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Phil Exam Where
France is tops La fessee or the smack Three daughters and a granddaughter, all blonde School strike new
These days there is some skepticism
about whether the French actually really care about Voltaire or
Enlightenment ideas. Well they do care more than other European
populations seem to. Here is a news item about the Phil exam.
Why does France insist school pupils master philosophy? -
Hugh Schofield from BBC Paris
been staring in admiration over the shoulder of my 17-year-old
daughter, as she embarks on a last mental rehearsal before a
much-dreaded philosophy exam.
My primary thought is: Thank the Lord I
was spared the torment. I mean, can you imagine having to sit
down one morning in June and spend four hours developing an
exhaustive, coherent argument around the subject: Is truth preferable
to peace? Or: Does power exist without violence? Or possibly: Can one
be right in spite
of the facts?
Perhaps you would prefer option B,
which is to write a commentary on a text. In which case, here is a
bit of Spinoza's 1670 Tractatus Theologico- Politicus. Or how about
some Seneca on altruism?
I take these examples from my
daughter's revision books. My heart bleeds for her, as I look at the
list of themes that have to be mastered.
Ruby has chosen to take what they call
a Bac Litteraire - the Literature Baccalaureat. There are
science-biased versions of the Baccalaureat. They all include an
element of philosophy. But in the Bac Litteraire, philosophy
is king. It
means eight hours a week of classes, and in the exams it has the top
coefficient of seven. In other words, in the calculation of your
overall mark at the Bac, it is philosophy which counts the most.
It also means having to master a host
of what they call notions - notions, or themes.
Here are some of them from Ruby's books
- consciousness, the other, art, existence and time, matter and
spirit, society, law, duty, happiness.
And among the writers you need to refer
to are Plato, William of Ockham, Kant, Hegel, Schopenhauer,
Why this emphasis on philosophy in
Other countries have school-leaving
exams which cover the history of ideas and religion and so on. But
the French are very clear that that is not what theirs is. The purpose
of the philosophy Bac is
not to understand the history of human thought but to leap into the
stream that is the actuality of human thought. If you learn about what
Kant or Spinoza
once said, it is not so much to understand their argument as to use
Napoleon launched the Baccalaureat in
1809, and philosophy was one of the subjects in the first ever exam
(though back then it was oral, and in Latin, and only 31 males took
The idea behind philosophy was itself
entirely philosophical. In the newly created republic (and yes,
I know Napoloen had just made himself emperor, but the point still
holds) it was important to create model citizens. Had not the great
writer and thinker
Montesquieu himself said the republic relied on virtue, and virtue
consisted in the capacity of individuals to exercise their own
So the purpose of teaching philosophy
was - and remains, in theory - to complete the education of young men
and women and permit them to think.
To see the universal arguments about
the individual and society, God and reason, good and bad and so on,
and thus escape from the binding imperatives of the now - by which I
mean the dictatorship of whatever ideas are most pressingly forced on
us in the day-to-day by government, media, fashion, political
correctness and so on.
How wonderful, you cannot help
thinking. What a great idea. Now that is what I call civilisation.
Or is it? I mean, maybe this is one of
those very French situations where the theory is all very well, but
somehow reality does not behave as it is supposed to? Because one of
the effects of having
such an ideas-based vision of society, and elevating ideas to such
heights, is that people actually start believing in them, and then
maybe they start thinking the ideas are worth fighting for, or
perhaps dying for, or perhaps even killing for. And then what?
A few days ago, for example, a man shot
himself dead in Notre Dame cathedral. Dominique Venner was a
essayist of the far-right.
In his last blog post he quoted
Heidegger saying the last second of a man's life had as much
significance as all that went before. Here was a man, arguably, who
in love with his own ideas that he decided to take his life. How very
But that is to be morbid. Back here at
home, I am merely awe-inspired by the change that has come over my
daughter since she started her philosophy studies. A year ago she was
utterly lost -
panicked by the density and abstraction of it all. Today she is not
just at ease, she is enthusiastic. A world of thought has indeed been
opened to her.
So is it absurd to desire the
impossible? Can one ever be certain of being right? Is art real?
I'll have to ask her.
Where France is tops
The French may be known for their love of wine but that doesn’t
stop them being the biggest importers of Scottish Whisky in the
world. According to the BBC, France’s population gets through a
staggering (if not worrying) 200 million bottles of this drink with a
kick every year.
French cleanliness is sometimes called into question, there’s no
denying that ‘les franšais’ produce some of the finest perfumes
in the world. And they don’t just rake in the profits when selling
them abroad. Every day 172,000 bottles are sold on French soil, a
Smoked Salmon: By
the time you’ve read this sentence, approximately 20kg of smoked
salmon will have been gobbled up by French fish lovers. That’s
right, France is the biggest consumer of this tasty yet pricy
foodstuff, a grand total of 27,900 tonnes per year according to
Fans of ‘the beautiful game’ will be fully aware that the quality
of the French league can’t match that of Spain’s La Liga or the
English Premier League. That's perhaps because all of the talent has
upped sticks and left. In 2014 there were more French footballers in
the top leagues abroad than players of any other nationality (114),
even more than the ever-popular Argentinians and Brazilians.
Green roofs: With
less and less room for parks and open spaces in urban areas, green
roofing – with everything from plants, to beehives and crops ot the
top of buildings – allow city dwellers to enjoy some of the perks
of living in the country. According to the Guardian’s Audrey
Garric, France is now the world leader in this innovative and
spending: Nearly a third of France’s GDP goes on its welfare
system, making it the country with the highest social expenditure in
the world. Admired by many, a recent study by Paris-based think-tank
the OECD has emphasized that such a model will very soon be
unsustainable. By comparison, the UK’s welfare spending stands at
22 percent and the US’s at 19.
Nuclear power: In
the 1980s, France went mad for nuclear power, so much so that it’s
now the country that produces the largest proportion of its
electricity from it (80 percent). It’s an energy source that should
be regarded with caution but fortunately France also leads the way in
nuclear waste recycling, industry website Oil Price reports.
France has an overwhelming 60,000 different kinds of local
authorities to cater for and fund (including 36,000 communes each
with its own mayor), a world record. To put it into context, the UK
has 300. These figures, as reported by online French daily
Challenges, are making governance extremely complex and financially
prizes: They call it the language of love, but it could just as well
be known as the lingo of prizes. Last October, Patrick Modiano
(above) became the 15th French writer to win the prestigious award,
with the US and the UK trailing behind with 11 and 9 respectively.
La Fessee or the smack
In Europe, as probably most places,
there is a separation in peoples minds of: physical abuse of
children, corporal punishment and 'smacking'. The lines are clear in
peoples minds but pretty vague when described. Corporal punishment
might seem like abuse to one person and just smacking to another.
However everyone has been moving over time to less of this sort of
thing. Today many countries have laws against 'smacking': Albania,
Austria, Bulgaria, Croatia, Cyprus, Denmark, Estonia, Finland,
Germany, Greece, Hungary, Iceland, Latvia, Liechtenstein, Luxembourg,
FYR Macedonia, Malta, Moldova, Netherlands, Norway, Poland, Portugal,
Romania, San Marino, Spain, Sweden, Ukraine. Such laws are not found
in the UK, Ireland, Belgium, Switzerland, Italy, Serbia and France.
In many cases the laws are not often enforced. On the other hand all
of Europe has laws against child abuse. Corporal punishment is almost
gone from schools and prisons, whether it is illegal or not and now
the EU is trying to get a binding rule against it for the whole EU
and they are also trying to get countries to tighten their laws on
France is not happy with this. “A
Council of Europe ruling that French laws on smacking children are
not sufficiently clear, binding or precise, has ignited a national
debate in a country where a parent's right to discipline children is
still held dear.” Although the British are slightly more against
interfering in 'smacking' than the France - 69% to 67%, 'smacking'
is not liked by the educated middle class in Britain but is
important to the same sort of people in France. Both are also jealous
for the rights of parents to do what they feel is right of their
For me, the problem is that I can see
that the French are often very physical in disciplining their
children, which is upsetting. But on the other hand their
relationship with their children is usually very attractive, much
more so than in many countries. Parents seem to rarely need to
discipline children and the children do not whine, have temper
tantrums, be anti-social, get into trouble etc. much. Parent can take
small children to a restaurant and not be embarrassed by the child's
behavior, in fact they can take them almost anywhere. The children
here are very independent and find their own amusement. You rarely
see them bored. They respond quickly to mild suggestion about what
should be the limit of their play, inquisitiveness, wandering etc.
They are social and seem to treat all adults and most other children
with respect. Parent's friends are expected to greet the children and
give them a kiss on each cheek and the children are a little hurt if
you forget the little greeting ritual. In the old-fashioned Catholic
way and the still current republican way, parents feel it is their
duty to raise good citizens – good French citizens that is,
socialized and cultured. This method has been described benign
neglect with a small amount of abuse and that might be accurate if
simplistic – it is much more than that. And it is a joy to watch
I, myself, probably was raised similarly – but I am not someone who says, “I was spanked and it didn't do
me any harm.”, because who knows what harm we personally suffered
as small children, there is no memory and no knowledge of how it may
have affected their adult personality. My mother's method as she
explained it to me when I was grown was that there was 'before
talking' and 'after talking'. Before talking, if the child did
something wrong or dangerous, they got a smack. No more of a spanking
was needed than to just make them cry, and after a short cry came a
cuddle. After they could talk, kids should be disciplined by a
'talking to'. (If that did not work then you had failed as a parent
when the child was young.) My mother's answer to having failed was to
ask my dad to spank me. I only remember one spanking and that was
from my dad. It was a shock and I took it very seriously but as I
remember it hardly hurt at all. I think my dad was not inclined to
that sort of thing. The upshot was that until I was in my mid-teens I
did what my mother said. Then came the day. When I was about 16, my
mother said, “Will you do the dishes?”. This was a rhetorical
question – she meant “do the dishes” and I knew it. I was
extremely tired and I snapped back “No!”. I waited for the
thunder, for the earth to swallow me, or something, but nothing
happened. Mom said something like, “we can do them later”.
I am not unhappy with my mother's
raising of me but I have seen people raise kids without the 'smacks'
and to do a great job of it. I do think it is the better way, but the
odd smack should not be a criminal offense. Anything approaching a
beating should be a crime. The EU is right to want clear laws
that are enforcible on this.
Recent research has found that children
are more anxious and aggressive if they are spanked. Not spanking at
all is best for children it seems. However, mild spanking and
intensive love is a bad combination and make children even more
anxious and aggressive than authoritarian parenting – not so mild
spanking and less intensive love but with much greater consistency.
The children know what to expect and what is expected of them.
Three daughters and a granddaughter, all blondes
Jean-Marie Le Pen founded the National Front in 1972
and he was its leader until 2011 when his daughter Marine Le Pen
become leader. His political activity started before '72 and
continued after '11. Jean-Marie has been a continuous figure in
French politics and ran for president 5 times, was for a while in the
French legislation, and has been in local political office in his
department. But he has also been in the courts a lot for hate speech
mostly but also assault. What he has said is on record: holocaust
denial, anti-semitic, anti-muslim, anti-immigration, anti-abortion,
homophobic, anti-EU, pro-Nazi, pro-Vichy collaboration etc. He is
loved by a small percentage of voters and hate by a large percentage,
but very few voters do not have strong opinions of him. He is an old
man, a soldier from colonial wars and has never held his tongue.
The daughter, Marine Le Pen, has been attempting to
give the National Front a more acceptable far-right image. She is
getting rid of the actual racism and Nazi apologies and concentrating
more on acceptable-ish things like get out of the EU and tightening
The Le Pen family has been compared recently to King
Lear – Jean-Marie has three daughters. Marine, the daughter that
runs the NF is not on speaking term with her father. He continues to
make statements that embarrass her new party with its new
sensitivity. He will be investigated by judges for his last remarks
and will probably be found guilty of hate speech yet again. She wants
him to stop running for local office, making speeches and giving
interviews. Mainly she just wants him to shut-up. He will talk about
Nazi gas chambers being a small detail of history, he has for years
and he is not going to stop now - she says this is political suicide.
Both feel betrayed by the other. She is trying to get his name off
the ballot in the Provence-Alpes-Cote d'Azur poll. “His status as
honorary president does not give him the right to hijack the Front
National with vulgar provocations seemingly designed to damage me,
but which unfortunately hit the whole movement.”
Still people know where they stand with the old man.
Marine is not believed as much. "If she really wants her party
to look as a new party that has moved beyond the traditional
extreme-right image, then of course there is nothing better for her,
than to have those sort of fights with her father. Because really
that confirms to the public that indeed things are different."
The problem is that there is still a lot of the old guard in the
There is another daughter who married a prominent NF
member, but they left the party to start a less fringe right-wing
party. So I guess Jean-Marie was betrayed by her too. And like Lear
there is a third daughter Yann and she is also married to a prominent
NF member. She is not active but her daughter is. Marion Marechal-Le
Pen is Jean-Marie's granddaughter and an outspoken NF member of the
legislature. She is apparently carefully. being an ally of Marine
while at the same time being her grandfather's favourite. She is
somewhere between her aunt and her grandfather in her views. She has
mildly disapproved of Jean-Marie's latest remarks, calling them
“useless provocation” but not saying that they were actually
wrong. She may take the old man's place on the ballot in
What a family! The old Fascist has 3 daughters and a
granddaughter, all blonde, all trying to disown him.
The million or so French teachers are striking. They do not want
the new changes proposed by the government. The changes are to the
'college', the middle-school, for aged 11-15 students. 'College' is
between 'ecole' or primary school and 'lycee' or high school. The
object is to mend the decline in international rankings. The plan is
to move away from Latin and Greek in favour of an option “languages
and cultures of antiquity”; to stop the intensive modern language
course for gifted children age 12; to make a fifth of the curriculum
“cross-disciplinary” modules by teachers of more than one
subject; to give head teachers more power, and to have a new history
programme in 2016.
Teachers of Latin and German are very angry. And in general the
teachers feel that languages are getting a raw deal and they resent
the idea that they are elitist. They feel the loss of Latin will
drive children into private and Catholic schools and weaken the state
system. The extra work involved in the cross-discipline modules and
the power of heads are also complaints. The teachers would like to
support the Socialists but feel they cannot.
Besides the teachers, who is complaining? - Parents and many
organizations. The disappearance of Latin and Greek options bother
traditionalists; downgrading German upset Berlin; left-wingers are
against autonomy for school heads because it will create unequal
schools; right-wingers say Islam is being promoted and Christianity
not. Many think the interdisciplinary modules are going to confuse
children. Nationalist say the new history is about shame rather than
Despite the complaints, the changes are probably, on the whole,