2 February 2024

Peone can no longer ignore that the French school is more unequal than what the sole impact of social inequalities on school performance would suggest. Against our strongest convictions, and despite the commitment of teachers, the French school adds to social inequalities. In the same way, our school is among the most reproductive: the social position of the parents determines there more than elsewhere the educational paths of the pupils.

Read the interview (2019): Article reserved for our subscribers François Dubet: “Inequalities are perceived as aggression, a form of contempt”

The explanation for this singularity is not simple, but one thing is certain: French colleges and high schools are particularly segregated. This means that the most advantaged establishments, on the one hand, and the least advantaged, on the other hand, take part in an educational separatism which strongly accentuates the game of social inequalities. Eventually, behind the decor of the republican school, the most advantaged students come together while the less advantaged among them are forced to stay together.

The mechanisms of these segregations are perfectly documented and no one really disputes them. First, the school map very broadly reproduces the spatial distribution of inequalities. Then, through derogations and, even more, through the presence of private schools, the most informed and richest families choose the best establishments and flee those which seem too popular to them. The only spatial inequalities are thus doubled by the choices of the most favored families.

School “ghettos”

Thanks to the Index of the social position of establishments, which everyone can access, it is clear that school separatism is first and foremost a matter for the “rich”, financially and culturally, while the “poorest” are forced to go in less and less favored establishments. The few relatively popular private establishments do not give the change: in the big cities in particular, they gather massively the pupils coming from very privileged families. They actively participate in a separatism that it is fashionable to present as a threat, except when it comes to the separatism of the richest.

This school segregation poses two main types of problems. First, it deepens educational inequalities insofar as the method of grouping pupils accentuates these inequalities: together, the best pupils are a little better; together, the less good ones are very noticeably less good. Then, at the extremes of the spectrum of inequalities, the “rich” live among themselves, while the “poorest” have the feeling of being confined in school “ghettos” that are homogeneous from the point of view of wealth and cultural origins. The school of the Republic is not the crucible of a common culture and a shared good citizenship and these two youths have no chance of crossing paths on the school benches.

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