Par R. K. Singam (Travail personnel) [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons
By Julie Barlow
It has been a rough fall for French schools, although no one has exactly taken to the streets – yet.
In today’s news, France slipped to 25th place in the PISA international ranking of school systems (it ranked 23rd three years ago). Then last week, France had not one but two days of strikes in primary schools.
Most observers explain France’s low PISA ranking by the education reforms carried out under France’s previous government. Former President Nicolas Sarkozy basically fired tens of thousands of teachers to cut costs.
The upshot of the PISA report was that disparities between rich and poor schools in France have grown. It’s hard for us to judge. Our kids are in a “good” school in a fairly affluent neighbourhood in Paris. Schools in rougher neighbourhoods have evidently suffered a lot from reduced staffing.
But strangely, school performance is not what’s on most people’s minds. The “school week” has been the major education issue in the news. In September, François Hollande’s government introduced a new schedule for primary schools – adding an extra half-day of classes – ostensibly to improve performance by increasing teaching hours. Read more »
By Julie Barlow
The “red cap” protests in Brittany are just the most visible sign of discontent in France. With less than 20% support from his electorate, French President François Hollande is now beating all records of unpopularity of a French president.
Things are not set to improve. On January 1, he’s going to jack France’s sales tax, already almost 20%.
Since we arrived in September, we’ve been trying to find the right word for the spirit of defiance that seems to be spreading through the country daily. One expert called France’s present political climate “pre-revolutionary.” But that’s not exactly it.
The precise term for what’s happening in France right now is a French word: fronde.
Fronde does not translate as revolution. Revolutions are violent rejections of a political system. The French aren’t doing that. Fronde is a general revolt. The French are revolting against their institutions, against the authorities. They want action. Read more »
By Julie Barlow
Published in the Boston Globe, November 17, 2013
It started out like a dream. My travel companion and I wandered into France’s museum of modern art, the Centre Georges Pompidou. Smiling attendants greeted us and waved us through the ticket line. We swirled through the new retrospective of Pop Art icon Roy Lichtenstein, then popped in to the museum’s cafeteria for a lunch of quiche Lorraine and chocolate éclairs.
“Trust me, it’s not always like this,” my companion said.
He should know. Paul Nadler, 50, has traveled to six countries in a wheelchair. His last trip to Paris, eight years ago, was demoralizing. “I was convinced someone had put all the disabled people in a warehouse somewhere. There were no disabled people in Paris. And no way for them to get around.”
Though Paris can boast many things, accessibility for the disabled has never been one of them.
But things change, even in France. In 2005, the country passed a Handicap Law stipulating that by 2015, restaurants, movie theaters, hair salons, doctors’ offices, libraries, and all public services had to be accessible for people with hearing, visual, motor, and even intellectual disabilities.
Paul and I set out to see whether Paris had improved for people in wheelchairs. We had one week to see as many tourist attractions as possible. Read more »
Last Friday, Julie Barlow was a guest on the Quebec City radio show “Gilles Parent: Le Retour, on 93FM.” With journalist Raynald Cloutier, she talked about her new life in Paris, as well as a few hot subjects she has been exploring for L’actualité magazine: France’s new law on laïcité (secular society), racism, and the rise of the extreme right party, the Front National. She wrapped up the interview with some comments on her latest article on the job market in Quebec, “Changements de Génération” (Change of Generation), in the October 15 issue of L’actualité magazine. Listen to the interview…
Questions From Our Readers
Dear Julie and Jean-Benoît,
You made a good point on stressing the difference between the number of native speakers inside every country and the relevance of a language as an international communication vehicle on the international level. For sure, second-largest speaking communities in many countries, or the role of a language as the first foreign language being learnt, is a most relevant issue to be taken into account.
Nevertheless I would like to see some dynamic aspects treated in this discussion. In fact, what we are experiencing since the sixties / seventies is a sharpened decline of French in many countries not only as the first-learnt foreign language (in the English-speaking and in the Romanic ones), but also as the second-learnt foreign language (replaced rapidly by Spanish). With such a trend, I’m afraid the scenario you describe regarding French-speaking communities may not last long, at least in Europe. What could be done against it? Read more »
By Julie Barlow
A short interview with French historian Patrick Cabanel.
While the debate was raging on over Quebec’s Charte des valeurs québécoises (Charter of Quebec Values), in September, France’s Education Minister, Vincent Peillon, announced a new French Charter of laïcité, or “official secularism.” The document, now posted in France’s 7100 high schools, contains 15 articles that stipulate boys and girls are equal and forbid students and teachers from wearing “religious” clothing, among other things.
Why exactly does France need a new policy stating schools are officially secular, and why now?
Julie Barlow asked the French historian andexpert in school cultures Patrick Cabanel (Professor at the University of Toulouse II – Le Mirail) to explain what secularism means in France, and how schools became the battlefield of Church and State.
Julie Barlow: The concept of secularism in France dates to the French Revolution. What was the original goal?
Patrick Cabanel: The original goal was to create a buffer between the French State and the Catholic Church. The battle between Church and State unfolded during the 18th century struggle between Enlightenment thinkers and Catholics. France, of course, wasn’t the only place where this was happening. But in France, Republicans (who were anti-Catholic) were fighting for democracy and the Catholic clergy opposed it. The Republicans gradually won the battle between 1860 and 1880. When they established France’s Third Republic in 1870, they looked for a way to make the public sphere in France neutral, not religious. That’s what we call laïcité (secularism) in France. Read more »
On October 31, 2013, Jean-Benoît Nadeau will be at the University of Augsburg to give his presentation – Converging views: “Urgent” Spanish and “quiet” French. For more information »
By Jean-Benoît Nadeau & Julie Barlow
Part 1 »
At the end of our girls’ first day of school, the teachers flowed out onto the sidewalk in front of the school to greet parents. We’re amazed at this easy, casual school culture – again, not what we were expecting. Julie had predicted that Nathalie and Erika’s English skills would set them apart and she was right. Nathalie’s teacher, Monsieur Jelila, told us he wanted to keep her in his class “for purely selfish reasons” – she could help him teach English! At a parent-teacher meeting the next week, no less than four parents asked the same question: “How much English instruction will there be?” No other subject provoked as much interest. Read more »
By Jean-Benoît Nadeau & Julie Barlow
School in the French Republic is truly something new for us.
We got our first taste of it before we even exited the airport in Paris. Our customs agent, a bearded fellow in his late 50s, carefully studied Erika’s passport. Too carefully, we thought. When he saw her sister Nathalie’s, he blew up.
“They’ll be going to school, these little ones?”
It wasn’t exactly a question. But it wasn’t a mere observation, either.
“Yes, of course,” we answered.
“But school started yesterday.”
“Yes, we know,” we said, trying hard to sound deferential. Read more »
Excerpt taken from El Tiempo Latino.
Op-ed by Alberto Avendano
As author Julie Barlow once told me: “It is not only about Hispanics speaking Spanish, Americans study Spanish more than any other language.” Barlow, who is the co-author of “The Story of Spanish,” pointed out that some Americans are ambivalent about a language portrayed as “spoken by people who entered the country illegally.” However, she said, those who promote English Only are probably sending their kids to Spanish immersion programs. The rise of Spanish speakers in America is not for the narrow minded, nor for the impatient. Read the whole article »