French School Without Tears

The search for a happier, better education in France

Stress, frustration, punishment and failure: for too many children in France, this is what school has become on a daily basis. Over the past 15 years, the performance of pupils has deteriorated, even as the social inequalities have increased. France today has one of the least egalitarian school systems in the world, with a widening gulf between the success of children from better-off homes and the pre-programmed failure of those from poor or deprived areas.

Even for children who do well within the system, encouragement and positive reinforcement are rare, and happiness largely absent. It’s little surprise that kids are stressed, and their parents increasingly worried.

Fortunately, there are alternatives. The national state school system still occupies much of the space, but the number of schools offering a different approach and different methods is growing. Often the outcome is happier and better.

Following up on They Shoot School Kids, Don’t They?, my best-selling 2010 critique of the school system, I spent a year traveling around the country to visit these French schools without tears.

The journey took me from deprived banlieues where small groups of motivated teachers have turned around schools that were once threatened with closure or that specialize in helping drop-outs to finish their education, to the most expensive American-style private school in the nation. On the way, I explored alternative methods that are now well established, such as Montessori, Freinet and Steiner, and others which are only just taking off, including French-style charter schools and one of the big new trends, homeschooling.

This book is for anyone who is looking for solutions to the French school crisis. I mix description of what I found with hard-nosed analysis about whether it works. My aim is to inform teachers, politicians and others who want to fix the national education system—and restore hope to parents across France.