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February 15, 2004
School phobia in France

Cécile Philippe of the Institut Economique Molinari, who was in London over the weekend, told me something very interesting when I spoke with her. She only told it to me in a very conversational and unsourced way, but what she said was so interesting that I pass it on nevertheless.

Apparently, she said, French schools are starting to suffer from a wave of "school phobia", on the part of pupils. Certain timid pupils are apparently becoming so frightened of stepping inside their school that they literally cannot do it, and instead they run away.

Cécile, if memory serves correctly, said that this was probably because of teachers becoming more fierce and authoritarian.

The equivalent stories here, if there are any, are of pupils inflicting a reign of terror on a school, and terrorising both the teachers and the other pupils.

Yet, thinking about it a little, these different stories sound to me to be closely related. Both have their roots in a breakdown in the traditional authority of teaches, caused, I believe, by such things as television, rock and roll, and the Internet. Teachers can't compete with all that the way they merely competed with everyday life outside of their schools in former times.

In France, teachers are responding to challenges to their authority by exercising their power ever more fiercely, and some pupils are thus becoming more frightened of their teachers than in the old days. In Britain, meanwhile, teachers don't believe in their right to be this nasty, so the same erosion of authority for them simply takes the form of erosion of their authority. "Discipline" breaks down, etc..

All of which is hearsay and speculation. But interesting, I think. Need I add that informed comment on this posting would be even more welcome than such comment here usually is, which is to say very welcome indeed.

Posted by Brian Micklethwait at 08:59 PM
Category: This and that

Brian, I've got quite a bit to say on this, so I've responded at ReformK12. Cheers!

Comment by: chett on February 15, 2004 11:53 PM

I'm an occasional reader of you blog, and I must say that I almost fell from my chair when I read the beginning of this message. French teachers becoming "more fierce and authoritarian" !!!

Well, living and teaching in France I can say that I don't know any school that is run like a military dictatorship ! I think it's quite the contrary : violent pupils terrorize their classmates and teachers without being punished, pupils are promoted from grade to grade even if they're not ready, exams are getting easier and given to nearly everyone, a teacher that insist that homework must be done on time is called a "fascist", and so on...

The problem in France is of course "child-centered education theories" that have destroyed schools in USA and UK. But lots of people in France don't seem to understand that yet. And any attempt to return to a more efficient classroom setting is called "authoritarianism" and "fascism".

In fact, when you talk with french youngsters, most say that they want more authority, no less (especially when they come from modest families). Authority secures them.

Five years ago, an official study compared the educational methods and the results of some French schools. It was found that the schools that used more traditional methods had much better results than the schools with "cutting-edge" educational theories. Needless to say, this study has been buried quickly by our "officials".

Comment by: reformeducation on February 16, 2004 10:31 AM

I too would be surprised if a fear of teachers has much to do with school phobia in France or anywhere else for that matter. Much more likely causes are loneliness, fear of bullying and sundry acts of intimidation by other schoochildren. Alternatively, "phobia" may simply be an excuse for non-attendance resulting from boredom, bad teaching etc.


Comment by: Julius on February 24, 2004 11:31 AM

Please Help! I have been teaching primary age children now for 14 years and still love my job! I am now a non class-based Special Educational Needs Coordinator & am BEd [hons] trained.My family & I are giving serious consideration to moving to France but I'm told I will be unable to teach as my degree will mean nothing, what can I do? If we were to go we hope to be fluent in French on departure, we cannot speak French as of yet! Also are there English schools there where I could teach? I would be grateful for any help you could offer . Thank-you.

Comment by: Kerry on April 15, 2004 10:40 PM
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