July 03, 2010
Totally Completely New Month's Open Thread
Posted by Matthew Hogan at July 3, 2010 01:03 AM
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I read this articule on elitism and the French grands ecoles interesting, but don't have enough France experience to evaluate it critically (although a France-raised friend who is a graduate of one had the comment that although he does believe the system is merit-based, " looking at the Elite schools is actually a very narrow assessment... the journalist has one of these typical NYC biased views of the world and missing the point that is much more critical about France’s high schools and other universities."
As this system apparently has the effect of very small numbers of second-generation immigrants to France having a realistic shot at admission, I was curious to see what other people here thought.
Posted by: Eva Luna at July 3, 2010 10:49 AM
Re Grands Ecoles, they may be merit based, but that does not mean the system feeding into it is providing a level playing field. Quite the contrary, the playing field is very unlevel, behind a veneer of meritocracy.
Also, the dominance of dirigiste grands ecoles thining is quite a negative in France. It would be rather healthier to have a less elitist system overall.
So I agree with your friend.
Posted by: The Lounsbury at July 4, 2010 09:33 AM
Any comment on Egypt's decision to revert to winter hours for Ramadan and then revert back for 20 days? http://www.cabinet.gov.eg/Media/NewsDetails.aspx?id=1960
Posted by: Antiquated Tory at July 22, 2010 05:27 AM
Morocco is doing more or less the same thing as well, except not bothering to revert back again. Probably a better choice. It's understandable. I can't see the extra daylight hours actually be well-used during Ramadan.
Posted by: The Lounsbury at July 22, 2010 10:43 AM
Ah I missed the Grandes Ecoles thread. Here, for a rather broad overview, being myself a drop-out of the Grandes Ecoles system and having compensated by collecting an insane number of degrees from standard universities and professional bodies in Europe and North America:
1) The Grandes Ecoles are here to stay. That's a fact you have to live with. It you want to be part of the French establishment, you have to graduate from them. The French ruling (business and politics) class comes from there. The cost to access those networks is otherwise very, very high. Had I understood that when I was 18, I wouldn't have dropped them out.
2) The reason I dropped them out is very well explained in the article:
The problem is not simply the narrow base of the elite, but its self-satisfaction. “France has so many problems with innovation,” Mr. Descoings said. Those who pass the tests “are extremely smart and clever, but the question is: Are you creative? Are you willing to put yourself at risk? Lead a battle?” These are qualities rarely tested in exams.
I was frankly stiff bored and didn't fit. 120 hours/week over 2 years of purely memorizing theoretical maths and physics proofs weren't exactly appealing to me. I wanted a more balanced education with stronger social sciences and creative components. When I expressed (non-conformist) dissatisfaction, I was looked at like someone coming from Jupiter, both by fellow students and professors alike.
3) If there's one area where France is less discriminatory towards its minorities, it is higher education. There is no need whatsoever for affirmative action. The reason for the under-representation of minorities (understand: French Arabs/Muslims and the smaller African minority) in the Grandes Ecoles is social (kids emulate what they see around them - humans are more creatures of habit than we are rational). With a French Muslim minority that is about 90% from a working class background, Grandes Ecoles are usually not part of the picture. This is a first factor of self-selection.
4) Like in any selective network in which you'd be a visible new element, to pass through the tighter circles of the Grandes Ecoles, you need cultural and social skills that you don't acquire at school. Contrast that with universities, and specifically graduate scientific programs, where Arabs are over-represented. This is another factor of self-selection.
5) Affirmative action would actually do more damage than good. First, it would raise suspicion over the merit of those who succeed. Second, it wouldn't resolve the issue of cultural/social skills gap. Moreover, although I encourage any French Muslim individual to go through the Grandes Ecoles, I do not believe passing through affirmative action would create progress for the minority (or France in general for that matter) overall. The additional effort that one has to undertake to access it as a disadvanted member of the Muslim minority implies the ability to navigate across establishment values, though with a critical approach that avoids blindly adopting them. The Grandes Ecoles are indeed factories for these same values which impede their progress. Also, the fact that a number of French Muslim brains end up looking for an alternative experience in the UK or North America as a result is more adapted to the needs of the minority thanks to the more successful anglo-saxon integration and social mobility models. Their numbers would ideally be increased with time, and those models reimported and adapted to the French context. I've seen it happen, though the scale is too small yet to have any significant impact.