The French connection

The organizers of Greece’s national examinations for university entrance caused a fuss with their decision to help candidates by providing some helpful notes to accompany a question on a poem by George Seferis. The move confirmed that Education Ministry officials question the ability of pupils to pass the minimum threshold without a bit of help. Apart from the ministry’s politically expedient motives (lowering the bar so that more pupils enter universities), the education issue remains. France has similar problems. Last January, Le Nouvel Observateur, a French magazine, published a discussion between conservative philosopher Luc Ferry and European Green Party deputy Daniel Cohn-Bendit. It was an interesting discussion that could help shed some light on Greece’s chronic education problems. France’s «nouvelle pedagogie» methods of 1968, Ferry said, promoted original research, the pedagogical exercises that cultivate children’s inventiveness, spontaneity and creativity. The intentions, of course, were good. In the process, however, they seemed to have forgotten that certain things (such as language and politics) can only be passed on to children as part of a tradition, he later said. The entire education ideology of 1968, Ferry went on, was founded on the notion of overcoming the self-destruction of established knowledge. The point of departure is that we need people to teach themselves, not to be taught by others; we need creative texts, not structured essays; we need to analyze sources, not attend lectures. According to Ferry, the 1968 generation made two mistakes. First, he said, we thought that if we want children to work, we first have to stimulate their interest. We tried to attract their interest by means of a type of pedagogical enchantment. For Ferry, it should work the other way around: First we get down to work and then we become interested in the subject of our work. Furthermore, there is no knowledge without pain. A second mistake, according to Ferry, is the love of youth. We never tire of telling children how great it is to be young and how destructive getting old is. However, what separates youth from adults is school, so we fill children with despair. We went too far sometimes, Bendit says. But the real problem, especially in French schools, is the classicism and the stress that goes with it. According to the OECD, Finland has the best school system in Europe. Finnish pupils are not graded until they reach 16 and are never forced to repeat the same classes. School there is different. It has been organized around the idea that children develop independently, not without help, but by each following their own personal learning methods. The debate goes on.