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L’enseignement du français à l’épreuve de la démocratisation (1959–2001)

Abstract : This paper deals with the way French language and literature teachers have addressed the question of social inequities at school in France from 1959 until today. Classical Humanities, which had constituted the basis of elite education for many centuries, were harshly questioned from the eighteenth century on as being inadequate to a modern world. During the twentieth century, a new criticism was expressed against classical education: it was considered as a way of reproducing the domination of the bourgeoisie by setting up a barrier against the popular pupils, who frequented the so‐called primary schools, and were thus excluded from this classical culture. The democratisation of the French school system, through the transformation of primary and secondary systems from parallel systems (for lower‐class pupils and upper‐class pupils) into sequent degrees, was therefore accompanied by the extension of a new subject: French literature. French authors, read, studied, commented on from the lowest grades of primary schools to the last grades of secondary schools, seemed to offer the common cultural references needed by a democratic society. The creation of the “Agrégation de lettres modernes” in 1959 crowned this controversial evolution, a few months after the Berthoin reform had theoretically opened the secondary schools to every pupil whatever his or her social background. However, far from being a triumphal decade for the French literary studies, the end of the 1960s witnessed violent attacks against this traditional teaching. Considered as a part of bourgeois culture, it was accused of dooming pupils from a popular background to inexorable failure. Just like the Classical Humanities earlier, French literature appeared as an instrument of ideological domination and social reproduction. At the same time, the success of structuralism in linguistics and literary studies opened alternative possibilities to the classical literary history and proposed new ways of analysing texts and literary works. In this context the transformation of the discipline itself appeared to some teachers as both an adequate and legitimate way to democratise secondary schools. This paper describes the rise, the extension, and the abandonment of this original attempt from the 1950s to today. The proposals made by the promoters of the reforms are considered, in this paper, as a complex construction where social experience, political engagement, praxis, and theory are inextricably intertwined, thus questioning the relationship between politics and school culture. This paper also examines how the emergence of didactics as a scientific field at the end of the 1970s, and the subsequent rejection of political considerations from its technical and pedagogical discourse, tended to prevent teachers from grappling directly and efficiently with the issue of social inequities in French literature and language courses. This “de‐politicisation” of the curriculum debates may well have been the symptom of an inability to conceive how culture might be defined and what role it might play in a democratic society.
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Submitted on : Wednesday, January 30, 2019 - 10:39:51 AM
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Clémence Cardon-Quint. L’enseignement du français à l’épreuve de la démocratisation (1959–2001). Paedagogica Historica, Taylor & Francis (Routledge), 2010, 46 (1-2), pp.133-148. ⟨10.1080/00309230903528512⟩. ⟨halshs-01999526⟩



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