The meritocratic fable of the French school

The ideology behind the Western school is based on the precept of equal opportunity. If the school year were to be a sport, it would be a marathon where everyone starts from the same starting line. The idea is that those who work hardest cross the finish line before others. Meritocracy is a central aspect of the philosophy of education in France, although it borrows from a more American concept.

A necessary fiction?

In fact, this approach is seen by some as an essential fable. It pushes students to excel, especially with the grading system that measures everyone’s effort. In this sense, it has taken generations to find success in their path. That is why this meritocracy is the heart of the school of the Fifth Republic. Except this choice was not natural. A long struggle of different currents tried to impose a vision of learning. And if meritocracy has won, its varnish has broken a bit over the years.

Even the “defenders” of this system speak of fiction, myth, fable. A blatant admission that the idea that the sum of efforts will necessarily lead to success is not entirely honest. There are more and more sociologists like Paul Pasquali who do not hesitate to use the term “heritocracy”. Remember that even today, two-thirds of Hautes Ecoles students come from privileged backgrounds. Institutions such as the ENA have come to reinforce, according to some experts, this idea of ​​an elite far above the citizenry whose lineage will always be able to benefit from important studies while others will have to conform to the springs.

Thus, if everyone started from the same starting line, those who already have significant stability will feel more confident to succeed. On the other hand, those who have the feeling of starting two steps back will have more difficulty and will be much more easily discouraged at the first obstacles. Especially because the system will remind them, unconsciously, that they are “responsible for their misfortune.” They just have to work harder. However, in many cases, other factors may be at stake, reducing student responsibility.

Down with the tyranny of merit!

This tyranny is not only seen in France. In the United States, where the concept is so ingrained that it shines in fiction, the race for diplomas and merits has led to inequalities, especially in the socially poor and among people of color. To the point that often difficult debates are increasingly being raised by different states and districts on the issue of positive discrimination. Because some people are very uncomfortable with the idea of ​​favoring the faculties of people from less affluent backgrounds or selected, in part, for their skin color. Africa also sees her side in a system that exalts those who have managed to climb the social ladder, leaving others with a sense of failure.

And what about meritocracy? Should it be demolished? Maybe, but it’s not that simple as meritocratic propaganda has worked well with the population and within the school itself. Why change something that, at first glance, seems to work very well? Among other things, the whole question of the presence of notes in the assessment plays an important role in this question of elitism.

What if other educational projects were considered to really give everyone a chance? The idea is, of course, not to stop good students, but to get them to work with their classmates. In fact, they could discuss, work together, and even explain in their own terms their understanding of the subject. Instead of being mere “symbols of success” of a teacher, they could be their allies to help more of their peers succeed. Especially because most teachers would be willing to reduce inequalities in their class. To do this, however, we must stop focusing and settle for the few “successes” of meritocracy.

Drawing : mohamed_hassan on Pixabay

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