School Update

Our school year is winding down here in France, so I thought it would be fun to write up another little update on our kids’ experience in the local schools. I hope you enjoy it!

The first thing I wanted to mention was handwriting. I snapped the photo of the chart below in the 6-year-old’s classroom at my kids’ school. Having good handwriting is a big deal here! And seems to be a universal skill. Even at the village market, all the signs for fruit and veggies are hand written in beautiful script.

Ralph says when he first arrived, his math teacher picked up one of his worksheets and publicly started scolding him. (This is awful! I can’t read it at all!!) Ralph was so embarrassed! He has since started working hard on his penmanship, and has vastly improved.

Script is the main form they learn to write in — even the littlest kids. I don’t think I’ve ever seen kids use basic print on their school work or even notes to friends.

Along with good handwriting, instead of mostly using pencils in school, they write with pens only. In fact, all of my kids agree that in French schools, pencils are exclusively for art and geometry. No exceptions!

From the moment they start learning to write the alphabet, at around age 5, they use refillable ink fountain pens. But. They also have pen erasers — a separate tool from the pen itself.

Something else that seems so different is athletics. Sports seem to play a less influential role overall in the schools here, compared to our experience in New York and Colorado. Maude says there are still jocks — they’re the kids that are good at soccer. But that being good at sports isn’t really what makes you popular, and that even the athletes feel like school work is the most important.

Sport shorts are short! For both girls and boys. And no one would ever wear athletic clothes or sport shots as school clothes. Athletic clothes are reserved for gym only. The same holds true for adults — I have never seen an adult running errands in workout clothes or yoga pants. Never even once!

Here are the sports that have been covered in my kids’ gym classes: Badminton (this is big here!), handball, inline-skating, swimming, ping pong, kayaking, rugby, cricket and soccer (which, of course, is called football here). They’ve also had a section on baseball, but Olive says it’s not quite the same — for example, they hold the bat with one hand!

Lastly, one thing my kids have noticed that’s really different from American schools, is the public criticism. Similar to the story of Ralph’s handwriting above, the teachers announce each student’s grade on every test and assignment publicly. And they’ll scold (sometimes even mock?) students who didn’t score well — right in front of the rest of the classmates. My kids report that the French kids don’t seem to notice, it’s just the way it’s always been. But you can bet my kids are always relieved when they get a good score!

I’d love to hear what you think! Would your kids thrive in a French school? Do you have an opinion on good penmanship?

P.S. — You can find earlier reports about school and my kids learning French here, here, and here. The very first report is here.

105 thoughts on “School Update”

  1. As an American, the public criticism seems super harsh to me. But, I love the emphasis on handwriting! How interesting!

    1. As a French, the public criticism WAS super harsh to me. I hate this from my years in school. And it goes from primary school to University….

      I had one year of relief when I did my Bachelor in Ireland…another (amazing) world for me!! Such consideration for every single student. I loved it!!

  2. Oh Gabrielle, you brought me back to my elementary school years in the DR with this post! All the descriptions you mentioned about the assignatures using pens except for art and math (pencil) is so true over there. Also, the fact that script or cursive handwriting is still practiced and taught beginning in first grade is a so true and a huge deal. I guess is the old world school upbringing that’s stil very much alive. So enjoy it, and you are fortunate your kids are learning, and excelling at these new (old) skills!

  3. Considering in our school district cursive writing isn’t even taught any longer, the focus on good penmanship actually seems like a good thing. I also think it’s good that not everything revolves around sports or constant activities.

  4. I was brought up in the UK, and yeah, if you were acting out, your teachers let the whole class know. I was once joking about as test scores were being handed out, and my teacher said, ‘I don’t know what you’re finding so funny, you got a C!’ and gave me my paper.

    I tried much harder the next time, and, to be honest, I think it ‘took me down a peg or two’ (as my mother would say) and taught me to deal with criticism (and stop being so cheeky). Because goodness knows I’ve never had a boss who writes down my faults and hands them to me privately!

    But maybe it’s just also part of British / European humor? The whole depreciating / self-depreciating thing is pretty common.

    It’s interesting to read about the pens – we started with pencils and we were ‘awarded’ a pen when our writing was deemed good enough (aged about 7). We were all so desperate to be called up to the desk and given our first pen!

    1. You have a good point. I went to school in the UK, and tests were often handed out in order (from best to worst). It certainly made you work hard! Oh, and I remember the day I was awarded a pen! Because I’m left-handed I ended up going back to pencil because I got ink all over my hands.

      About the French writing, I went to a lycée several times and the handwriting I saw there was always so neat and tidy – I always marvelled at the profs ability to write so neatly up on the whiteboard!

      I’ve been to a German Gymnasium as well, and in the Biology class the teacher simply read out the most recent marks at the front of the class.

      That said, in both the German & French schools I’ve found that the students mess about far more than in UK schools, i.e. there is always background chatter so it’s not like everyone is listening intently to each others marks.

      Certainly in the French schools, the profs don’t consider it their job to control the class, it’s their job to deliver a lesson. The lady who taught me French said she once went on a trip with French teachers and their students and the students were basically rioting in the back of the bus and the teachers not once stepped in. Part of the training to become a teacher in the UK involves aspects of discipline, but this isn’t the case for French teacher-training.

  5. How interesting to read about schools in France. I am surprised to find many things very similar in my experience with schools here in Germany. I have three kids, all with dual citizenship: one in primary school, two in (academic, they stream them at age 9!) middle school. I must say, I found the whole fountain pen/handwriting thing a bit weird (in Grade 3!!) but now admit that they all have really nice writing.
    The public announcement of grades & results – and the public scolding – also took some getting used to. However, my oldest son reckons it unites the kids against the teacher in a very solid way! :-)
    And, they’re all in the same boat anyway, so if some start letting the side down, their friends might lean on them a bit to get better results so the whole class looks better…. and good grades are definitely attractive :-)
    I agree, here sport is very secondary, and I am amazed at how much homework they have ! My 8 year old has 1.5 hours on a normal day – and she’s good at school…
    It’s certainly different from my own experiences at school in Australia.
    Sadly, the school system here does not currently provide for any extra-curricular stuff like drama, music (my kids have music lessons, just not at school) , sport or extra languages. Although there is a local sport club that uses school facilities, it’s not affiliated with the school.
    But I am esctatic that they are all three fully bilingual and have the possibilities that open up with that. Who knows where they’ll end up.
    Continue having fun with your cross-cultural offspring!

    1. Hi Anna,

      How did your children go with the transition from the Australian schooling to the German way. We are considering moving from Australia to France , i’am interested to know what my kids may go through having not been through the french system. The australian system at the moment seems a bit lacking. Especially in appearance and penmanship.

  6. When my son attended a Dutch school they learnt cursive writing from the start. He then moved to an English international school where he slipped back to print. He’s now he’s at a US school and thy are only just starting cursive at age 9! Hopefully his handwriting will look as good again as it I’d when he was 6! He was also using an ink pen at age 7 at Dutch school.

  7. How interesting! I especially love the handwriting chart–I’ve been looking for one for my kindergartner and really love how this chart has both print, script, upper and lowercase in both all in one chart! How handy and useful for comparison as the children learn how to write their letters. I’ve only been able to find one or the other here.

  8. Have you heard that some US schools are going to stop teaching cursive handwriting? It’s unbelievable! Here in California, my daughter learned cursive in 3rd grade and in 5th grade she was told it was ok to go back to normal printing for all assignments and tests. I think the logic behind it, if you can call it logic, is that this generation will be in front of some sort of computer screen/iPad for most of their lives so there’s no need to perfect cursive writing. It’s a shame, really. My mother, who is in her 70’s, has the most gorgeous handwriting of anyone I know and it’s because not writing in cursive was never an option for her generation.

  9. I recognize a lot of my childhood in your stories about your children’s french schooling. Our school system is similar to the french. We never learn script in school, only cursive and yes, for the entire elementary school years, you are awarded grades for your penmanship. We started with a pencil and at Christmas time in the 1st year, ‘graduated’ to a pen to write our new years letters.
    Pen erasers are a staple off course.
    Everyone around here writes in cursive, so it was quite the revelation when my american pen pall wrote in script.

    The public criticism might have been less severe in my neck of the woods, but it’s there, even until uni. Grades are announced publicly yes, but why would you care? And being called upon your behavior in public does make you think before you act.

    Our school had a policy on gym clothes: short shorts or leggings only, for safety reasons. Apparently with baggy shorts and track pants you could get caught on some of the gym equipment. I still have childhood trauma’s from the very short gym shorts in the middle of winter ;-)

    Sports has never been a way to gain popularity in my school. Everybody did something after school (school hours were from 8.25 – 12.00 and 12.50 – 15.35, with wednesday afternoons off) but nobody was more or less popular because of it. I think unbuckling sports from school takes the peer-pressure off, nobody knows who is good at what as most kids are in different sports and different groups so nobody knows how and what exactly you do. But no, I don’t recall anybody ever coming to school in their tutu, soccer outfit, or other sports-related clothing. You changed before gym, you changed afterwards.

    And the biggest difference: nobody was grossed out when you wear the same thing two days in a row. Off course we shower (as do the french!) and change underwear and socks. If shirts are dirty and/or smelly they get changed two, but why change your skirt/pants and sweater as well? And if something is not dirty, when you had a calm day and it’s still clean and fresh, why can’t you wear it again? Weird american habits I guess, nevertheless I never found people in the US smelling less than my countrymen or the french or italian or other european people…

    1. I just LOVE the comment about wearing clothing two days in a row. YES… I’d rather see someone in classic attire two days in a row rather than in ‘clean’ and changed yoga pants and t-shirt changed daily.

  10. My son is starting Maternelle (French Preschool) in September. He has already been told from his daycare that the teacher will not put up with his ad behavior. I think we might be in for it…

    One teacher and 32 three year olds! To be fair she will have a helper maybe two if our directorice has her way (doubt it).

  11. I think the public praise/scolding is actually a really fascinating approach. I think being able to take criticism is really important. I think reading scores aloud keeps kids accountable to their peers, and it would certainly motivate me! I think it would also open up some unique opportunities for students to be aware of their peers, and either ask for help, or offer help to another classmate.

    I still write in cursive as an adult, and I love it. It is so much faster than printing. It feels so traditional, and I always love sending and receiving hand-written letters. With regards to writing and cursive, I think it’s really sad that writing, and letter writing is an art form that is dying. I’m turning 30 this year, and I feel like my age group was the last to still use letters before email became a mainstream form of communication. I loved having pen pals growing up, and there’s nothing better than getting something in the mail. That, and I love hand-written letters because they are a physical piece of someone. I used to tuck letters in my pockets to read and re-read on the bus or train (before cell phones), and I really, really miss letter writing. You can’t tuck an email in your pocket, and emails are far less personal (and show less personality!) than emails. That’s going off on a tangent, for sure, but it makes me sad to think my children won’t do a whole lot of writing in school, and it sounds like they won’t be learning cursive either.

    We better move to France!

  12. This discussion is fascinating to me, particularly because I have 4 kids & the oldest will be in 2nd grade, so I haven’t much experiences with public education except for my oldest son. My husband just started a career as a JAG officer for the AF, so we’ll be traveling around the world–hopefully we’ll have a stint in England & Europe at some point! I’d love for my kids to have different experiences in other countries.

    The French certainly have a way of doing things don’t they? I don’t know how I feel about their approach to a lot of things–seems really rigid & unforgiving, not quite the American way, where we like to go rouge & independence as well as free thinking is a virtue.

    That said, the emphasis on penmanship is important. If nothing more than it trains the young mind in discipline & precision, something that I think many American students lack.

  13. Was Olive playing rounders? We play that at school in the UK. It looks like baseball with 4 bases you run a round but the bat is smaller and you hold it with one hand.

  14. As an American who spent 3 years in public grammar school in France, everything you said in this post rang true for my experience as a child there in the late 80’s/early 90’s. I came back to the US with a love of fountain pens, a recognition that my penmanship was far from perfect, and wound up being 2 years ahead of my American school system for math!

    My teachers did not read test scores aloud, but if a kid did not follow instructions for an assignment, it would get ripped in front of the class and the pieces would be thrown out the window! Dramatic.

  15. I love these posts! I find them so interesting (I’ve always lived in the US). I’m wondering how your kids are doing with their french? Are they fairly fluent now? Are they able to be fully involved in school (as opposed to when they knew little of the language)?
    Thanks for sharing your experiences! They’re so fun to read.

  16. The American way of schooling has produced dismal results for decades now. Perhaps it’s time to try things the European way.

  17. This fascinates me! We lived in London for 2 years, prior to having children, and this really makes me wish we were in Europe for our children’s schooling years. Or even near a “big city” that gave language immersion options. Instead, we’re stuck here in the sticks where options are limited to public school or 3 small private schools. Reading all these posts make me long for Europe again! :) Thanks for sharing!

  18. My son’s teacher (American school) said that they teach cursive mainly so that the kids will be able to read it.

    Sounds like Olive might have been playing rounders: smaller bat than baseball; posts instead of bases; no strikes; no 3 outs and inning is over; only score if you round all 4 bases in one go etc.

  19. I attended middle school in England and the experience was identical to what you’ve described.

    At my children’s elementary school here in the US there is ZERO concern for penmanship. As I’ve questioned this, I’ve been told that they don’t want to discourage children from trying. So long as they are writing, it’s all good.

    But IT CHURNS MY STOMACH watching kids start letters at the bottom of the line, cross t’s starting on the right, etc.

    I was taught better than that :)

  20. i have to say, it is all rather appealing! i’m even drawn to the idea of some degree of public criticism – seems like it could be more useful than the feel-good approach i see here in the states. i LOVE the emphasis on handwriting, and the de-emphasis on sports… i would love to find one of those handwriting charts somewhere!

  21. I was raised in Canada (albeit back when the Earth’s crust was cooling) and we had a strong emphasis on cursive. My son here in Oregon was taught cursive writing in 3rd grade but it was never required for assignments. It was sort of a cool thing to do if you felt like it. Now in 7th grade most of his assignments are typed and some students are quite proficient at typing, I mean keyboarding. However, keyboarding is not taught in school and some kids, like my son, are left pecking away until all hours of the night (until I can’t take it anymore and finish the job in 10 mins!). My goal this summer is to get him up to speed (ha). Cursive writing still comes in handy from a speed perspective for taking notes in high school and college, next hurdle.

  22. I have found that handwriting is just a section that our kids take in school (BC, Canada), more just to see how the letters are formed (and my kids attend a traditional model school!). My children do all their assignments in printing form. I find this disappointing because it is a good skill to have, let alone being able to decipher what words say in script. A teacher friend of mine says that handwriting is totally useless and out-of-date! Yikes!

  23. I have to say that even though I was a good student, I would not want my grades read aloud in front of everyone. It sounds like your children are not only getting a good education, but will be a little tougher than their American counterparts (not that they’re not American, but you know what I mean!) I think that these practices sound fantastic. Sports and recreation are important for skills and exercise but schoolwork should come first. I am surprised that they spend a lot of time on script/cursive. I think writing legibly is extremely important, but I always thought cursive writing was a waste of time that we were forced to endure in third grade (where I grew up). I pitied the teachers who had to read that terrible writing. Thank you for sharing all of this! It has been really interesting.

  24. I used to teach elementary school and while I think that legible handwriting is important, it’s just not necessary to dwell on something as superficial as cursive penmanship. I don’t write in cursive. Ever. I don’t care if my son never learns it at all. It’s nice and beautiful and artistic, but it’s just visual. I care much more about the substance of the writing. Honestly, I think learning to type is more useful than cursive.

    Yes, the “American” system has troubles. But I would still prefer it to most other systems. Our system has produced some of the most creative ideas in the world. Creativity is stifled when children are publicly berated for making mistakes. From what I understand, the French education system places kids in tracks (college/career) based on standardized testing. This is certainly not the way I’d like to see education go in this country.

    I think it’s really easy to look to Europe and idealize their methods (in education and otherwise) but our country is one of a distinctly different history and multicultural heritage.

    And as far as the sports stuff goes… well I can dig it, lol! One of the nicest things about living in Europe (I did a few years back) was that everyone was dressed so well!

    1. Hi Sarah,

      I am just replying to explain you something. In France and other french speaking countries (as Belgium) handwritting is a very important tool to your administrative and juridical life. I once typed a three page letter to explain a situation to the Royal Public Prosecutor in Belgium and I received a reply that for it to be official I had to send it in my handwritting. I literally had to copy the letter in handwritting. It all turned out well and I have gained my case. I don’t know all the reasons for this, but within others, it doesn’t exclude people who don’t have a printer at home (you would be amazed how many people don’t have one and how it is not a priority) and it certifies that you are you -if they need to check it with forensics. So differently from the US, it’s not only an aesthetics issue, it’s a life tool.

    2. I live in France and school my two children here and I agree completely with Sarah. To romanticize French schooling is really unwise and unrealistic — it is well-known fact that French schooling is a failure (witness the huge overhauls every few years here!) The French system doesn’t value creativity at all — for ex. my 6 yr. old with autism was told to form his body into a sculpture during “motricite” class, and he did with his arm swinging like a Calder he had seen at MOMA and the teacher held him up as an example of what not to do! They do not value creativity in students! French university level (where I also teach) is dismal and fraught with problems — I find that students are not motivated, won’t participate except begrudgingly, if theyeven show up, and talk incessantly during class (gossipy and most students don’t pay any attention to the professor.) I could go on and on, including that 80% of kids with a “handicap” (which we wouldn’t consider a basis for pulling them out of school in the USA, but we do here in France!) are not schooled! That alone is an outrage.
      Just warning you that when you actually really live in France, you will learn that French schooling is a “catastrophe!” My kids can’t wait to get back to the USA schools where positive and analytical thinking is valued by teachers, and teachers won’t be hitting (yes, hitting!) yelling and screaming at kids during classtime. That’s what it is really like.

  25. as a child, I went to a french school in the U.S (California) where all my studies (and teachers) were french. The penmanship thing was huge there. Even now as an adult, I’m told I have lovely handwriting. I also almost always write in script, so I guess it stuck with me!
    We had some of the public criticism, but not as much as you would get in a french school. I think it makes kids work harder and teach them consequences. But it is a little sad; they’re just children after all…

  26. Thank you for sharing some of the details of children’s learning experiences in France. I agree, the handwriting is beautiful. The system sounds fairly well-rounded. All three of my children were and are very athletic, but most of their competitions before high school were “club” oriented. Are athletic clubs popular in France?
    When I was a young girl attending elementary school in Oregon, we didn’t begin cursive writing until the fourth grade, which is around age 10. That was in the 1960’s, and it hasn’t changed much. Cursive handwriting is still taught in Oregon, but not nearly with the same emphasis as I received as a young student, and still, it just depends on the teacher as to the use of pens or pencils.
    Recently, I read about the school children in Finland, who are ranked TOPS in education amongst all nations and Finland has a positive and different approach to successful learning with astounding results. Finland begins with extremely well-educated teachers. It is quite fascinating to read about. In the United States of America, we need dramatic change in our educational system, overall, and change which will require VERY involved parents and citizens contacting our Congress for changes of many kinds. The answers are not all in our current system, but we haven’t done everything wrong, either. We have tenured teachers, many of them who teach well, but at the same time, makes it nearly impossible to release ineffective teachers.

  27. I taught in a French school as an “assistant d’anglais” for a year after I graduated from university. I was shocked when on the first day one of the teachers I was working with stated, in front of her students, that “this is my stupid class.” Throughout the year I continued to hear teachers publicly criticize students for sub-par performance or behavior. This was one of the elements of the French school system I liked least and which has made me think very long and hard about sending our daughter to French school (either in France or the US).

    However, I now have a different perspective after having discussed the issue ad-nauseum with my French husband and seeing how he has excelled in the US workplace. Learning to take criticism is part of the French education – there is no sugar-coating or rewards for effort but poor performance.

    As a result, I find that my husband and many French friends living here in the US have a very different perspective when they receive professional criticism – they do not take it personally. They simply see criticism as a comment on their work product and resolve to improve the next time around. In a professional world where there are few rewards for trying hard but not performing, the French school system prepares students for “real life.” My husband, having been raised in the French school system, does not lack confidence, quite the contrary in fact. However, he does have an innate ability to take constructive criticism, self-reflect, and move on.

    While, as an American, I don’t know that hearing a teacher publicly criticize my daughter or other students will ever be easy (and I have certainly witnessed examples of French teachers taking it too far), I now believe that the rigidity of the French school system prepares students for the challenges they face as adults in the “real world” and workplace.

  28. Wow! Every time you post something like this about France, I send it to my husband and then we discuss for hours that night when we could move there. We just had a baby (2 months today!) and we are terrified about raising her in the US. We are both artists and love lettering. I’d love for our daughter to have to learn and appreciate good writing.

  29. Lisa Taylor Whitley

    I like that in France they emphasize academics and not sports. Having said that, I do think it is very important for children to get exercise every day but it certainly doesn’t have to be in an organized game. I’m not sure how I feel about the public criticism. It definitely seems like a way to hold students accountable but I can see how it could be detrimental as well.

  30. I love the first picture. The chart with upper case letters with lower case directly below in cursive followed by the same letters in manuscript is brilliant. My kids with special needs learned manuscript and then when I taught them cursive they had difficulty reading it and still do. Teach it all together. I must say again that is brilliant!

  31. I am not defending American public school systems. Many are atrocious. However, as a former English teacher, I think effective discipline and education can be accomplished very well without ridicule. We in the US could learn from the emphasis on academics, but the French in turn could learn a little diplomatic tact in the classroom from us. I have a friend who’s husband helps oversee a plant in France. Evidently, Frenchmen’s hard work in school does not always translate into a steady work ethic professionally. My friend’s husband reports that workers are frequently inexplicably absent on the job. Their is truly no ideal country or culture.

  32. I love that penmanship is a big deal.
    I homeschool and am adamant that my children use good penmanship…always.
    I may even try to find a french alphabet chart like the one you posted. You know the one thing that I found I took the hardest when I became an adult is that when a boss gave me constructive criticism or criticism at all I felt berated or attacked. But had I been exposed to this earlier in life I would have been able to look at it subjectively and not ran away crying.
    Anyway, Hooray for French school!!! I hope someday that my family and I have a chance to live there.

  33. I wonder how they deal with learning disabilities? Expecting perfect penmanship from my dyslexic/dysgraphic son would be a disaster. As would riduculing him for his atrocious spelling tests. From what I understand, the French are mostly in denial about dyslexia, which is a scientifically acknowledged neurological difference that shows up on fMRIs. My otherwise very smart son would likely end up dropping out of French schools altogether.

    1. Susie, there are very few French public or private schools that would even accept your child to begin with. Your son would, in all probability, be sent to the Institute right after maternelle and he would have to get therapy (not really an education) and not be around peers much. Even just small reading problems, etc… are often used as a means of pushing a child out of school and into the institute medico-educatif world, or making them repeat a grade. It is against the law, as the country tries to enforce inclusion, but it doesn’t happen much in practice here.

      1. I have to react to that comment!!!

        I’m a french primary school teacher, I teach in 4th grade, and 2 of my pupils are declared dyslexics (and I suspect some 2 or 3 more are too, but parents won’t hear about it…). They have someone to help them part-time with everything they have to write down, as it is their main difficulty, but they can follow most of what’s done during the day. And their penmanship is perfect…

        I have other pupils who have difficulties writing in cursive (but I think their writing wouldn’t be perfect in printing either), but they’ve been learning to write this way for 4 years now and we really teach them, show them how to form letters and they’ve practiced a lot, so it’s natural to them… It’s certainly more difficult if you’ve learned to write in printing and then asked to write in cursive without anyone telling you how to do it…

        As for inclusion, it is compulsory now (it’s been for almost 10 years now), every children must have access to school, whatever their handicap may be… It’s not always easy because some of them need extra help, so people are hired, but they’re not always trained, and have to learn how to do their job in the classroom, while they know nothing about dyslexia for example… And I think THAT’s a shame!!!

        Finally, some children with great difficulties are going in other classes in classic schools or in other places, but they’re not learning nothing there, trained teachers are in charge of these classes where their difficulties are taken into account, and they can learn at their own rhythm because they are only 15 max, and that’s not possible in 28 children-classes…

        What Lorena depicts is the situation that existed 30 years ago, when I was at school, but things have changed since!

  34. It was the last day of school at our French “Lycee” in Stockholm — I have a team of French boys running around our yard in a last day of school birthday party here. (Yes, my quick and guilty pleasure is to take a quick peak at what you’re writing about today before they’ll all inside again! Always interesting and irresistible! I have to comment quickly! I think about these subjects daily.

    This is completely true and as our children started, here, in the maternelle, they all have learned the beautiful script from that age. I thought the progression from printing to 100% cursive during their kindergarten (GS) year, was so interesting with the teacher’s notes and classroom signs progressively transforming throughout the year from block letters to cursive , helping the students to not only learn how to write this was but to make sure that they learn how to read cursive. Of course, aesthetically, it is beautiful but I find the goal of mastering a task (penmanship) to be something concrete and goal oriented.

    I’m asked regularly asked to compare the American, Sweden and French educations and always respond that American schools are somewhere between the two. True, in French schools one is corrected in public but in a Swedish school, one is never told no!

    I was struck from day one with with the way the French teachers were able to allow themselves to see an individual and voice their opinion vs the Swedish schools where any assessment was much more neutral and opinion it extremely difficult to decipher. I think being put in a foreign situation really makes one take a look at these everyday situations with such different eyes — In the French system, I find that I find value an opinion as long as it isn’t humiliation and in the Swedish, the space to develop at your own tempo, as long as it isn’t passive. These systems are day and night. Oh, I would love to hear and discuss more. It’s really fun to hear about your experiences.
    (On a last note, I’ve spoken to many French teachers who love to teacher their FRench curriculum in the free environment of Sweden… I had heard very harsh harsh reprimands from friends at schools in France and I honesty, question what that does to one’s self-esteem — which has come up interestingly in conversations with French school school grads & French teachers. )

  35. Wow, so it is true. My family is moving to France next month from Canada so our 1 1/2 year old will start school there. At least she won’t know any different with being scolded in public. I love handwriting and like to know that she will learn it. I found out the other day that my friend’s 16 year old daughter doesn’t know how to write (but she does know every texting short form).

    Thanks for the post

  36. Intreresting to read the differences. I enjoyed your post on child-rearing, wondered if there are any interesting variations in homekeeping between American and French mothers?

  37. I will have to agree with Laetitia on this one. Being French too, the public scolding was pretty harsh at times even if I was rarely on the receiving end of of it.
    When I came to the US and was a TA as part of my grad program, it took me a little bit to adjust to the teaching here. In some sense I was very amazed at how fearless the American students were, asking all the questions that crossed their minds. I liked that they were able to express themselves so freely. At the same time, it was annoying too in the sense that it seemed that many did not bother thinking about an answer to the question they were asking. It may sounds silly but that’s how I was trained: repeat the question in your mind and make sure the answer is not obvious otherwise if you ask and it is “trivial” that would be the answer you would get (as in “it’s trivial, figure it out”).

    This type of approach from the teachers back home is there from the beginning (maternelle) but I think is the harshest at college level like in the “classes prepas”. I’ve had maths teachers asking some friends after 2 year of college, majoring in maths, if they’d consider a career in litterature or art as they were “incompentent” or “clearly lacking skills”. I can assure you the ones being told that were not incompetent but still were humiliated in front of the class.

    I think it did make us tougher, maybe coming across as arrogant sometimes (because of the lack of tact giving feedback for instance) but definitely more resilient. These are the positive aspects I am taking out of it, that and good handwriting! My grand-ma was a primary school teacher so our summer times were full of “pages d’ecritures et dictees”!

  38. When we were in Morocco our kids attended Moroccan schools that taught with the French system and we were utterly AMAZED by the good hand writing that was required from the time our daughter came home from her first day of kindergarten. Unfortunately since we have left she says she has forgotten the cursive writing because the American and Danish systems only use print. It is a total bummer in my opinion!

  39. There´s another place on Earth, where old school learning and habbits are very much alive and practised. Its Russia, and to some extend, the Eastern Europe. All the things you mentioned about using a pen, not a pencil for writing, as well, as criticism infront of the whole class, sports classes-it all sounds so familiar! We live in Finland, and my daughter has learned to read and print write in Russian, and I am looking forward to enrolling her to the Russian Embassy school, so she can learn proper script writing.
    When I moved to Finland, as a schoolgirl, I found it trendy, and new and fascinating to print write, so I abandoned my scripwriting for some time, but as an adult, I´m totally back to it!!!

  40. This was SO fun to read! And in my opinion (since I was a school teacher and can speak intelligently about the subject) it sounds like American schools could learn a few good lessons from French schools! We coddle our students way too much and I’m actually terrified to see how the next generation is going to run this country. Terrified! I also love how “sophisticated” the French seem to be. Never wearing workout clothes, writing in script, using pens. Our society is SO casual and personally I think it is hurting our youth. There’s no respect. It makes me cringe when my 3 year old calls my friends by their first names. I would NEVER have done such a thing when I was kid, but that’s just the norm these days. Anyway…could write a book, but I personally like the way the French do things! Maybe I should move there, right?!

    1. It’s so interesting that you said this (about calling adults by their first name). I am in my early thirties and was NEVER allowed to call adults by their first name – it was either Aunt/Auncle or Mr./Mrs. depending on the situation. My fiance is French (I’m there currently) but we’ll be moving back to Canada soon. He likes the casualness of North America (well, some parts!) and doesn’t think the name thing is a big deal. As an educator, however, I cringe when I hear children call their friends parents by their first name. Sometimes I think it makes what they’re saying quite rude, albeit unintentionally.
      As for yoga pants….I never wear them in France, not even at home anymore! Last year, I was at home working and wearing my yoga pants. My fiance came home for lunch and then we were going out. I asked him to wait a few minutes until I could get changed. He replied, “Oh, you are not going to wear your pyjama outside?” (cheekily!) However, here in Canada, I have an administrator who wears them to work! Much TOO casual in my opinion.

  41. I think I might belong in France rather than here in the states. I was jus lamenting to a friend how handwriting is becoming a lost art. I went to 12 years of parochial school here in the US- with an environment that sounds very similar to the one you mention – granted this was many years ago. Penmanship was huge! But I get compliments on my handwriting all the time , so I guess it paid off. And pens vs. pencil – I still only use pencils for math and sketching. Our town school system is so sports heavy it’s ridiculous. I LIKE the way the French school system sounds – minus the scolding.

  42. we moved to London from New York last September and my 3 girls go to British schools (my 15-year-old son goes to an international IB school). we’ve experienced the same thing with handwriting and fountain pens for everything except here they teach the kids a victorian kind of script called “joined-up writing”, which is an odd version of cursive that I even find hard to read.

    as for the public discussion of scores and grades, it’s a bit old-fashioned in my mind, and very unlike the American school system. I find their parent-teacher nights to be hilarious and quite like speed dating: 5 minutes with each teacher, often accompanied by the teacher schowing you the class rosters with everyone’s scores listed next to their names. so far, though, my kids have just accepted it (they are not anywhere near the bottom of the class, which helps a lot!)

    Even ballet test scores are posted on the outside doors of the schools or churches where the classes are held for any random passer-by to see — first and last names and scores right next to them!
    I think the British kids don’t know any differently, but it surely is a motivating system for my girls!

  43. Reading this is very funny to me, because so many of this is simply a Europe-America clash. I am Dutch and though the French are much more traditional (read: stricter and more old-fashioned), many of the things you describe here were true for my schooldays in Holland. The American emphasis on sports for example has always amazed me.

  44. My family”s tricultural experience has made me idealize where whcih country offers the best for each age. Swedish preschools allow the most exploration with self-expression, American primary schools provde a fun place for creative learning and the serious French high schools teach solid basics with rigor.
    Kayaking and cricket are foreign sports which I never heard of being taught at French schools. PS. My daughter takes a French bacclaureate in 8 hours from now/

  45. Your post reminded me of my amazement of the neatly organized pencil boxes (although you’re right, no pencils in there!) that all students in France carry. I noticed this at a business school as a college student, so the tradition is a lasting one. The worst is when people forget to take the refillable fountain pen tubes out of their clothes at the laundromat… aaarrrgghhh. I was in total amazement that twenty-something, tight t-shirt wearing guys were using rulers and different colored pens to organize their notes. As a college instructor now, I have NEVER seen this from boys or girls in my experience teaching. Thanks for taking me back :)

  46. It’s interesting how many parallels there are with the French and Russian schools. My mother would tell us stories of her school days. They also only wrote cursive and in pen. Teachers would announce grades and mock some students as well. Also popularity was based on how good your grades were not on sports. I wonder if this type of behavior encourages kids to do really well. The American way of teaching seems to set kids up to fail. Use pencil because we know your going to mess up. Hide your score so if you fail no one will know and you can secretly be bad at school. Is transparency better?

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