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ORIGINAL FRENCH ARTICLE: Priver les futurs adultes des outils intellectuels de leur émancipation

by Stéphane Bonnéry

Depriving Tomorrow’s Adults of the Intellectual Tools of Their Emancipation

Translated Thursday 8 April 2010, by Gene Zbikowski and reviewed by Henry Crapo

Why is the teaching of social and economic sciences (SES) being attacked?

By Stéphane Bonnéry, associate professor of the sciences of education (*)

Why is the teaching of social and economic sciences (SES) being attacked?

The new program for teaching SES in the high schools is quite rightly developing into a scandal. It is yet another attack on a discipline which has regularly been questioned since its creation as a specific learning track (in addition to the literary and scientific tracks), whereas it teaches students to think about society and the economy. It is also an exemplary case of conflicting societal choices regarding intellectual training.

The social sciences have practically been eliminated. This government has every interest in depriving youth of the tools required for reflecting on society. And yet, with a globalized workforce, with diverse populations rubbing shoulders, we would benefit from having more youth equipped with the know-how necessary to question both their own cultural and social behavior and that of others.

An entire generation cannot be deprived of the intellectual tools of analysis developed by these sciences, cannot accept as “a matter of course”, and must contest, the rules of this society in crisis in which unemployment and insecurity are skyrocketing and in which, simultaneously, the considerable progress made in science, techniques and information technology is likely to be diverted from democratic use to the service of financial profit alone.

Economics, in the new high school program, is limited to applied tools that, in the guise of utilitarianism, stem from free market concepts: unemployment, crises, conflicts, social classes and profit have all been eliminated. This ideological locking-down to the benefit of the employers is an answer to the demand of Baron Seillère, the former leader of the bosses. Years ago, he wanted to change the content of the SES track, whose “Marxist economic manuals” he criticized, manuals which in reality have until now proposed a range of theoretical approaches. The stakes are crucial. From a democratic point of view, it would be dramatic for the national educational programs to impose a single, or even official vision. This parallels the growing authoritarianism and a number of manipulations in other learning tracks (the so-called positive aspects of slavery, the imposition of Charles de Gaulle’s biased memoirs in literature...).

From the educational point of view, eliminating this debate means depriving tomorrow’s adults of a plurality of tools with which they will be able to form their own opinions, emancipate themselves intellectually and act in an enlightened manner. From the point of view of higher education and research, it is an attempt to dam up at the source a population sensitized to these disciplines and to the tradition of controversy from which they spring, and to orient these students towards so-called general undergraduate degrees, where the little time consecrated to each discipline and the elimination of associate professor positions threatens to lead to the teaching of only unquestioned “technical tools.” They are mapping out a high-school-undergraduate marriage to provide the employers with the quota – set by the Lisbon strategy – of 50% of youth trained to a simplified high school diploma followed by three years at university. The future of French research may suffer quite quickly, as well as the possibility for working-class youth to obtain real undergraduate degrees that prepare them to continue their studies beyond that level.

The association of social and economic sciences teachers has just put forward a counter-program for the high schools. It is an excellent basis on which to begin work on an alternative, which could be pursued by inviting all those of good will to exchange their opinions and develop a different program – one that will be ambitious, educational, that integrates controversy and serious skills for developing thought. This initiative, reproduced in other disciplines and linked with a debate on the future of the education system (goals, professional and general learning tracks, the role of the stages of learning from kindergarten to the university, practices...), could form an important stage in the confrontation of ideas, to develop at last a large-scale reform for a new phase of educational democratization. Every opportunity has to be seized to make an alternative heard. In their sphere, the French regions can no longer confine themselves to building beautiful school buildings – they are the loci of training concerning which the government’s responsibility has got to be questioned! My commitment in the electoral campaign of the Front de Gauche runs along these lines.

(*) In charge of the French Communist Party’s “Knowledge, Education, Research” pole.

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