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Usually the Times reserves this sort of obnoxiousness for Latin American leftists who, say, spend oil money on schools for poor children, rather than what oil money is supposed to be spent on: bunker-busting nukes, hummers, and mexicans to tend to the gardens.

The problem with French universities, it seems, is that:

1) they lack the landscaping budget of Harvard or Stanford

2) Unlike in America, where we educate the whole student, and there is a bountiful basket of extracurricular activities to participate in, the French leave their students to their own devices after class is over.

There are 32,000 students at the Nanterre campus of the University of Paris, but no student center, no bookstore, no student-run newspaper, no freshman orientation, no corporate recruiting system.

3) the f’ing soixiante-huitards made it so everyone can attend.

“Universities are factories,” said Christine le Forestier, 24, a 2005 graduate of Nanterre with a master’s degree who has not found a stable job. “They are machines to turn out thousands and thousands of students who have learned all about theory but nothing practical. A diploma is worth nothing in the real world.”

The problems stem in part from the student revolts of May 1968, which grew out of an unexceptional event at Nanterre the year before. One March evening, male students protesting the sexual segregation of the dormitories occupied the women’s dormitory and were evicted by the police.

A year later, Nanterre students protesting the war in Vietnam occupied the administration building, the first such action by students at a French university. The student revolt spread, turning into a mass movement aimed at transforming the authoritarian, elitist French system of governance. Ultimately 10 million workers left their jobs in a strike that came close to forcing de Gaulle from power.

One result was that the country’s university system guaranteed a free — or almost free — college education to every high school graduate who passed the baccalauréat exam. University enrollment soared. The value of a bachelor’s degree plummeted..

4) The university system is defined by a distinction between good schools and all the rest.

Compounding the problem, France is caught between its official promotion of the republican notion of equality and its commitment to the nurturing of an elite cadre of future leaders and entrepreneurs.

Only 4 percent of French students make it into the most competitive French universities — the public “grandes écoles.” But the grandes écoles, along with a swath of semiprivate preparatory schools, absorb 30 percent of the public budget.

Thank god we don’t have anything like that over here. Just ask my students last year – 12 a semester, who benefited from more than a page of comments on 8 separate writing assignments and several hours of individual meetings with me to discuss their writing. Or my students this year, at the state university (a rather “good,” if underfunded one), whose upper-level English class featured an enrollment of 45, no teaching assistants, and who received the all feedback on their work that it was possible for me to give… Not very much. No grandes écoles over here, praise be.

In America, educational resources are rationally distributed by the market so that each and every deserving student receives exactly the same slice of the pie, from Harvard down to the lowliest community college. What a country!

5) The students are morons, who fail to understand the glorious liberation that comes with a tiny bit of flexibilté

At Nanterre, Alexandre Frydlender, 19, a second-year student in law and history, complained about the lack of courses in English for students of international law. But asked whether he would be willing to pay a higher fee for better services, he replied: “The university is a public service. The state must pay.”

A poster that hangs throughout the campus halls echoed that sentiment: “To study is a right, not a privilege.”

6) The nation as a whole has failed to understand just how great things are going over here

But flexibility is not at all the tradition in France, where students are put on fixed career tracks at an early age.

“We are caught in a world of limits where there’s no such thing as the self-made man,” said Claire de la Vigne, a graduate of Nanterre who is now doing graduate work at the much more prestigious Institut d’Études Politiques de Paris. “We are never taught the idea of the American dream, where everything is possible. Our guide is fear.”

Written by adswithoutproducts

May 12, 2006 at 1:23 am

4 Responses

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  1. I’ve read the Schleifer and wrote a review of the Esty in MFS. You might also want to check out the back of the latest Wyndham Lewis Annual for a comment on of your recent sidebar items.


    May 12, 2006 at 9:18 am

  2. I’ll definitely look up the Esty review.

    You might also want to check out the back of the latest Wyndham Lewis Annual for a comment on of your recent sidebar items.

    What does this mean? On the Esty and Schleider?


    May 12, 2006 at 9:38 am

  3. There’s a comment about the citation practices in the Paranoid Modernism book.


    May 12, 2006 at 10:17 am

  4. oh. OK. So this means I have to go to the library, then, does it?


    May 13, 2006 at 1:50 am

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