Wednesday, March 10, 2010

School Reforms

About some issues I feel that I have enough sources of information that, despite my distance from the scene, I still have a pretty good feel for what's going on. The schools are different. Even here at home, what happens inside the schools is to a large degree opaque to outsiders, and the reports from inside are often wildly contradictory and predictably correlated with the reporter's position, politics, etc. The right and wrong of contending positions are not always easy to sort out. So I preface my mention of these two reports on reform in the French schools, here and here, with the caveat that I haven't the slightest idea whether what they report is accurate or not. For example, Luc Cédelle, Le Monde's educational correspondent, acidly reports:

Mais le cœur de la réforme est sauf : les précieuses suppressions de postes, cette aune à laquelle est jugée l’efficacité des ministres, sont intactes et le « pédagogisme » est blessé à mort à travers la suppression dès la rentrée 2010 de l’année de formation en alternance à l’IUFM.

Finis ces lieux délétères où, selon l’efficace mythologie en vigueur, reprise dans les discours du candidat Sarkozy lors de la campagne présidentielle, des soixante-huitards attardés et à la mise négligée proclament que l’élève est l’égal du maître et que des paroles de rap valent bien autant que du Rimbaud…

Well, I suppose that in many ways I'm one of those  "soixante-huitards attardés et à la mise négligée," but I tend to be rather more conservative on educational issues than on other matters of public policy and would be the last to say that the pupil is the equal of the teacher when it comes to transmitting knowledge. Still, I have my doubts, based on various things I've heard, about whether le pédagogisme ought to be given a reprieve and have to wonder why France's educational establishment employs so many people and yet contrives to have relatively large class sizes compared to other countries. Which is not to say that I believe that reform is being managed well: I really have no idea. But when criticism simply dismisses the premises of reform as risible without argument, my skeptical hackles are raised. Is it really true that any attempt to change the way in which teachers are trained means that "les nouveaux enseignants qui arrivent sont donc une génération sacrifiée sur l’autel des économies budgétaires et à rebours des évolutions souhaitables de l’école et de la réforme du lycée?" I would be glad to hear from readers who have a better feel for what's going on in the schools.


MYOS said...

There is no "reform" in the way teachers are trained: in order to save the cost of training them, the government simply decided to send students straight from their Master's courses to the classroom. They'll still be selected by the sacrosanct concour, but the concour will only include academic tests related to their Master's degree, kind of like qualifying exams.

How they'll be able to teach is a mystery to me and I expect a large number of them will quit in frustration or fear.

I don't know how one can expect a 22 -year old whose grandest achievement is a thesis about Balzac or T-cells to teach 6 year olds how to read or 14 year olds how to enjoy and understand biology. It'd be even worse if the kids in question were rough and did not want to be in class. As to how the students-turned-teachers will learn how to write a test or use an Interactive Whiteboard, I suppose they'll have to figure it out on their own, with the kids as guinea pigs.

As for "l'élève est l'égal du maitre"- is that man serious? Because anyone who's had a child for any length of time in French schools will tell you there's no such thing as "equality" there. Criticism is direct, bad grades are often announced to all as to shame whoever got them; there is no sense that teachers are supposed to be approachable and friendly. However teachers genuinely care for the kids and certainly teach them a lot.

MYOS said...

Another aspect I came accross : the "concours" (sorry the s is silent) has been cut and for the Classics "qualifying exams" there'd be a mishmash of Greek and Latin. The professors in charge of the curriculum protested and said the Latin Translation should be separate from the Greek Translation, and thus the Head of the Committee was brought to the ministère and told that if she spoke about the topic again, she'd be without a job.

Although my personal opinion, here, is to give a choice: translate Latin OR Greek, and teach the language you picked. I doubt there are too many French kids enrolled in Latin-and-Greek classes.

satchmo said...

As an educator and long-time soixante-huitard à mise négligée (he says that like it's a bad thing!), I generally agree with Art's way of characterizing the extremely complex set of challenges that are discussed under the general rubric of educational reform. Most public/mediatic discussions are indeed tendentious and often not very helpful in understanding different facets of the situation.

My own perhaps over-abstract way of articulating this would be to emphasize the general contradiction between the widely acknowledged need for change on many levels, and systemic economic pressures that push the mode of change in a neoliberal, privatizing and corporate-model direction. This is the familiar struggle between educational models that privilege certification for the labor market, and models that privilege a wider-spectrum understanding of education as a necessity for the well being of (social-)democratic republics.

In some ways I'm relatively "conservative" about practical matters (like the teacher-training questions that MYOS mentions), and find that they fit well with overall progressive approach to education. To use a now-iconic example, it does not seem strange to me that individuals who will eventually work as administrative functionaries on one level or another should read La Princesse de Clèves somewhere along the way. Or sit for the concours in Greek alone, etc.

Unknown said...

Thanks, your formulation is helpful.

philosoraptor said...

I should know this, but... in context, "estre à la mise négligée" means, in English, to be disheveled? Shabbily dressed?

Unknown said...

Sloppy in appearance, could be either badly dressed or disheveled.

satchmo said...

In this context, my interpretation was that the phrase was an arch way of talking about leftist faculty who don't wear jackets and ties.

I'm always amused by varying sartorial standards in different disclipines. If you want disheveled, go by the Geology department sometime! And I write that with all due fondness for my geologist friends.

MYOS said...

I've never thought about the way teachers dress, either in France or in the US.
This topic concerns me greatly, as it should concern all parents who've got kids in French schools.
What if their teacher next year is someone fresh out of college, with zero classroom experience? Can one remove a child from a class and enroll them somewhere else if one finds they've got one of these new "teachers" with zero training?

I found this petition, not sure if it does much though (I'm wary of petitions, they seem to accomplish absolutely nothing)

MYOS said...

Oups : I skipped a line in my comment. Between "either in France or in the US"
and "This topic concerns me greatly"
there should be:
"Satchmo did you notice a difference between school levels or cultures?
However my primary concern remains these zero-training teachers about to be unleashed upon unsuspecting classes."