1 December 2023

Book. For those interested in educational issues, this antagonism no longer has any secrets: there would have been, from the 1980s in France, a camp of “republicans”, attached to a selective school, opposed to another camp, that of “pedagogues”, who think, conversely, that school massification calls for an adaptation of the system to new users of the school – those who were not high school graduates before the reforms of the 1970s and 1980s, at the when only 15% of an age group graduated.

In the exciting book Change the school or save it, historian Yann Forestier shows that this dichotomy – now outdated – was largely constructed by the press. And in particular the written press, forced to excessively polarize educational debates to retain an increasingly volatile readership.

Caught up in a paradox well known to rubricards, education is both a subject that is said to be “concerning” and difficult to stage because of its highly technical nature. On the basis of a corpus of 7,700 press articles published between 1968 and 2008, the historian shows how the press stages ideological oppositions by sometimes omitting to pose the real stakes of the debates – and in particular the first of them, which has not changed since the 1970s: how to adapt the republican school to a public in permanent transformation?

Main principles

This polarization, notes Yann Forestier, was largely built against specialist journalists, or in spite of them. While the “Rubricards” became more professional and thereby claimed neutrality in the debates – until the 1960s, educational issues were dealt with by players in the system, in particular teachers – the politicization of the issues, deemed necessary by the editorial staff for reasons of attractiveness, is largely the prerogative of editorialists and intellectuals who “rise in generality”omitting the technical aspects to handle the main principles, often ill-defined and with variable geometry.

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The author thus remarks, not without malice, that an idea can be extolled or doomed to loathing depending on whether it is proposed by a right-wing or left-wing minister. Continuous assessment at the baccalaureate, adopted in 2018, was thus proposed by Alain Savary (PS) in 1983. Le Figaro then pushed a “alarm call”, reports Yann Forestier. The same idea, taken up by René Monory after the alternation on the right, could, according to the same newspaper, return to the examination “its vocation as a useful major diploma”.

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