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Les Colleges du Peuple: L'enseignement primaire superieur et le developpement de la scolarisation prolongee sous la Troisieme Republique.

During the nineteenth century educational systems were divided between primary schools, which taught the 3 R's to the common people, and secondary schools, which taught the classics to the bourgeoisie. A subject of lively debate was the desirability of introducing intermediary schools for the growing middle and lower-middle classes associated with business and industry, who were in need of more than a primary education but had neither the time nor the money to study the classics. In the law of 1833, Guizot created the ecole primaire superieure in the primary system, which failed for lack of a clientele. In 1866 Victor Duruy organized l'enseignement secondaire special in the secondary lycees and colleges teaching a "modern" non-classical program. That too failed, for lack of prestige. In the 1880s, the newly triumphant Third Republic, having just made primary education secular, compulsory (to age 12) and free, then recreated the higher primary school for those young people aged 12 to 14 in need of post-primary studies. The schools located in the countryside taught a general modern curriculum, while those situated in industrial and commercial areas had professional sections.

The higher primary school played an important role in French life from 1880 to 1940 and then disappeared forever. But as key intermediary schools they were important in the evolution of the modern French educational system, hence are worthy of Briand and Chapoulie's long study culminating years of joint research. The authors wisely avoid getting involved in ideological debates over social promotion and cultural reproduction. Their approach is one of careful institutional analysis. They see the educational process as the product of interactions between the school as an institution and a population comprising students and various other actors. Policy decisions emanate from a balance of forces: municipal, departmental, and central, as well as of demographic, economic and gender considerations. The higher primary schools were successful because of their close ties to local and regional populations. The boys' schools grew rapidly from 1880 to 1900, and the girls' from 1900 to 1914, without there ever having been much parliamentary or public debate about them. The higher primary schools came into being mainly as the result of the tireless efforts of the directors of the primary education administration in Paris and of local Republican officials who saw the need for them as an alternative to classical education and to Catholic private schools.

The higher primary schools were not without their competitors, both within the public education system and without. The French educational system was divided into four divisions: higher education, secondary, primary, and technical. The higher primary schools belonged to the lowly primary system; they became essentially the high schools of the common people (les colleges du peuple) under the auspices of the primary administration. The better male students could gain admission to the Ecoles d'Arts et Metiers and to university institutes of applied science, which did not require the baccalaureat, and become engineers and technicians. Young women could attend the normal schools and become teachers and professors and later employees in business and industry.

Obviously the secondary administration, the lycees and colleges, and various conservatives and snobs, resented any incursion of the classes populaires into their territory. Moreover, the technical education division under the Ministry of Commerce coveted the professional and technical sections of the higher primary schools. By the 1930s the "hybrid" higher primary schools were gradually swallowed up by the secondary and technical schools despite, or perhaps because of, their success. Briand and Chapoulie point to the irony of the fact that the system of modern French secondary education that has emerged in France since the Second World War is based on the lycees, with their rigid administration, dated programs and teaching methods (the cours magistral), arrogant professors, and endless cramming for the baccalaureat. The higher primary schools, with their close links to local communities, their flexible programs, and their innovative teaching, would have been a much better choice. It is no wonder that the French educational system has adapted slowly to the needs of the modern world.

The book is perhaps too long (over 500 pages) and is densely written. But for sociologists, historians and educators interested in the subject, it is a solid piece of scholarship on an important topic.

C. R. Day Simon Fraser University
COPYRIGHT 1994 Journal of Social History
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Copyright 1994, Gale Group. All rights reserved. Gale Group is a Thomson Corporation Company.

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Author:Day, C.R.
Publication:Journal of Social History
Article Type:Book Review
Date:Jun 22, 1994
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