Last week, during a lesson on the phone, I mentioned what a couple of people have said to me recently, namely that the French are, for want of a better word, communist. The discussion continued, and we got talking about how, on the other hand the Americans were largely capitalistic. I’m generalising here, but I’ve got a tendancy to do that!
I know someone (I’m not going to mention their name) who is a teacher in a school here in France. They teach English. I mentioned to them that they really ought to make use of the internet as a way of improving their student’s English. I mean, it’s a great way of doing it. Why not send the students homework via e-mail that they could do on the web. There are loads of free websites that would be appropriate for that kind of thing. The answer I got was, I would say, in the least, surprising. Not ALL the students have got the internet at home. Probably most of them do, we’re probably talking about perhaps 3 or 4 out of a class of 30 who do not, and others could go to the library if necessary. No, it would not be fair to send the students homework by e-mail because some of them don’t have the web. My reaction to this was: why not ? You’re penalising the majority for the sake of the few. It’s a loss for the overall society in failing to educate the many, for the sake of supposed equality.
Another example: I was mentioning in my class today that in England, we have sets in schools. This means that after the age of about 13, you are broken up into sets. At my school, we had about 6 sets for about 180 students. This meant that the best students in any given subject, say maths, went into the top set, the next best 30 into the second set, and so on, until the last set. This idea was put to my 2 adult esl (English as a Second Language Students) today. With both of them being French, one of them said it was perfectly normal to have this system, that it allowed the teachers to adapt the pace of their teaching to the students, but the other said it was not really fair and that the students deserved to all have the same teaching. It’s true that with this system you end up with some hard-working students but less bright students in the bottom set with a lot of other people messing around. On the other hand, the top set students are free to forge ahead and go at their pace.
My point is, is this indicative of French society in general ? Are the French often so concened with “fairness” and “equality” to the detriment of innovation and flexibility ?