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French Items from 2015:                                         to enlarge a photo, click on it

Phil Exam    Where France is tops   La fessee or the smack  Three daughters and a granddaughter, all blonde  School strike  new



Phil Exam
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
I have 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 alternative, more 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, Heidegger, Sartre.
Why this emphasis on philosophy in France? 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 their argument.
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 it).
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 freely-formed judgment?
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 philosopher and 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 fell so in love with his own ideas that he decided to take his life. How very French.
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
Scottish Whisky: 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.
Perfume: Although 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 world record.
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 Globometer.
Expat footballers: 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 sustainable practice.
Welfare State 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.
Local authorities: 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 wasteful.
Nobel Literature 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 parental discipline. 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 children.
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 French children.
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 immigration.
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 party.
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 Provence-Alpes-Cote d'Azur.
What a family! The old Fascist has 3 daughters and a granddaughter, all blonde, all trying to disown him.

School Strike
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 pride.
Despite the complaints, the changes are probably, on the whole, positive.