Many people have asked me about the sources of Sorbonne Confidential.
Are all the incidents described true? (Yes.) What documentation was used? Is it really possible that the oral exam for English teachers in 2005 included a lecture IN FRENCH (the famous leçon) ? (Several readers have expressed disbelief on this last point.)
Readers, here are my sources. Where possible links have been provided.
(note : Le Monde de l'Education has ceased publication.)
Chapter One: Unemployed Anonymous “78 percent of French people aged 15 to 30 said the idea of becoming a civil servant was ‘attractive’... They will not have to work very long hours. They will always have decent pay. And more important they will have a job for life.” Thomas Fuller, “The Workplace: Nice Wages, Short Hours, and for Life.” International Herald Tribune, November 1, 2005
Chapter Two: Learning to Speak “Despite a succession of projects over the past fifteen years, French children remain at the bottom of international rankings for English.” --“Why French youths are so terrible in foreign languages.” -- Le Figaro, September 2, 2005 "Malgré les plans qui se succèdent depuis quinze ans, les jeunes Français se classent toujours parmi les derniers dans les palmarès internationaux [en anglais]. Pourquoi les jeunes Français sont si mauvais en langues étrangères , Le Figaro, 2 septembre 2005. "2004-2005 guide for the CAPES and agrégation d’anglais exams of Paris IV"
Chapter Three /Confessions of an English Opium Eater “Much importance was given [in 19th century France] to the form in which arguments were presented. Some cultivated hermeticism, jargon and subtleties that were incomprehensible to the uninitiated." Theodore Zeldin, Histoire des Passions Françaises 1848-1945
Chapter Four : Pig’s feet Urgent. Wanted: Cafeteria Lady: 9.82 Euros per hour. ad on notice board outside Jules Verne Elementary School.
Chapter Five: “We have to talk” Statistics for the Agrégation 2005: Total number of subjects: 37, including arts, management, • engineering, history, foreign languages, letters, maths, music, philosophy, sciences.
Total number of candidates registered: 43,461: (external • candidates: 27,599; internal candidates: 15,862).
Total number of positions available in all subjects: 2890 • (external: 1940; internal: 950
Total number of positions available in English: 213 • (external: 145, internal:68). Agrégation externe 2005: www.education.gouv.fr
Chapter Six: Project Manager “The agrégation is, along with the CAPES, the CAPET, and the PLP, a competitive recruitment exam for teachers in French public schools. Agrégés teach mainly in lycées (high schools), although they can also teach in universities and middle schools. There is an internal exam reserved for teachers with some seniority and an external exam that is open to candidates with a masters, CAPES, CEPET or PLP.” Wikipedia
Chapter Seven: Fierce Chemistry “Although since 1987 the national curriculum for English has been stressing the importance of communication situations... it seems that teachers in the classroom do not follow these prescriptions in their everyday work...Teachers develop a hankering after perfection which hinders pupils...The fact that [pupils] are constantly being corrected by the teachers leads to an excessive use of French during the English lesson: the teachers give grammatical explanations in French and pupils respond...likewise” The Assessment of Pupils’ Skills in English in Eight European Countries 2002: A European Project, p 129
Chapter Eight: I discover the Trinity in Marne La Vallée: “Originally, the dissertation was a formalized form of theological or juridical disputation. ...Around 1880... it was introduced first into the university curriculum then into the agrégation and finally the CAPES... The rhetorical rigidification... and veritable fetichisation of the ‘dissertation’ goes back to the 1920-30s—no doubt linked to the resistance of a traditionalist elite against the democratization of studies.” Didier Dacunha-Castelle Peut-on encore sauver l’école?8
Chapter Nine :Kareema “In late years in America, it [bragging] has taken on an almost pathological character, and is to be explained, perhaps, only in terms of Freudian necromancy. Braggadacio, i.e. the 100% American—“we won the war,” “it is our duty to lead the world,” and so on—is probably no more than a protective mechanism erected to conceal an inescapable sense of inferiority.” H.L.Mencken, Chrestomathy
Chapter Ten : City Councilor for the Opposition “In order to fight the insufficient representation of women in political life, the constitutional law of July 8, 1999 modified two articles of the French constitution... , obliging political parties to raise the percentage of woman candidates to 40% for the municipal elections of 2001...” Official website of the French Senate
Chapter Eleven : Pre Double Zero Tension “France, which justifies the pressure throughout its school system by its capacity to educate elites, produces in reality half as many outstanding students at age 15 as countries such as Finland or Canada...” « French students are more stressed than high performing.” Le Monde de L’Education, October 2005.
Chapter Twelve : Education Nationale “President Jacques Chirac abruptly left the room where 25 European leaders had just started a meeting with the head of European business leaders, Ernest-Antoine Seilière, because the latter had chosen to speak in English.” Le Monde, March 24, 2006
Chapter Thirteen : Trouble in a Fast Food Franchise “[French secret agent] Captain Prieur was chosen [for the Rainbow Warrior mission] because of her agrégation d’anglais. The fact that she barely spoke the language... had no importance...” Tahiti-Pacifique Magazine, n° 171 July 2005
Chapter Fourteen : “Les Forts” “...in the figure of Nathan Landau, Styron has presented a demonic, carnal Jew of homicidal tendencies who victimizes a Polish Catholic survivor of the Holocaust. Again, the reversal of stereotypes, while not illegitimate in itself, is disturbing in its implications, especially when it becomes an outright distortion of historical events.” D.G. Myers, "Jews Without Memory: Sophie's Choice and the Ideology of Liberal Anti-Judaism"
Chapter Fifteen : A Lesson in Economics “Demand for private lessons [in France] increases yearly. 78,000 students for Acadomia, the leader with 2.2 million hours of classes sold; 30,000 for Legendre, 10,000 for Anacours...” 20 Minutes, September 2, 2005
Chapter Sixteen : Dry Run “..what distinguishes a French person...is not the fact that he speaks French but... the way in which he uses language, the manner in which he reasons and discusses.” Theodore Zeldin Histoire des Passions Françaises
Chapter Seventeen : Le Mal Absolu “William Styron’s novel was a pioneering dissent on the Holocaust, a forceful challenge to prevailing opinion... The common opinion of most Jewish scholars and writers, including Yehuda Bauer, Arthur A. Cohen, Lucy S. Dawidowicz, Emil Fackenheim, Sir Martin Gilbert, Daniel Jonah Goldhagen, Steven T. Katz, Lawrence L. Langer, Deborah E. Lipstadt, and Cynthia Ozick, is that the Holocaust was unique...Styron vigorously criticizes Jewish scholars and writers for this ‘narrow’ and 'specifically Jewish interpretation.' In its stead he advances a universalist, even metaphysical interpretation, understanding the Holocaust as the embodiment of absolute evil, which threatens humanity as a whole...” D.G. Myers, ibid Part II
Chapter One : In bed with the CNED “With 350,000 students registered in more than 3000 classes, the CNED ranks as one of France’s official Academies.” Luc Ferry, Minister of Education Revue du CNED
Chapter Two : A change in program “Poland is a beautiful, heart-wrenching, soul-split country which in many ways...resembles or conjures up images of the American South...there is a sinister sort of likeness between Poland and the American South which, although anything but superficial, causes the two cultures to blend so perfectly together as to seem almost one in their shared extravagance—and that has to do with the matter of race, which in both worlds has produced centuries-long, all-encompassing nightmare spells of schizophrenia.” William Styron Sophie’s Choice
Chapter Three : I attempt to apply scientific method “In 2002 the performance of the French pupils (in the Assessment of skills in English page 125) is significantly lower than that in the other six countries as the table indicates: Oral Comprehension Linguistic Competence Reading Comprehension Written Production Denmark 64.77 53.95 78.32 46.17 Finland 59.65 67.59 80.29 47.70 FRANCE 30.60 48.01 56.84 14.55 Holland 61.63 65.00 77.47 46.04 Norway 73.26 66.36 82.03 56.30 Spain 38.33 58.75 63.57 23.41 Sweden 72.18 64.23 85.88 55.39
Chapter Four : D-Day “They streamed aboard over three gangways, they streamed in urged by faith and the hope of paradise, they streamed in with a continuous tramp and shuffle of bare feet, without a word, a murmur, or a look back, and when clear of confining rails spread on all sides over the deck, flowed forward and aft, overflowed down the yawning hatchways, filled the inner recesses of the ship—like water filling a cistern, like water flowing into crevices and crannies, like water rising silently even with the rim... ‘Look at dese cattle,’ said the German skipper to his new first mate.” Joseph Conrad Lord Jim
Chapter Five : Seeds of the October Revolution “Devoir de réserve13 : Government functionaries are bound by an obligation to professional secrecy and discretion.” B-2-10 Devoir de réserve (L 83-634 July 13, 1983 article 26; Letter FP n° 1430 October 5, 1981; QE 4024 June 6, 1952)
Chapter Six : I receive a strange copy of my exam “The jury is sovereign. If it provides no explanations, it can’t be contested.” internal document from the CNRS, 2005
Chapter One : I learn to doubt Rule Number One: “Never accept anything for true which I did not clearly know to be such” Descartes Discourse on Method
Chapter Two : Where is Michael Moore when you need him? The French mind always places the academy, the form, the convention, the à priori, the abstract and the artificial above the real and prefers clarity to truth, words over things, and rhetoric to science. F. Amiel, Journal Intime, September 30, 1871, quoted by Theodore Zeldin
Chapter Three : Rebecca learns to teach English “In [learning English] there exists a “French exception”... which has nothing to do with the quality of teaching or supposed shortcomings in pedagogical method.... a nearly unique case, linked to the patterns of accentuation in French... Antony Stenton of Toulouse University quoted in Le Monde de L’Education, October 2005
Chapter Four : The Curious Incident of the British Oxford classicist “Discrimination due to nationality between workers of member States concerning employment, pay and other work conditions is illegal.” Article III-133 of the European Constitution rejected by France
Anecdotal statistics: Teacher Training Unit (IUFM of Antony), 2005: Number of professeurs stagiaires: 14 Of the 14, number of native English speakers: 3 Of the 14, number who are repeating the trial year after “failing”: 2 Of the 2 “repeats,” number of French: 0 Of the 2 “repeats,” number of English native speakers: 2
Chapter Five : Duck are like Fish “Some inspectors are frankly hostile to the idea of professional exams and to certain kinds of internal competitions. As a result, they exploit any pretext to disqualify teachers.” SNEC teachers’ union, quoted in Le Monde de L’Education, November 2005
Chapter Six : Rebecca in paradise “The best teacher, until one comes to adult pupils, is not the one who knows most, but the one who is most capable of reducing knowledge to that simple compound of the obvious and the wonderful which slips into the infantile comprehension.” H.L. Mencken Chrestomathy
Chapter Seven : In Praise of Logistics What determines how a war is fought? Strategy and tactics would be the logical answer, of course. But what determines strategy and tactics? The answer is logistics. A war cannot be fought without ammunition, replacement weapons, and subsistence for the armed forces. History reveals the truth about the dominant nature of logistics. Dr. Burton Wright III, command historian at the Army Chemical School at Fort Leonard Wood, Missouri
Chapter Eight : Moles from the Fifth Column “Displacement: the redirection of an emotion or impulse from its original object (as an idea or a person) to something that is more acceptable” Webster’s Ninth New Collegiate Dictionary
Chapter Nine : Is Paris Burning? “November 9, 2005, French state of emergency: Government invokes a curfew law dating from Algeria war” headline International Herald Tribune “I want to make France a bilingual country,” Nicolas Sarkozy President of France