Maîtres mots

  • Il y a longtemps que notre pays est beau mais rude.

       --Newspaper editor Olivier Séguret, 25 January 2012

    The USA are entirely the creation of the accursed race, the French.

       --Evelyn Waugh (1903-1966), writing to Nancy Mitford, 22 May 1957

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French Freedom of Speech

Today the cheminots are:

  • "À nous de vous faire préférer le train!"
    "Voyager autrement"
    "Avec le SNCF, tout est possible"
      --Former ad slogans of the SNCF (French national trains), each in turn quickly dropped

Fun French words

  • ouistiti

    (literally: marmoset)
    Etymology: onomatopoeia from the sound a marmoset makes. Actual meaning: this is what you say in France when you want people to smile for the camera.

    Selon une étude réalisée par le fabricant d’appareils photo Nikon, le « ouistiti » utilisé en France au moment de se faire prendre en photo est le petit mot le plus efficace pour s’assurer un joli sourire.

Who's en colère today?

  • Private sector

    First strike in 43 years at an aeronautics company in Toulouse, Latécoère

    Public sector

    The SNCF (toujours eux), regional train employees in the Lyons area guaranteeing unpleasant travel from the 17th-21st December
    Also yet another strike by Sud-Rail, a particularly truculent SNCF union in the south of France, this time five days in January: 6,7, 21, 22 and 23. "We have no choice." Right.

    Marseilles trams on strike until February

Go back to school in Paris!

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« The Losing-Machine | Main | At the Musée d'Art Moderne de la Ville de Paris »


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A [French] friend of mine is a language teacher on a prestigious college campus in L.A. She always complains about the pressure from students to get good grades, no matter how slackers or dilettantes they can be. Is that better? The French system is severe, but the "nivellement par le bas" you see in the States, where students pass no matter how hard they worked [or didn't] doesn't sound quite right to me either.

The French system is better. I don't think they make kids redoubler to make them feel bad. They make the kids learn stuff before letting them go on to the next grade. This is much better than in the States, where kids are allowed to graduate high school without knowing how to read (I have personally encountered such "graduates"). In France, I am often amazed at how well educated people are who have never gone to college.

I don't know... The French system may seem harsh, but when I was a kid in French school, it seemed perfectly natural. Since hardly anyone is ever held back in America, it's viewed as a terrible stigma. But since it happens frequently in France, it's not considered a horrible, life-damaging event.

And does being held back hurt one's chances later in life? Someone I know (an American, as it happens), was made to repeat sixth grade. He was horribly humiliated at the time, but he wound up getting a PhD from an Ivy League school.

It doesn't have to be a curse for life.

You know, I never knew that. I just asked my husband about it and he concurs. He did say, though, that these days, redoublement can only happen with the consent of the parent(s). So parents who choose to send their child ahead can do so. But, it's still viewed as an "echec," even in France.

It does seem harsh - The flip side to this over here in the UK is that children get teased and called "Swot" for excelling in the classroom. Being good and clever aren't seen as positive things in some areas. I think that is worse than redoublement!

It is VERY difficult to retain a child in the States and often kids get swept through the system without learning what they need to due to enormous class sizes and underfunded teachers and programs. Holding back children does affect their psyche for years and teachers do their best to NOT hold back students for this reason. In many cases, the next teacher is usually briefed on the student case so special attention can be given and issues worked on.

However, as a longtime credentialed high school teacher in California, we also have a lot of English Language Learners and it is sometimes very difficult to decide how to handle the situation. You can't hold a student back simply because they don't speak English.

Holding back a student doesn't necessarily mean he/she will improve. I think in most cases they do worse because they feel stupid and all their friends think they're stupid too. Not good.

Hmmm, actually if the debate is really around whether it's good or not, maybe it would be good to consider what education is really for: to make sure children make it into adulthood with more than basic skills and a sense of the world around them; or passing a child on to avoid social stigma to the detriment of their own mental progress. Worse, it makes people think it's ok to gloss over the details for the sake of a little general well-being.

I think redoublement is a fairly good thing if it helps a child create a solid foundation before getting even further lost on the next step. If a child is bottom of the pack, they'll still be bottom of the pack in the next year. Self-esteem is created by realising they can actually surmount a challenge with a little patience and inner strength.

My nephew-in-law recently redoubled, thanks to the decision of his parents. He's a pretty awesome kid, and he actually enjoys school more now.

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Today's quotation

  • In Paris, the purest virtue is the object of the filthiest slander.

      –Honoré Balzac (1799-1850), in Scènes de la vie privée

    À Paris, la vertu la plus pure est l'objet des plus sales calomnies.

Le petit aperçu d'Ailleurs

  • Annual Geminids meteor shower (shooting stars!) coming this weekend, if it's not too cloudy out at night.

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