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