Magazine article Times Educational Supplement

The View from Here - France - Vive la Difference in Our Child-Rearing Styles: News

Magazine article Times Educational Supplement

The View from Here - France - Vive la Difference in Our Child-Rearing Styles: News

Article excerpt

From their convent school in provincial France, a dozen girls aged 13 and 14 arrive on an exchange visit to a convent school in southeast England. Most still wear socks and pigtails. It is the 1960s, England is swinging and the girls are mesmerised by their English counterparts, who roll up their hems to miniskirt length after school and flirt with the school gardener.

Advance two decades and one of those French girls, now my wife, is astounded when our children come home from their British primary school without a scrap of homework. "I had poems and conjugation to learn at their age," she says. Later still, in the 1990s, a French nephew cannot believe the indiscipline he witnesses on a school trip that takes him into a London comprehensive.

The differences between French and Anglo-American parenting and schooling have been explored by Pamela Druckerman, an American raising a family in Paris, in French Children Don't Throw Food. In her book, which is attracting attention on both sides of the Atlantic, she writes in awe of what she sees as superior French child-rearing.

But while parenting is praised, French schools are not: they fit the portrait drawn in a 2010 book by Peter Gumbel, an Englishman lecturing in Paris, who told of pupils deterred from participating in classroom discussion by the fear of withering sarcasm from teachers.

A French friend of Druckerman's attended an American high school and marvelled at how freely pupils expressed themselves. …

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