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and at a distance, furnishes no inconsiderable quota to the sum-total of the schools' energy and efficiency."
The centralized power is re-enforced by the peculiar organization of the system. It consists of seventeen academies or scholastic subdivisions, each comprising a university, and classical colleges, and its quota of primary schools. At the head of each academy is a rector, an official of great dignity, appointed by the President of the Republic. He is assisted by a council of university professors, of whom four are his own nominees. The control of the rector extends nominally to all three grades of education, but the university and secondary schools absorb his energies so that the direction of primary education falls upon the academy inspector, “who strikes one as being the pivot between the central power and the schools." Apart from his functions the importance of the academic relation to the primary school consists chiefly in the ideal which it fosters, the sense of a vital relation between the different grades of education that custom and tradition have too widely divorced.
The true unit of primary-school administration in France is the department, a civil district which, for educational purposes, is treated as a subdivision of an academy. In France proper (Algiers excluded) there are 87 departments, which are unequally distributed among the 16 academies; Chambery comprises 2 departments, Paris, the largest academy, 9. The departments also vary in extent and in population; the smallest has 88,000 inhabitants, the largest, Seine, 3 1-2 millions; but large or small, their adoption as units of administration has saved France from the ills, and waste of " district " or “parish ” pettiness.
This naturally strikes an English observer, in view of the recent efforts to clear up the educational muddle of his own country by making the county the administrative unit. We also have gone far toward eliminating the small school district, tho few of our States have achieved a uniform, equalizing school administration such as obtains in every French department.
We cannot here follow our author thru the details of the
departmental organization, but those who wish to understand the leveling-up process which has brought even “out-of-the
“ way French schools” to a high average standard should study this combination of professional and civil authorities (the former always in the majority), the careful adjustment of their functions, the checks and counter-checks, all working smoothly, as Mr. Brereton attests, because “ the province of each particular functionary is so clearly thought out and defined that there is no debatable ground over which ambitious rival authorities can wrangle.”
It must suffice to note here that the local authority in respect to all school matters, business or scholastic, resides, (1) in the prefect or civil head of the department, (2) in the educational council (4 of whose 14 members belong to the civil council of the department, 2 are primary inspectors,
and the remainder teachers elected by their colleagues), (3) in the academy inspector. If the influence of the latter is supreme, it is nevertheless true that he works chiefly by persuasion and prestige.
Besides his routine duties the academy inspector has to look sharply after the application of the great principles of the school law. This is an easier task than it was twenty years ago, when the priest and a large body of the peasants and gentry were hot against the free, secular school, “the school of perdition,” as one parish council dubbed it; when parents, under the threats of the clergy, often removed their children en masse and lay teachers were “boycotted ” and even
stoned.” But tho this has changed so that even in the most Catholic departments Mr. Brereton was assured that “any attack on the primary school would be mal vu by the population in general ”—still the price of safety is vigilance.
Obviously it is impossible that the academy inspector should come into close contact with individual schools; this is the duty of primary inspectors, assigned to each department in the proportion of one to a hundred and fifty schools, a body of experts selected by a rigid examination from the élite of the teachers, and subordinate only to the academy inspector. Besides inspecting schools, these officials hold teachers' meet
ings, conduct the examinations of pupils for the certificat d'études, and are not only the living bond between the humble teacher and his august superiors, but a living sign of the possibility of his own ascent to higher things.
The suppression of the small area in the administrative work does not destroy local responsibility, because the law obliges every commune to establish its quota of public schools, no matter how many clerical schools dispute the field, and levies a school tax on all communes for the current school expenditures. The money is collected and disbursed by the state, so that the large communes (or cities) help to equalize the school finances of the smaller. Thus the state pays a minimum salary to all teachers, ranging for full teachers from two hundred dollars to four hundred dollars annually, which is, at least, a living wage.
There is, moreover, a wide margin of optional expenditures which rest upon the communes and appeal to their local pride. The mayors—for even a commune of fourteen inhabitants has its mayor—and local school committees are charged with a round of school duties which give éclat, tho they carry no real authority. This combination of unified control with diffused responsibility is exactly what our States are working to, tho by a process the reverse of the French.
Mr. Brereton made his tour of the five departments chiefly on bicycle, hobnobbing with primary inspectors, who travel often in the same way, interviewing academy inspectors, normal and primary-school teachers, peasants, parents and boys, and inhabitants in general. His inquiries were very direct and comprehensive, the conversations were jotted down on the spot, and form not only a lively transcript of the schools and their milieu, but a summary of opinions slowly evolved thru daily experience.
Passing over the inquiries as to administration, which is a burning question for England at this moment, and as to teachers, of whom there are, as elsewhere, better and worse, but from the nature of the tests none incompetent, we come at once to the working of the schools themselves, which is the crux of a system.
The first particular that confronts us relates to school attendance, which neither the law nor the school machinery has brought to a satisfactory average. In the departments under review the average is higher than for the country as a whole, ranging daily from 70 to 92 per cent of the enrollment. The manner of keeping the registers really exaggerates the ratio, as the names of pupils who desert the schools in the summer are promptly dropped from the rolls. These children generally quit school to become patours, such being the picturesque local term, derived directly from the Latin, for the youthful keepers of sheep. In some districts the school population falls to a third during the season. Minor causes of the exodus are grape-gathering, haysel, and apple-picking. To these industrial disturbances is added “the irregular attendance during the week of First Communion and sometimes during the month preceding."
Various remedies have been proposed for the evil. The first which suggests itself is naturally a stricter enforcement of the legal penalties in respect to parents, with the attendant legal processes. This, however, where tried generally, works out badly as the peasants are “ultra-conservative, and local usages and prejudices very strong.” The drift of opinion is toward persuasive influences, such as rewards for attendance, and even assistance for families which depend upon the earnings of children.
The problem of school attendance is bound up in a measure with the certificat d'études, which can be taken at eleven years of age. The latter, according to the report, has become “in rural districts for pupils, whether they succeed or fail, a signal for departure en masse. The category of pupils from eleven to thirteen is thus reduced to an extremely weak contingent, or even to vanishing point. As a mean, a quarter
a and sometimes a third of the total effective disappears, either to be made use of at home or to be let out to look after cattle."
It is evident that indifference to education has quite as much to do with this exodus as poverty. A school official, cited in the report illustrates the case as follows: “A candidate for the certificate writes, “In winter one has nothing
to do, so one goes to school.' This child did not suspect he was translating the thoughts of all his comrades in the country, and even of their families. When we happen to meet at the side of the road under a hedge of eglantine three children in charge of a goat, we ask ourselves very seriously if there are not at least two too many. It is these two children we must get into the school by using all possible expedients.
As the certificate exempts from school attendance, the obvious remedy is to raise the age for candidates at least to twelve years. Some of the higher officials are in favor of reducing the obligatory age for full school attendance from thirteen to twelve, with a system of compulsory half-time attendance up to fifteen, an "unconscious imitation," with improvements, of the Robson Act for England.
The studies required in all primary schools of France, city and rural, are about the same as in our own country, with special stress on la morale and wider diffusion of elementary science. We are surprised to learn that drawing is neglected in the rural primary schools, and that manual training is practically a dead letter. “I encountered one teacher,” says Mr. Brereton, “at St. Aventin (Indre-et-Loire) who had a small bench for practical work, at which he makes models of barrels and such things as are required by vine-growers or agriculturists. The children watch him while at work and try to copy what he makes at home. Above all, he teaches them how to mend tools and implements, a very useful thing for the French peasant, who, being of an economical turn, always tries to do his repairs himself. . . But, as a rule, I found the travaux manuels is one of those subjects that has not caught on in the country.” Crowded programs and poverty of the communes are the general excuses. One teacher explained that “ A little learning is a dangerous thing, and a little manual training, unless on the right lines, only gets the pupils into bad habits, which, a wood-cutter friend of his told him, only makes them worse apprentices than children who know nothing.”
Gymnastics and military drill, which figure in the programs, were also generally wanting. The number of school gym