The French Connection Visits the Conference Imprimer Envoyer
Pédagogie Explicite - Historique du courant
Écrit par Françoise Appy   
Dimanche, 01 Juillet 2007 00:00

Common Knowledge - The Newsletter of the Core Knowledge Foundation - Vol. 20, n° 2, juillet 2007

The French Connection Visits the Conference

Core Knowledge

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French educators and regular “Common Knowledge” contributors Francoise and Bernard Appy attended the 2007 National Conference in Washington, D.C. Francoise has written several articles about her views of the current state of French education, to which Core Knowledge has a special connection since the traditional French system was held up as a shining model in The Schools We Need (Hirsch, 1996). Here, Francoise details — with anecdotal help from her husband, Bernard — how her quest to fix French schools has led her (back) to Core Knowledge. As she mentions, Francoise has made new friends and professional contacts thanks to “Common Knowledge.” Please visit her at

It’s a long way to Core Knowledge — it’s a long way to you. I could say it another way: it’s a long distance to meet people we feel very close to. Close to you, members and teachers of Core Knowledge, because we share the same ideas about Education. And, as you know, ideas have no frontiers.

We came to meet our American counterparts and because of the current state of French schools. We realized that many people were surprised because traditional French schools were one source of inspiration for Core Knowledge.

Ideas have no frontiers — for better or for worse. American progressivism has reached the other side of the Atlantic, and it is still an official creed among our so-called researchers. Thankfully, our Minister of Education is more or less trying to do something: he’s officially allowed and recommended phonic reading in grade 1. We, the education resistance, are very pessimistic. Bad politics and bad faith people have spoiled the debate over education.

My husband Bernard, being a good teacher, likes to use comparisons. He has specially written for you two little stories to sum up the situation. The connection between wine and school might surprise you at first, but I think you’ll see his point when you finish the second story.

First story

French wines are known all over the world… At the end of the 19th century, a terrible blight of the grapevines ruined all the French vineyards. It was called phylloxera, and it was caused by a special insect known as the worst enemy of the grapevine. It can kill the plant within three years. The epicentre of the blight was situated in Gard department in 1863. Then, it spread to other vineyards all over the country.

In fact, this insect had come from the Eastern United States. It came to Europe due to the imprudence of some French nurserymen. At first, French winemakers felt helpless against the damages caused by the insect. Then, some of them had the idea of going to the United States to get some strong seedlings that would be naturally immunized against phylloxera. However, replacing all French grapevines by American ones would have meant the destruction of all our grape varieties. The solution was to use the American seedlings as stock (for graft). That’s what they did. Thereby, our vineyards were healed: we got the remedy from the very source of the disease!

Second story

French schools were famous all over the world... At the end of the 20th century, progressivism ruined our education system. The origin of this catastrophe is constructivism, a philosophy that believes that a child is able — independently — to build his own knowledge. These ideas came to France because of researchers who imported them from the United States. Since 1969, this new phylloxera has been damaging French schools. Pupils don’t learn much, teachers are disoriented. The disease touched primary school first, then spread to secondary school. Now, in the universities, you find students are almost illiterate. They can’t spell three words out of five.

Different solutions were attempted: get rid of grades, lower the level of assessments, avoid difficult tasks, lighten the curriculum, etc. But the progressive phylloxera was still spreading.

Then, teachers from “The Third Way” had the idea to go to the United States to get a remedy to this catastrophe. They found in Core Knowledge strong solutions and ideas immunized against constructivism, created by E. D. Hirsch.

Of course, we couldn’t replace our curriculum with Core Knowledge because of cultural differences between France and the United States. But we can use Core Knowledge philosophy as a stock (for graft) in order to rebuild the French school system... Once again, we must find the remedy in the place where the disease started.

Today phylloxera has disappeared, and all our vineyards have grafted plants. We just wish it could be the same with progressivism in our education system!

Our visit to your conference was very positive. We admire your organization and your results, your confidence, and your adherence to methods and programs that really work. We learned a lot about your education system, which works differently than ours but is touched by similar problems. And Washington, D.C., is such a wonderful place!

I am particularly thankful to E. D. Hirsch. Our “American adventure” started with him when Bernard bought me The Schools We Need. In this book I found familiar ideas, bright analysis, and a very honest and non-polemic way of speaking. All that I knew from my teaching experience was here clearly put together, plus all that I didn’t know about your educational system and its history.

After reading this, I understood clearly that progressivism is more than a way of teaching — it is a philosophy of life, and therefore incompatible forever with our philosophy of transmitting knowledge.

Unfortunately, Hirsch’s ideas are only known in France by some happy few. That’s why Bernard and I decided to use our website to spread them. I had several contacts with members of your Foundation and I felt very welcome. Thank you especially to Linda Bevilacqua, the president, and to Michael Ford, Diana Brewster, and Karen Baggiano, who have all been very helpful and patient. Thanks to your newsletter we developed a special contact with a teacher in New York City who now participates in our Third Way discussion list. And thanks, too, to everyone whom I don’t know personally.

What’s happened to French schools since 1969 is exactly what happened to your school system earlier. You probably know that many French consider the U.S. as a window for their future. I do hope it’s true when I see the success of Core Knowledge.

Une réalisation LSG Conseil.