September 10, 2010

British journalist: French schools don't nurture chavism enough

After sending his daughters to school in Paris, British journalist Peter Gumbel has written a book complaining that French schools are run by intelligent adults proud of being intelligent adults, who refuse to nurture inflated senses of accomplishment in their charges. From The Observer:
"These studies show that, while French children score quite highly in European studies on their ability and performance, when asked they rate themselves below countries with low levels of literacy," he said. "So even when they have the ability, their self-esteem has been knocked out of them."

Gumbel's book praises British schools, which may surprise UK parents accustomed to having them compared unfavourably with those across the channel. He told the Observer: "Although the French with their national curriculum have maintained standards and avoided being dumbed down, their system focuses on the transmission of knowledge and doesn't even remotely address the child or their wellbeing.

"There is more to school than getting good marks, and in Britain schools are not just about your brain but about sport and arts and finding lots of different ways of excelling. The British system may focus less on results, but it nurtures self-esteem, personality and character, which is something totally missing from the French system and this is tragic."

Here's my review of the French movie The Class, which is the opposite of all the Nice White Lady movies made in the U.S. The Class illustrates the typical French teacher's opinion of his students: they're surly morons.
 

33 comments:

Bill said...

Oh, pauvre petit Gumbel...

"T'es nul" is nothing compared to what I remember from by time in a French elementary school.

My best friend Yan, a blond Breton, was once humiliated in front of the entire class for crying over something, with our battle-axe teacher asking him "oh, poor little baby, do you need a bottle?" while slapping him on the cheek to drive home the point.

For my part, I was treated as the class dunce at the beginning, being an American boy who couldn't speak proper French, but when I learned French remarkably quickly (no doubt partly out of fear), I suddenly became a celebrated student. When my accent disappeared and I could hold my own in reading French and doing the math, which was at least two years ahead of what I'd been studying at home, I was accepted as a good little French boy.

Despite living in a cramped little apartment with my poor teacher parents and little sister, those were some of the happiest days of my life. I think things would have been a lot easier for me if I'd stayed in France.

Personally, I'd take the occasional humiliation and heavy expectations over the Anglosphere's politically-motivated manipulation any day. French education - at least in primary school - is definitely superior to what we have here.

But maybe I'm prejudiced in that regard -- it suited my style much better than the feminized, feel-good approach we take here in the states and Britain, which deliberately stunts children if they show any precocity and puts a premium on spouting platitudes.

Dennis Dale said...

"...their self-esteem has been knocked out of them...doesn't remotely address the child or their well-being..."

God help us.

The Class was smart and heartbreaking, and would not have been made in the US. How do you make a popular American film? You start with a French film, then remove all potential for offense or enlightenment.

Ray Sawhill said...

Given that no one has a higher opinion of him or herself than a Frenchperson, the idea that French schooling knocks the "self-esteem" out of the French is pretty funny.

Anonymous said...

Steve,
Are you telling me you suddenly believe in self-esteem now? What about the high self-esteem and low academic performance of Black youth in US?

Simon in UK said...

I teach both English and French students. The French compare very favourably in self-esteem, character etc, and they also write English better than most of the native English speakers.

France's big problem is an incredibly rigid employment market and lack of opportunities for the young, so that vast numbers of the non-elite midddle class come over here to London to work and get ahead, so they can go back to France with a decent CV and get a job.

Anonymous said...

The last thing kids need is to have their self-esteem artificially raised: it is too high as it is.

The Brits seem to have caught this disease from us Americans, and they might even have it worse than us, now.

Google "despotic tyranny" to see what I mean.

***STUDENTS who failed to understand the words “despotic tyranny” have been complaining about their history A-level exam.

It is claimed the question “How far do you agree that Hitler’s role 1933-45 was one of despotic tyranny?” was too confusing for some students to understand.

A protest group called Despotic Tyranny Ruined My Life has been set up on Facebook.

So far 1,151 people have joined the group, leaving comments such as “My life is DESTROYED because of this exam. Seriously” and “This exam made me sad”.

The essay question featured on an Edexcel A Level exam paper sat last week.

A number of teachers have also posted comments on an online history teachers’ discussion forum, claiming that their students would not know what the words “despotic” and “tyranny” meant.

Many Year 13 students across the country are now concerned they will lose their university places because they were unable to answer the question properly.***


And from another source:

***Some of our country’s “advanced”-level students of history have been complaining about a question which appeared in an examination: “How far do you agree that Hitler’s role 1933-45 was one of despotic tyranny?”. [1] The phrase “despotic tyranny” has caused some upset:

“[I]t is elitist . . . to assume every history student is going to have come across such a term.” [2]

“The use of the term ‘despotic tyranny’ excludes students of a lower ability.” [3]


At least it seems that some of our “advanced” students have learnt the egalitarian ideology well, if nothing else.

“I have been offered a place at Cambridge to study English literature and I was not familiar with the word ‘despotic’ at all despite intensive revision and reading around the topic.” [4]

“I understand that to be an A level history student you need to have a wide grasp of specialised vocabulary but can i realy be blamed for never hearing the word despotic before? I have never read it, let alone had it taught to me and i was under the impression that exams should be based on a student’s knowledge of a topic not on their knowedge of a word.” [5]


One unhappy mother summed up the complaint rather well:

“This was an exam on Hitler and history . . . not on swallowing a dictionary.” [6]

Doubtless it is sometimes difficult to determine the meaning of the various usages of words and phrases. I, for instance, have trouble understanding what “advanced” means.***


You guys should read the comments of some of these "advanced" British students: unbelievable sense of entitlement, no shame at all of advertising their ignorance.

Kids of my generation (Americans, over 40) taking advanced courses and intending to go to university to study subjects like History or English would have been embarrassed to admit not knowing what "despotic" meant; we certainly would not have advertised the fact of our ignorance expecting sympathy of some kind.

But this is what "self-esteem" in education does to kids: it gives them a sense of entitlement; standards are lowered, "feelings" are catered to rather than knowledge and critical thinking.

Self-esteem goes hand-in-hand with equalitarian ideology: everyone is the same, and to "prove" it, standards are lowered to make everyone more equal. More kids must go to university even if the standards have to be dumbed down; it is good for their "self-esteem".

SFG said...

Eh...self-esteem BS aside, the British emphasis on sports and character did build a pretty strong empire. The French like to be smart, but all their old colonies look like crap.

That said, I think if you don't have the misfortune to live in the banlieues, French culture is better: shorter hours, better food, cuter girls. Maybe they're just good at different things?

dearieme said...

"The Brits seem to have caught this disease from us Americans..": when the Forces of Progress announced their programme for ruining the British schools, away back in the 60s, they explicitly boasted that they were going to follow an American model. Since then it's been downhill all the way, sometimes slowly, sometimes in great lurches.

l said...

In America we tend to confuse having 'self-esteem' with having a sense of entitlement.

Robert said...

The French problem is that is ruled by a alien PC dictator class.
Speaking the truth on many issues is a criminal offense. WW II is called the War of German Aggression even though is was France that declared war on Germany. What can you expect of a country that murdered its queen and has monuments to Robespierre, Danton and Stalin?

K(yle) said...

You don't even really need to know the meaning of the word 'despotic' to answer that question correctly.

Although I will say that the question does have a peculiar phrasing. I assume that it is in a series of related questions.

Answering the question to the best of their ability ignoring the word would have been sufficient.


I'm not sure the issue is self-esteem here. That they don't know the meaning of at least moderately common words means they aren't absorbing them and aren't being exposed to them.

They don't read anything not required (and probably just used cliff notes on things that were), and modern pop culture is a kind of repitition of phrases, and memes from shows and movies.

It is an opposition to wit that rejects the need to have a large vocabulary, and replaces it with a large repository of skits from Family Guy.

Anonymous said...

Well, as an outside observer (thanks to the magic of the internet) one thing I can say in favour of the French is that they know how to argue their corner in politics. Politicians, journalists, "public intellectuals" and members of the general public simply do a better job putting their case forward and taking apart the other guy's position. Maybe an education less concerned with "self-esteem, personality and character" ends up producing sharper minds. In any case, I think anyone who has a look at post-Monty Python Britain would agree with the saying "just because you are a character doesn't mean you have character". I'd rather have children armed with a French rapier than a Monty Python rubber chicken or a Jon Stewart poo-poo joke.

Anonymous said...

Thanks to Anonymous above for the reference to the "despotic tyranny" brouhaha.

Teaching in what would be regarded as one of the better colleges in the US, I can't help being continually disturbed (though I'm not surprised, anymore) not so much by the depth of students' ignorance, but by the fact that they are not the least bit embarrassed or ashamed when their ignorance is exposed. Their vocabularies are terrible (at best they have what would have been an eighth-grade level 40 years ago), and their unconcern with historical facts is such that most of them couldn't date the Civil War within two decades. (I've had some who couldn't place it in the right century.)

Most of the students I'm thinking of aren't stupid per se -- their SATs are 1350+, and some of them could do math better than I. They just don't have any sense that there are certain things that one really ought to know (or hurry up and learn if one doesn't want to look like a jackass). At the same time, of course, everybody is totally au currant when the talk turns to "oppression" and "equality."

The internet, which is making memorized knowledge obsolete, thus turns out to be the perfect technology for the politically correct age.

Silver said...

The replies to this post are all of "the older I get, the better I was" variety.

Self-esteem goes hand-in-hand with equalitarian ideology: everyone is the same, and to "prove" it, standards are lowered to make everyone more equal. More kids must go to university even if the standards have to be dumbed down; it is good for their "self-esteem".

Self-esteem isn't incompatible with high standards.

Just because self-esteem may not be the keystone of educational attainment doesn't mean it isn't of some degree of importance (much less that it's of no importance, as the he-men here would seem to have it).

Self-esteem should be nurtured while students are being prepared (ie "the learning process") but at the same time students should be taught that life tests our preparation and made to experience such tests. Just because modern liberals have overshot the mark doesn't mean there is any inherent contradiction between self-esteem and learning.

Silver said...

Teachers can be idiotically insensitive. For example, my 3rd grade music teacher who'd compare my surname to a brand of washing powder (with a smirk on her fat face) to the laughter of the whole classroom.

Or how about this for a punishment for playfully kneeing this kid in the thigh in the 5th grade: she makes me stand up in front of the class and says we're going to go around the room and each pupil is going to volunteer an adjective to describe Silver's behavior (in practice a shot at describing the love-to-hate-him Silver himself). Oh, the gleeful participation. Not one of them suggested what I did "wasn't that bad." There's your "willing executioners" right there. What lesson was I supposed to have learnt from that? (Well I learnt a new word, which one of the kids contributed, "callous.") What kind of idiot teacher would devise such a punishment? I'd never seen it before and I haven't heard of it since.

Same teacher after a classroom singalong with the radio program in which the song was some balkans folk song which the class mauled. She turns to this student teacher visiting from England and says, "We don't do so well with the ethnic tunes," while glancing directly at me (think young Ralph Macchio), only ethnic looking kid in the room, at which point the two enjoyed a hearty giggle.

None of these experiences (and there's more, much more) helped "make a man" out of me. Though I can laugh it off now, they left me embittered for years afterwards.

Anonymous said...

> but it nurtures self-esteem, personality and character

Right, we all know that indulging people's self-esteem builds character and an attractive personality. Difficult experiences result in a weak will, and a person cannot be truly charming unless he constantly complains about minute annoyances, having never known anything worse.

Anonymous said...

> Given that no one has a higher opinion of him or herself than a Frenchperson, the idea that French schooling knocks the "self-esteem" out of the French is pretty funny.

I agree. The French kids rating themselves poorly merely know that it is graceful to pretend to be academically weak if simply asked directly (but if challenged to actually demonstrate ability, do it excellently with a showy flourish, and make it look easy - the opposite gender may be watching). What is more French than graceful manners?

Anonymous said...

> Steve, Are you telling me you suddenly believe in self-esteem now?

He's presenting this stuff sarcastically.

Anonymous said...

OT (though somewhat tangential to the declinist sentiment here) I found David Brooks column here "interesting" - http://www.nytimes.com/2010/09/10/opinion/10brooks.html?src=me&ref=general.

I wonder how operative the word "gentility" is meant to be there...

TED said...

So primary schools in France are like STEM majors at top-ranked American universities and British/American schools are like Grievance and Identity (GID) Studies at these same top-ranked American universities.

Ask yourself which ones create truth, lasting knowledge, wealth, improve human comfort and health, etc and which actively retard such ends.

Unlike the US/UK, in China STEM students have much higher prestige than non-STEM students that helps explain the opposite trajectories these countries are taking now.

* Humanities fall inbetween. They can be taught to rigorous standards but more often than not and by nature often suffer the slippery slop of tunnel-vision worship of self-esteem and diversity fads.

dearieme said...

In his blog, Laban Tall puts his finger on an important point.

"Gumbel..has lived in Paris since 2002 and was prompted to criticise French schools, colleges and universities after putting his two daughters, now aged 10 and 13, into the education system.
In other words, he and his daughters have no experience of UK state education."

Anonymous said...

When I read Steve's title, I thought "chavism" refered to Mr. Hugo Chávez.

Camlost said...

Self-esteem should be nurtured while students are being prepared (ie "the learning process") but at the same time students should be taught that life tests our preparation and made to experience such tests.

Self-esteem isn't taught in Japan, and their public school systems seem to be doing just fine.

Black children are proven to have an abundance of self-esteem (on average) yet they're continually dragging at the bottom of the ranks when it comes to reading on grade level.

Dennis Dale said...

What about the high self-esteem and low academic performance of Black youth in US?

judging by this population, self-esteem appears to be inversely proportionate to academic success.

Anonymous said...

Simon,
'I teach both English and French students. The French compare very favourably in self-esteem, character etc, and they also write English better than most of the native English speakers.'

Merde, mon ami, merde.

Robert,

who invaded who?

David said...

People studying a dictatorship are up in arms because in so doing, they have to know (or be familiar with) the word "tyranny"?

Absurd. Absolutely absurd.

There is not one person in this comments section, wager I, who did not know the word "tyranny" by age 10, or the word "despot" or "despotism" by at least 15 or 18. Hard for me to conceive how these wouldn't be common words for anyone (esp in political discussion), but there is the fact.

Ghastly.

These kids seriously should fall on their faces in total shame.

It's like studying cooking and not knowing the word "burned."

Silver said...

Self-esteem isn't taught in Japan, and their public school systems seem to be doing just fine.

So what would they lose by adding a dollop of self-esteem?

Black children are proven to have an abundance of self-esteem (on average) yet they're continually dragging at the bottom of the ranks when it comes to reading on grade level.

So what's your point? I already agreed that self-esteem is no keystone to educational attainment.

You're yet to provide a link between placing some focus on students' self-regard and poorer educational attainment. Pointing to blacks doesn't help you because one of the tenets of HBD is they're just a bunch of dumb bastards who aren't going to amount to anything. Well, if they were never going to amount to anything anyway, then they may as well feel good about it -- or do you really wanna say they should be made to feel miserable about it on top of everything else?

Look, understood properly, instilling discipline isn't incompatible with self-esteem. Things is self-esteem's critics don't appear to have bothered to find out much about it so they fail to grasp that. Of course, it doesn't help that self-esteem's biggest boosters are airheaded liberals. Bu that takes nothing away from self-esteem any more than some deranged hard genetic determinist takes away from heredity.

Perhaps you'd find Nathaniel Branden's (Jew alert!) accessible work on self-esteem edifying.

Anonymous said...

Knowing little of the present state of British schools, this report impresses me that they must have changed even more drastically than US schools over the past few decades.

I have known a few 'old boys' from British public schools, and according to them, a regimen of bad food, cold baths, and frequent corporal punishment, not just for breaches of discipline but also for lackadaisical performance in one's lessons, was still current as recently as 30 years ago. There's a story - perhaps apocryphal - about a British officer who was taken prisoner by the Germans during WWII. Upon being liberated at the war's end he was asked how he managed to survive. His response was that it was easy after having been at Eton.

Randy said...

Judging from the reviews of "The Class," the movie is about the "indifference" of the system and its inability to deal with changes and new, sophisticated youth, who are just oh, so cosmopolitan or something.

Oh yeah, its also about the lamentable underfunding of "the system," which, if it had the funding it needs, would start working its magic on these talented, capable, and sadly misunderstood students.

SFG said...

"I have known a few 'old boys' from British public schools, and according to them, a regimen of bad food, cold baths, and frequent corporal punishment, not just for breaches of discipline but also for lackadaisical performance in one's lessons, was still current as recently as 30 years ago."

Maybe it's only the elite private schools that still do that now? Tradition and all that...

V. Walter said...

Anybody know what the male-to-female ratio of teachers is at French government schools? Are these schools as notoriously gynocratic as those in America and Australia? It occurs to me that in all the French movies I've seen which depict schools at all, male teachers outnumber female teachers by about 5:1.

Harold Ross, former NEW YORKER editor, once told James Thurber: "Men don't mature in this country, Thurber. They're children. I was editor of the STARS AND STRIPES [an expatriate newspaper for doughboys in Europe during 1917-1918] when I was 25. Most men in their 20s don't know their way around yet. I think it's the g*ddam system of women schoolteachers."

Anonymous said...

Want to kno about dumbing down (British style)?

This article in the Dail Express. I happened to read the paper on Thursday.

The thing to focus on is the image and caption.

"TRUE HEROES: The crew of 8th Bomber Command in 1942"

There was no such thing as 8th Bomber Command. Clearly, the original picture would have referrenced the American 8th Airforce but a half-witted researcher found it and mangled it into a reference to the RAF and invented a ficticious organization to boot.

In addition you couldnt expect bright young unversity graduate with high self-esteem to be nerdy enough to notice the fact that the plane is a B-17. A type used only fleetingly by Bomber Command (before the USAAF in fact) and a version not used by Bomber Command at all.

corvinus said...

I agree. The French kids rating themselves poorly merely know that it is graceful to pretend to be academically weak if simply asked directly (but if challenged to actually demonstrate ability, do it excellently with a showy flourish, and make it look easy - the opposite gender may be watching). What is more French than graceful manners?

Perhaps. It may be a Catholic thing too, since I have absorbed that attitude to an extent too and I am able to pinpoint why.

My best friend Yan, a blond Breton, was once humiliated in front of the entire class for crying over something, with our battle-axe teacher asking him "oh, poor little baby, do you need a bottle?" while slapping him on the cheek to drive home the point.

I don't really see how this is different from Marine Corps boot camp, although perhaps a bit less intense.