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ORIGINAL FRENCH ARTICLE: Luc Châtel, vénéneux bâtisseur de l’école des élites

by Flora Beillouin and L.M.

Education for the Elite: French Minister Luc Châtel Sticks to His Guns

Translated Monday 5 September 2011, by Isabelle Métral and reviewed by Henry Crapo

In his back-to-school press conference yesterday, the Minister for Education glossed over the failure of his policy in his customary Newspeak while singing the praise of his project for education. The gist of which is (yet) more customizing…

”All animals are equal but some animals are more equal than others.” So George Orwell wrote in his famous Animal Farm. With the French Education Minister things are pretty much the same. Except that the farm has turned into a school and the animals into pupils. In his traditional back-to-school press conference yesterday Luc Chatel once more hammered his individualistic and elitist conception of education: “We must forget about education for all and promote success for each pupil,” he repeated, the mantra being the sacro-sanct “customizing” of each pupil’s career.

This, to him, is the “third great revolution of contemporary education,” the first being Jules Ferry’s school [1]” and the second the democratization that took place in the 1970s. Nothing less than a revolution! Our minister sticks to his principle: that much can be said for him. The three axes of his education platform for 2011 are (to quote his precious Newspeak) :" customized pedagogy, differentiation of the courses and paths, autonomy of the local actors”.

The measures are already being implemented

As a matter of fact most of the measures the minister has enumerated are already being implemented. In the first chapter of his project figure customized remedial periods and remedial sessions for primary school children, “educational tutoring” in secondary schools or collèges (ages 11 to 15), and “customized tutoring” in the terminal cycle of secondary education in lycées (ages 15 to 18), under the pretext of protecting those poor “orphaned” youngsters from the perils of idleness after the 4 o’clock bell.

How generous of a minister whose government threatens the parents of dropouts with losing their family allowance…

The second chapter deals with the reform of the technological baccalauréat, now a three-year course, devised to deliver “customized” workers over to local companies, and then (and naturally) the better integration of children with a handicap in “a normal environment”. Luc Chatel also made it clear that nine new exclusive boarding schools would open this September for disadvantaged and deserving pupils willing to boost the “diversity” grade of Sciences Po [2], as well as five new remedial schools for reinserting the naughty trouble makers (the total number now stands at 16).

The autonomy of local actors

The third axis expounded by the minister concerns the autonomy of local actors: from now on headmasters will freely dispose of 25% of the global number of periods allotted to a lycée. In the special so-called Éclair [3] (Flash) primary and secondary schools. they will be free to recruit teachers themselves, and by way of experiment they can choose to “offer games every afternoon and normal periods every morning.” The experiment will concern three hundred secondary schools in “sensitive zones” instead of a hundred.

But the minister evaded the burning issues. While 80% of all French people disapprove of the government’s systematic cutting of teachers’ posts (only half the number of each year’s retirees being replaced) and even as a huge mobilization is planned for September the 27th, Luc Chatel once more drove the point home: “I think that it is the responsible thing to do, to agree to live with this policy," he retorted . “Those who say they are going to restore in 2012 all the posts that have been lost are liars. The real question today is customizing, not quantity.” End of the solemn flourish.

Trade unionists, headmasters and mistresses, pupils... all foresee a difficult start this Autumn. All but Luc Châtel.

[1Established by laws voted in 1881 and 1882, primary education for all was to be “secular, free, and compulsory".

[2The exclusive Paris Institute for the Political Sciences.

[3The label for some of the schools in disadvantaged neighbourhoods

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