Last week the national news reported that the French are less educated than many of their European neighbors, according to a new study. Just 72.5 percent of French adults aged 25 to 64 have completed high school, compared to an average of 74.2 percent across the European Union. (That is reportedly higher than in years past.)
I think I know why.
The French school system does not encourage free thinking. The French school system does not promote creativity, out-of-the-box solutions nor innovation. Teachers are often under-trained and stressed beyond measure.
Yet, some say that US president Barack Obama could learn some lessons from the French about education reform. This, to me is laughable. Here's why.
I have a daughter who has been in the school system in France for three years. I have been personally shocked at how barbaric and downright demeaning the system is. The teachers who also grew up in the system are accustomed to yelling at, belittling and as recent as just 10 years ago, hitting the students. It is not uncommon for teachers to berate students telling them that if they don't get their assignments just right that they are stupid, worthless and will not amount to anything in life.
No wonder the kids drop out!
To make matters worse, the kids at school are not encouraged to think outside the box nor color outside the lines. Literally. It's true, my daughter got reduced marks for not staying within the lines while coloring. Instead, with military-style precision the students are taught to write their letters the same way, pass the horrendous Baccalaureat the same way, and not question authority -- just the same way as it has been done for centuries, thanks to Napoleon Bonaparte.
During the Revolution, Napoleon removed education from the control of the church and placed it under state control. He wanted the educational system to be absolutely uniform. He wanted, he said, "to be able to pull his watch out of his pocket at any time and tell what was going on at any school." One report by French education inspectors found that teachers were nurturing and perpetuating sexism and gender inequality in the way they taught boys and girls.
Not all teachers are presently happy with the system. But other than killing themselves or setting themselves on fire in front of students, (yes, that really happened) the teacher's protests don't amount to real change.
I currently teach in the Bachelor's and Master's programs at the International University of Monaco and many of my students were educated in the French system. My students echo these outrageous observations. So many of their fragile, precious minds have been forced to believe that they are not smart and that they are inferior to their peers because they haven't gotten good grades.
Well how can anyone succeed with no confidence? How can one gain confidence when the system beats it out of you?
While attending an outing to a museum as chaperone for my daughter's first grade class I was amazed to hear teachers yell at students with phrases like, "Are you an idiot? Come on!"
It is no wonder that recently I found my daughter sitting rigid and tense while preparing her homework. When I asked why she looked so weird she said she was nervous that she wouldn't get good grades and that she would be reprimanded like her comrades at school. Yet, I reminded her, she always has good grades, she does her assignments and she doesn't talk or disrupt others in class. She has NO reason to be punished like the others. She replied, 'yes, but you never know. The teacher gets so angry that she takes her bad mood out on the whole class.'
To me this is simply unacceptable. Of course in America we have our issues in public school. But most parents would not tolerate the teachers belittling the efforts and minds of our precious kids. And bad students would at least be put into detention, go to the principal's office for a reprimand -- or something!
To make matters worse, the French system allows students so much time OFF from school with programmed breaks and vacations that there is no wonder the kids can't achieve high scores without taking on intense pressure. For example, the kids go to school for seven weeks and then take a two-week break. As in the U.S., school begins in September, then there is a two-week vacation in October for "All Saints" holiday, then a two-week break for Christmas, then two weeks in February for skiing, then two weeks in April for spring break.
And don't get me started on the fact that kids either have a half-day or no school at all on Wednesdays! For the last three years my kid has had no school on Wednesday. The teachers recently staged a strike to protest the recent law requiring a half-day of classes on Wednesday which begins fall 2014.
Still, at my daughter's school, for the Fall they have rearranged the school schedule such that while the kiddies will go to school for a half day on Wednesday, they will end earlier on all of the other days of the week!
Finally, this whole experience has caused me to look outside of the traditional school structure to find the best fit for my kid. If I had more patience and more money, I would home school my daughter. Instead, we will move to the Montessori system this fall. It seems like the right choice for my little creative genius crystal child.
I like this video by Sir Ken Robinson about how schools kill creativity. We could also look at Malcolm Gladwell's book, Outliers, which I'll write about later, that also transformed the way I look at intelligence and school. It has certainly made an impact on this young person's life.
Wishing you renewed belief in the brilliance of YOU!