s just the average–at scores of colleges, graduation rates are below 30 percent, and wide disparities persist for students of color. Along with community colleges, where only one in three students earns a degree, these low-performing institutions educate the large majority of Pell Grant recipients. Less than 40 percent of low-income students who start college get a degree of any kind within six years.

...
Why is the quality question so obscure, when the cost question is so well-known? In part because it has been masked by the American higher education system’s unchallenged reputation as the best in the world. Unfortunately for the average collegian, this notion is entirely driven by the top 10 percent of institutions and the students who attend them–Harvard, Stanford, MIT, and the like. Much of the rest is a sea of mediocrity, or worse.

Since French universities must admit more than 60 percent of each age cohort, their pool includes many students who fit the profile of community college students in the US. Sarkozy and Pécresse should bear this in mind the next time they ogle the Shanghai rankings.

Bottoms Up!

The fesses-tering obsession of the French revealed: the secret of French national identity can now be told. Hint: it isn't culinary, it's cul-inary. (h/t Polly, Bill).