the-class

Talking of Cannes festival winners - and the politics they embody - last year's Entre les Murs (The Class) is another example of the agendas lurking in our culture, in this case French but more generally Western. The ideas behind the film are best illustrated by the perennial debate - or its paucity - over the state of French national education.

An article in Le Monde this week epitomises the have-your-cake-and-eat-it nature of progressive thinking. The piece first denounces the collapse in professional status bemoaned by an ever-larger majority of French teachers. It then ridicules the remaining old-guard educators who still resist the prevailing ideology - confusingly called "Pedagogisme" - that teaching is primarily about reducing inequality, not increasing knowledge. It concludes that even this model has failed, and consequently nobody knows anymore what education is, or isn't, or should be.

Blimey. And I just thought education was about... teaching. If that was hard on pupil or teacher, that was just the nature of it - because it's always "easier" to just not bother at all. For according to Pedagogisme, teaching itself is a form of "violence" against the child. The child can only learn what comes from within. The subject is no longer Grammar, History, or English; the subject is The Child itself - who effectively teaches itself. It is in fact the teacher who learns from the pupil.

But if that doesn't work - and it manifestly doesn't - why not go back to what did? I'm neither a teacher nor a pupil, but it seems that in the wake of a few decades of such social engineering, the real "violence" is directed against teachers. I don't even mean literally - though when it is literal it doubly illustrates the point. As one ex-state-school teacher says, it's an education system that finds itself "trying to teach Shakespeare and algebra with one hand, while dialling 999 with the other."

I watched for myself a case this year at the French court of appeal, of a male pupil who stabbed his female teacher multiple times in front of her class. His reason - to the extent it was articulable - was that the teacher/school/system/etc did not respect his own "needs". A mere anecdote, of course. But what is interesting is that the teacher and the media reports echoed his sentiment; it was, essentially, "not his fault". (The judge thought otherwise.)

If you give the child all the power (l'enfant roi they say in French - the child king) and don't impose the authority of the teacher, it is little wonder that a trickle-up of disrespect follows. Teachers won't be respected by society - even those that disagree (many do) with each new "progressive" educational model foisted on them by governments.

After all, why respect an adult who cannot command the respect of a child?

(Added 17/2/2010: French education minister Luc Chatel calls an extraordinary "Estates General" meeting on the escalating violence in schools.)