January 03, 2004
Rachel Boutonnet

This is interesting:

The playground at the Jacques Prevert primary school, beneath the flight path of Charles de Gaulle airport, is typical of many in the Paris suburbs. There are Turkish and Chinese children, Laotians, Senegalese and Algerians. A minority are white.

From her classroom, Rachel Boutonnet can see them chasing each other round as she writes out grammar exercises on her blackboard. "Some of their parents say I'm a bit too serious," she says. "But I'm not here to amuse the children. I'm here to teach."

"Grammar," she writes. "Articles and nouns. Cut the words into syllables."

She doesn't look trad, but she is, very:

… with her best-selling book, Secret Diary of a Teacher, she has lit a fire under France's educational establishment. In it, she describes her year at the main teacher training college, where she found a culture so intellectually vapid and soul-destroying that many trainees became depressed or lost their vocation.

I strongly urge reading the whole article, because picking out the "most interesting" bit has already been done, by the writer and the editor. Forced to pick only a couple more paragraphs, these would be the ones:

"We were constantly taught that the important thing was to give children the desire to learn," she says. "I disagree. I think all children want to learn. The important thing is to give them the desire and capacity to work."

She believes this is even more important with immigrant children who need all the help they can get in a new culture. "They need a grounding in the basics so that they can move up in society," she says.

As the report notes, all this is highly relevant to the argument about Muslim headscarves.

As I say, read the whole thing.

The idea that freedom works best in a shared culture, where what everyone wants to learn is much more automatically what they will end up being most glad to have learned, but that, where there is no shared culture to start with, the heat of a shared melting pot should be switched up by an old-fashioned pedagogue is one of those basic education propositions I'm always on the look-out for.

Were I faced with a similar teaching problem to Ms. Boutonnet, I would prefer to think of it as hard selling rather than pure compulsion, but in practice it might well amount to the exact same thing. That's if I was up to it.

Posted by Brian Micklethwait at 10:10 AM
Category: Primary schools