Post 2: Case Study 1: La République Française

After conducting my background research, I started to collect and examine data at the heart of my research project, starting with the first nation that I had chosen as a case study, France. I chose France as my first case study for a variety of reasons, but there were two dominant ones. Firstly, while I am not fluent in French, I can read French moderately well, and expected that interpreting French documents would be easier than attempting to interpret Croat or Finnish documents. Secondly, France has, historically, been a nation with high levels of centralization of authority and decision-making, and as such I expected a high degree of executive direction for classroom affairs, which would lead to a higher concentration of research materials at high levels of government. Both, I reasoned, would make France an easier first case study, but I found, this was not to be.

The French Ministère de l’Éducation Nationale et de la Jeunesse (Ministry of National Education and of the Youth) is a large and old organization that has an entrenched bureaucracy and has, in recent years, had to undergo some rather radical changes in its internal policies. Among other things, devolution (the transfer of central government powers to lower level governmental units) is in full swing in France, and as such, many different units claim governance over education policy. Further, the French Education Ministry is currently in the process of adopting Onze Mesures pour une Grande Mobilisation de l’École pour les valeurs de la République (Eleven Measures for a large Mobilizations of Schools for the values of the Republic), which were announced on January 22nd, 2015 and seek to reconstruct and redefine many parts of the traditional French citizenship education system and its content. Coupled with the large French government effort to modernize the state, this has also led to a massive reorganization of available resources and materials, further complicating data collection. These combined issues certainly made it difficult to navigate the bureaucracy of the Ministry at times, and often made it difficult to determine where to look.

Despite these issues, High-level French government documents revealed how the French Government believes citizenship education about Europe should enter the curriculum. Specifically, the French government has mandated that a specific amount of time per week (30 minutes) must be dedicated to the learning of L’éducation morale et civique across the primary level. However, it should be noted that during this time, Europe is rarely, if ever, a mandated discussion topic, and is certainly never considered beyond the most basic of facts (countries in the Union, largest cities, anthem, etc..). Further, the European Union did not appear as a distinct entity in the most recent end-of-year examination for Cycle 2 of the Education system, which encompasses the youngest years of elementary education. In Cycle 3 of the educational system, the story is much the same, but the Cycle 3 examination focuses more on questions relating to the meaning of being a European Citizen, as well as being able to identify the symbols and the entities of the European Union. However, in Le Collège (where most of Cycle 4 occurs and what American would define as Middle or Junior High school) the government mandated some understanding of European ideas and of the Union, by mandating that students understand the general principles of the construction of the European Union and the process of European integration, as well as France’s position within the Union, which the Cycle 4 examination specifically tests on.

In le Lycée (the equivalent of high school), citizenship education relating to Europe becomes far more abstract and less grounded in memorized facts and figures. Further, citizenship education itself becomes divided between two major classes, Moral and Civic Education (as before) and History-Geography Education. Moral and Civic Education is designed to focus on “the formation of a moral conscience, the understanding of the role of rule and of law, a sense of commitment”.1 Further, the program “proposes a pedagogical progression offering at each level a guiding theme…[including] “Exercising citizenship in the French Republic and the European Union”, especially in the first year of the Cycle.2 The Ministry provides little explicit direction even within this field, however, as the only direct reference to European institutions and concepts is under the section “Knowledge to be Learned” as “the idea of European Citizenship”.3 Interestingly, though the government does mandate this class for all French students, the specific topic of exercising citizenship in the European Union is not a mandated theme for the class, but rather it is simply one of 4, from which 3 must be chosen by the teacher. This places the students’ understanding of the Union explicitly in the hands of the teachers, with the state mandating relatively little knowledge be learned about the Union, within Moral and Civic Education. Similarly, History-Geography classes “contribute in a complementary way to the student’s intellectual training, civic education and the building of a common culture”.4 Further, within this program, a significant amount of time is dedicated to understanding the Historical phenomenon of the European Project (around 20 hrs per year), centered on the theme of “Continental Government since 1944”, which specifically introduces the European Union as a political actor on the scene of Europe, akin to a state.5 These high-level ministry mandates for the curriculum of the lower-level academies indicate that France regards European Citizenship education as a part of the curriculum, but as it can be selectively ignored, both by teachers and students for study, is not a central component for the national education system of France.

Turning away from the national level, I made a brief turn to one of the lower Academies to see how they approached the same question of citizenship education, and how the directives of the national government were transferred to the lower levels of administration. I chose, somewhat randomly, to start with the Académie de Paris, which virtually verbatim copied the resources available at the national level, thought there was a small amount of change with regards to the time-frame of some academic materials relating to the European Project, which were presented earlier in the schedule than as dictated by the Ministry of Education, having been brought forward to CM2 within Cycle 3. While a seemingly small change, this shows how the devolution of powers has resulted in more high-level academic decision-making being taken at lower levels, and how even within one of the historically most centralized nations, differences in the curriculum between educational units can easily appear. This, unfortunately, aggressively expands the scope of the project, making the work to collect data much more exhaustive.

  1. “Programme D’enseignement Moral Et Civique.” Ministère De L’Éducation Nationale Et De La Jeunesse. January 27, 2010. Accessed June 11, 2019. https://www.education.gouv.fr/pid25535/bulletin_officiel.html?cid_bo=90243.
  2. IBID
  3. IBID
  4. Ministère De L’Éducation Nationale Et De La Jeunesse. Le Bulletin Officiel. PROGRAMMES D’HISTOIRE ET DE GÉOGRAPHIE EN CLASSE DE SECONDE GÉNÉRALE ET TECHNOLOGIQUE. Bulletin Officiel Spécial N° 4 Du 29 Avril 2010. France: Paris. 1-8.
  5. IBID