The French and School: a Match made in Hell

School is school. Now you might be thinking ‘geez, this one has a knack for stating the obvious’, but as the awesome Attempting Reality demonstrated, school can be very different depending on which country you’re in. And while Attempting Reality (who I love, check out her blog!) presented a more elogious description of her school, mine will be a bit more, let’s say, ranty.

There is one master key to French schools; and that is academics. Yes yes I know, academics are the key to most (I won’t say all, who knows, I might be wrong, though I find this to be unlikely) education systems, but the French, as they do with a lot of things, go over the top with it. On average, we have class from 8:30 to 4:30, although in my old junior high we went from 8 to 6. It was rough. I mean it doesn’t give you much time to enjoy life, and that’s what our teenage years are all about right? Like, YOLO people! Oh dear God, I may have just rendered my whole argument invalid by saying YOLO. And of course now I have the Lonely Island song stuck in my head. Anyway, back on topic. A study showed that we spend around 847 hours per year in school, as opposed to the 774  hours that constitute the European average. And yet our education system ranks far lower? Um, hello people? Wake up? Please, copy Finland, I beg of you.

Oh homework, I hate you so. There’s so much of you I can’t even keep up anymore. We’re supposed to spend a minimum of 4 hours a day on homework, and if you get out at 5, it gets difficult. Over the last school year (sophomore year) I pulled around 20 all-nighters, and on most nights didn’t go to bed until 2 am. It’s not healthy! Jobs after school are unheard of. And you can forget about extracurriculars, who has the time? We squeeze them in as bet as we can, after all there’s no getting into American college without ’em, but they’re a blow to the homework designated time. I should point out that none of these extracurricular activities are school operated, we have no football or baseball teams, no Friday night games, no Spring musicals. As far as french thinking goes, school is for intellectual studies only. This also means that there are no social gatherings like Homecoming or Winter Formal, much to this teenager’s sorrow (yeah, I’ve seen movies and read books. Everything happens at the dances). Quite basically, we’ve got no school spirit.

Now since we’re so focused on becoming corporate lawyers and Wall Street bankers, everything is fiercely competitive. We are ranked, cataloged, and watched closely for the duration of our scolarity, from the age of 6 ’til we’re done. And then comes the stupid part. At age 16, at the end of sophomore year, we are forced to make a life changing decision, one that will follow us for the rest of our careers. And really, once the choice is made, there’s no turning back. We have to choose in between 3 (I know, not a lot of choices) programs: S (scientific), ES (economic & social) and L (literature). They didn’t want to let me into S because I don’t have the grades in math, but I fought back hard. I want to study biology, not math! You can’t make me study economics when I’m going to become a doctor! The system is rigid and blind to individual needs, and that’s what makes it difficult to succeed. Apart from college counseling, which is particular to the EABJM, we get no guidance. You either shine or you fail. And you have to get your claws out (isn’t that a weird turn of phrase?) to get where you want.

Concerning the actual school system, we have only 3 years of high school that culminate in the grueling and infamous baccalaureate, or BAC for short. And contrarily to the american system, we don’t get to choose our classes. We have a core curriculum that we are given, so there’s no AP junk, mixing grades or anything. We move from classroom to classroom as a unit, never truly separated from each other. Since I go to an  international school, I’ll be taking the BAC OIB (with international option). Also, my school likes to torture its students by forcing a lot of tests on us: last year, the british IGCSE, next/this (oh gosh, it’s that time of year already!) year the american SAT and in ‘terminale’ the french BAC. We’re being prepared for ‘prepa’, which is a 2 year ordeal wherein you have no social life whatsoever, thus no development. All I can say is; college is the easy, more expensive way out for me, and it is going to be a breeze!

Now as much as I hate the french school system with all my might, I do love some aspects of my everyday school life. I love the exhiliarating feeling of flying towards the subway station in the morning, knowing that if I miss the next one I’ll be late. I love seeing my friends when I enter the classroom. I love grabbing some takeout chinese food and rushing to my friend’s house to watch an episode of How I Met Your Mother before classes begin for the afternoon. I love guessing what tie my Physics teacher will be wearing (Snoopy? M&M’s?). I love spending all of my money on Starbucks (seriously, 5 bucks for a Chai Tea? Come on Seattle, get your sh*t together) when the day is done. I love accompagnying my friends to their subway stop even though I then have a longer trip back. I love homewor- oh wait no I don’t, I’ve gone too far 😉

Live long and prosper \V/

Yours sincerely,

The Mostly Confused Teenager.


23 thoughts on “The French and School: a Match made in Hell

  1. No offense, but I was juggling gymnastics and tutoring twice a week and I didn’t go to bed at 2 am… You should probably organize yourself better because 2 am is kind of late and since were teenagers and were still growing and stuff we need a lot of sleep :/ I’m not trying to be mean but since this school is so hard and tiring you really need to get on top of your studies. It’s a new year so start fresh and get new habits! ! 😀

    • Sure, I was juggling dance and tutoring as well, plus 45 minutes of piano a day. Then you’ve got to take the dog out cause your brother won’t do it, help with dinner, feed the cat… it all adds up! In the long run, I am probably the worst organized person on the planet, but even if I were the best, I’m still lacking the basic time that I need.

  2. Wow, your school sounds so different! At my school, we start at 8:45am and finish at 3:30, which is actually quite late compared to other schools! At my friends school, they begin at 8:30 and finish at 2:45! It would be difficult to go to school for so long and continue to concentrate the entire time! I think we get a similar amount of homework, but we obviously spend less time at school, which I guess is better. I guess I just never really thought about how relaxed the Australian school system is, but, then again, the Australian way of life in general is pretty laid back. Most deadlines are approximate if you have a decent excuse and we get a ton of public holidays! 🙂 x

  3. It sounds like they just don’t give you freedom – what if you don’t want to go into any f those three areas? What if your passion is for art, drama, or music? However my school is from 8.30 till 2.45 and I wish they would push us harder! More nights than not I am in school later (about 5) doing extra GCSEs but that’s my choice and I could have easily been lazy :/

    • You don’t really have a choice. I mean you can go for a BAC PRO, but that’s generally considered to be easier and less prestigious. It’s basically for people who don’t need a high degree of education and will spill into the workforce as soon as they graduate. Good on you for doing the extra work!

      • That’s a shame :/ It feels like your life is mapped out for you, but I suppose it is efficient!

  4. I just found your blog on FuelMyBlog. Not finding many good blogs there, but yours is great! You’re a good writer and very funny. I guess all those long school hours are paying off for you! 😉

  5. Wow! Schools in France actually do seem similar to those in India! (Where I’m from)
    This also shows how much I misunderstood it. I mean, I had learnt a bit of French in school, and all our textbooks seemed to show the educational system there, to be much easier. I do remember my friends wishing that we could all migrate to France because apparently, you get a lot of holidays there.

    In the meanwhile, this gives me an idea of what my next post should be about, my school.

  6. Pingback: The school story | Sun, Sand, Stars and Dreams

  7. Hello 🙂
    I would just like you to know that I sympathise with you. I’m English and I have lived in France all my life and am now going to school in Strasbourg (not to give you a life story or anything…)
    I really do think that the system is mal foutu. I hate it. How can you be productive with so many hours a week? At the rentrée I’ll be in première and have 43 hours a week.
    Unlike you I have never done all-nighters, my max was 3 in the morning as I had to finish a French dissertation (my own fault probably, as I did write 17 pages, but for a 17/20 with the teacher I have it’s not that bad!). But I can tell you that this first year of Seconde for me was sometimes pretty rough, going to school looking like a zombie every day.
    It sounds as if you live close enough to your school, if you take the tram? I live 1 hour away by bus :/

    I also think the Bac S, ES, L and blablabla is silly just by comparing it to other countries. If you want to do an apprentissage or whatever you have to decide when you’re 14… you have to choose which flilière you want to do for your bac at 15/16. I decided to do S. Really, I do like maths and all that, but I would’ve done L had there NOT been the philosophy, well hey you get a 2 with one teacher or a 19,5, it all depends on the teacher… -___- I agree with what you said in your post, why have to study maths coefficient 6 (I think) when you want to be a doctor??? stupidity, absolute stupidity. I bet if they reevaluated their schooling system, loads of people would be able to shine instead of being forced to study useless things at great lengths and having their overall grade brought down by one irrelevant thing they just weren’t as good at.
    I don’t know about the US but in the UK when you’re 15 you choose which GCSEs you’re going to take the following year, there’s no menu or anything, you just choose the subjects which you’re good at. Say hey I’m good at maths and Spanish! I’ll do those. People take between 5 and 20 exams. Then when you’re 18 you take your A-levels, which is the same, just pick and mix. And do you know what? The British are allowed to drop subjects… Ooh, I’m not that good at Chemistry, I think I’ll drop the subject altogether next year… Hmm, do you know what, Geography is dead boring!! I don’t think I’ll take that subject next year.

    It’s at times like this that I would really love to live somewhere else…
    At least we get long summer holidays and now 2 weeks of hols at the Toussaint instead of 1 and

  8. Damn my comment was too long. It’s probably a sign that I should stop moaning about it and get on with it.

    On the other hand, France is really cool 🙂 and we’re bilingual… always cool too 😉
    Do you go to an international school or not?

    Bien cordialement 😉

    • I totes agree with you! Sorry, I will never ever ever ever say totes again in my life. Ugh. How did you ever manage to write 17 pages on a French dissertation? What the heck inspired you so much?
      Unfortunately we still have to take philosophy, I guess starting next year in première, even in S. The bright side is that after next year, no more French classes! I can’t believe that the BAC is starting for us, it’s quite scary to think about really!
      The holidays are awesome, although did you know that our current ministre de l’éducation is thinking of cutting summer vacation by 2 weeks?! Luckily by the time his evil plan is in place you and I will have finished lycée. Any idea of what you want to do afterwards?
      Yeah I go to the EABJM, which is an international school here in Paris, so I’m taking the BAC option OIB. If I walk normally I love 25 minutes away, and if I run I cut that time to 15. Let’s face it, I always run. An hour by tram is a long way!
      And you’re right, being bilingual IS the coolest 🙂

      • I quite enjoy writing dissertations actually =, when I’m not struggling to find what to say, not sitting in front of my paper with no inspiration and not working past midnight when all i want is to sleeeep. If you write about something interesting it can be enjoyable, like yuo write on your blog to express your opinions and your feelings. I guess you could say disserting (can you say that?) is showing people what you think too. (only in extremely complicated sentences and refering to books you now you haven’t read but you’re just making it up)

        Well I know everyone gets philosophy in Terminale, but at least in S it’s coef 4 or something whereas in L it’s 9 or something crazy. And really, I just couldn’t decide to do L, simply because I just don’t know whether I’ll be any good at philo and by Terminale if I realise I’m not well I’d be um stuffed really… At least I’m good at science even though that’s probably not want I want to do later.
        I’d be ok with the two week cut if only they either gave us less hours during the week or more holidays during the school year. Seems fair game to me, at least we’d wouldn’t have to work our bottoms off then have two (three!) months of nothing, it’s be balanced out ^^
        I’ve never heard of your school but I go to the Lycée International des Pontonniers in Strasbourg and I too am going to be doing OIB 😉 so tell me…. what books are you studying? have you read them yet? xD did your history teacher also warn you off the OIB last year saying that you’d DIE and NEVER EVER to do Bac S with OIB?
        (I can tell you that this is not true at all, my sister and many of her friends did S and OIB and all of them survived)
        Did you go to a normal or not normal collège then? I went to primary school in my teeny tiny village then collège in the village next to us, so that was my very first year in and international school with actual english-speaking friends…! personally I love my school (there’s a pic of it on my blog somewhere amongst the cake, silk and rubbish drawings), the mix of nationalities is great. My old collège friends however mostly went to their lycée de secteur and therefore have a lot less work…
        But really, where on earth do you find the energy to RUN to school??!!! Whatever you’re taking, I want some!

      • When I write dissertations I go all formal and all cause we had a 90 year old really strict (but inside really nice) French teacher who wouldn’t condone the way I write on my blog. And anyway she doesn’t like English because “it’s perverting our young minds” x) There was one paper that was a review of a production of Le Misanthrope and in that I allowed myself to be informal. To be honest it was one of the funnest papers I’ve ever written 🙂
        Summer vacation goes so fast though! Eh who cares, IF they do implement the reform it’ll be in 2015 at which point you and I will have graduated (if all goes well 😉 )
        I’ve never heard of your school either, but I haven’t heard of much ^^ It was my first year in an international school too!! In primary and college I went to French schools and in kindergarten I went to the Lycee Francais de San Francisco, which although is normally considered an international school, I don’t, cause all I did was nap and model play-dough :p
        I hope I survive S/OIB and make it to university! We study the normal crap, we did Julius Caesar, the poems and Fasting Feasting in English last year, the Very Short Introductions (from Oxford) in history, the O level economics book, and otherwise basically just the french national program. I have a huge amount of summer reading which I really haven’t started on yet ><' I mean seriously, Wuthering Heights and Les Liaisons Dangereuses (a couple of many)? Ugh.

  9. Yeah, we learnt about the French School System in French, my teacher would always say that we are lazy asses compared to the French, since she is French, and to be honest, reading this and listening to her she was probably right 😀 She would say how in France you buy all your own books and how if you don’t get a good average at the end of the year you might have to repeat – But I dont know if that was only her school or something

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