Saturday, December 12, 2009

Guaino Defends History

Henri Guaino, the president's plume, signed a petition opposing the government's policy of making the course in histoire-géo optional in terminale S. He was apparently rebuked for this at a cabinet meeting by Raymond Soubie. Guaino replied that he preferred standing shoulder-to-shoulder with Alain Finkielkraut and Max Gallo to signing on with Luc Châtel.

Here is material for some French Bob Woodward's next book. The momentous clash of titans at the very highest level of government--this is the stuff of stirring journalistic best-sellers. And what divides our titans? Not whether to stimulate the economy or restrain the deficit. Not whether to increase the French contingent in Afghanistan or sell assault vessels to the Russians. But whether to teach France's best and brightest history in their last year of high school.

The General must be turning over in his grave.


MYOS said...

History has another supporter - someone from the banlieue who says that changing the 11-12th grade curriculum without any change to the 6-9th grade curriculum makes no sense and once again the banlieues will get the short end of the stick.

Truth be told, the S students who plan to enter Ecole d'ingénieur or a préparatoire or the 50% S-kids who are in S because it "keeps doors open" and never touch science with a 10-foot-pole past the bac will need history for their future studies since the concours and college programs include a hefty dose of "culture général".
And those from culturally wealthy families will have no problem finding private courses to fill in what Luc Chatel removed.

I'm wondering what one stands to gain by reducing higher education choices for the S students -especially since the L, ES, STG, STI (respecively Arts and Letters, Social Science, Management, and Engineering tracks, all less well considered than S) students don't get any more higher education choices opened for them in return. Since the purported goal is to force "literary minded" kids to L and keep only the scientifically-minded kids in S, you'd think higher education consequences would be taken into account.

MCG said...

I agree with MYOS that the only students who benefit when curricula get simplified is those with highly-educated parents who can in fact be their teachers.

Surely knowing history is a big help in making policy. Wouldn't knowing history help in deciding whether to "stimulate the economy or restrain the deficit?" Or whether to "increase the French contingent in Afghanistan or sell assault vessels to the Russians"?

Steven Rendall said...

The reaction to this proposal seems to me a little hysterical (not historical). The idea is to increase history instruction in premiere from 2.5 hrs a week to 4 hrs a week and add a history component of the the preliminary bac exam (just like the math and science exams currently taken by L students at the end of premiere). This would not only allow S students to concentrate on math and science in terminale, but also make room for new independent or small-group projects supervised by teachers. Moreover, S students who have a special interest in history can still take it as an option. In short, this does not amount, as some people seem to think, to scorning or demoting the study of history, but rather to creating a more coherent common "trunk" of study in premiere. This may or may not be a good idea, but it hardly justifies the outcry.

MYOS said...

The outcry as expressed in the petition is surely exagerated, but it is important.
I've read elsewhere: what chunks of history will be cut out? The current syllabus for the 1e stops in 1945 and the projected TS syllabus would start in 1989: wouldn't there be a huge gap in the kids' understanding? Not to mention decolonization would totally disappear from the curriculum.
Another issue, which few people dare say, is that 50% kids in the S track don't study science in higher education. What will happen to these 50%? Will they flock to the L and ES tracks? Will they stay in the S track and end up missing components for their further education? Will they take the "1989 to the present" elective instead of math?
Finally, I think history has some kind of important symbolic role for French people, not at all the same role as for Americans. This "debate" has it all: national identity, defense of entrenched privileges, defense of poorer kids, intellectuals, unlikely political divides - all against the backdrop of the actual "national identity" debate spirralling uncontrollably.

MYOS said...

Once again, I don't understand what one has to gain by decreasing Higher Education choices for the S kids while not increasing them for the L and ES kids.
Lose-lose instead of win-win.

Unknown said...

I agree with Steve. One of the problems with a "national" education system is that nothing can be tried without getting the entire nation's back up. You have to be able to tinker with the curriculum, and there's nothing unreasonable about Chatel's tinkering (following Descoings's suggestion). The French may be a nation with a particular interest in history, as MYOS says, but they're also a nation of râleurs. And incidentally, at 16, as an MIT freshman, I didn't care much for history: physics and math were my things. I made up for my blindness later on. Life doesn't end in "terminale."