French parenting? Non!

French children behave well in public, because parents and teachers have crushed their spirits, writes Pascal-Emmanuel Gobry in The Atlantic.

Now that I have a child, my almost monomaniacal obsession is how to protect her from French parenting and French education, which is why we are considering Montessori schools and homeschooling/unschooling rather than put her in French schools. (Let me rephrase that: I am considering setting myself on fire rather than put her in French schools.)

The way French education works, and I don’t know if I could put it in a more charitable way, is that it seeks to mercilessly beat any shred of nonconformity out of children (the beating is now done mostly psychologically) so that they may be slotted into a society that, itself, treats nonconformity the way the immune system treats foreign elements.

American parenting and education “leaves more room for children to express their individuality,”  Gobry writes.  French parenting turns out well-behaved children, but “I wouldn’t recommend it if you want healthy, happy adults.”

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  1. I taught a girl who’s parents had put her into French Schools for many years. She started at our school and was morose and lacked self-confidence in everything. She had huge gaps in her understanding (she was an intelligent girl, she had just missed stuff) that had never been resolved because she wasn’t able to ask questions in her school.

    Obviously, this is an anecdote, and only reflects the experience of one girl, in one school, but it at least proves that there is at least one child who had her spirit crushed in one school in France.

    • Ponderosa says:

      During my student teaching, I had a French exchange student in my tenth grade American history class. She was funny, poised and blew away her American classmates in academic performance. Her essays and short-answer responses were impeccable –thorough, accurate and written in beautiful lucid handwriting. American kids’ handwriting certainly doesn’t suffer from oppressive conformity!

  2. “crushed their spirits” – Maybe that should be interpreted “don’t let your kid act like a brat.”

  3. Stacy in NJ says:

    I had an extended stay related to my husband’s job in France for 5 months. I’ve visited several times as a tourist. Based upon this extensive experience ;-0, I say the French are the worst types of a**holes.

    When you speak to them privately or in small groups, they are incredibly critical of the parenting and lifestyles of other nationalities (across the board American, British, German) and cannot comprehend any thing likely a critical reading of their own culture, but when you get to know them somewhat intimately, they are really unkind to the people they are closest to. I’ve heard husbands and wives and children speak to each other in ways that made my skin crawl. They are really cruel to each other privately.

    In my opinion, Americans can be overly earnest and too eager to embrace the new and improved, buy I prefer this style to the overly cynical one of the French.

  4. I love France — to visit — but I agree about the rigid conformity. I thought it was telling some years ago when it was in the news that the French interpretation of keeping religion out of schools was to ban any religious symbols, dress etc., so that everyone is as alike as possible. It’s generally a given that the American interpretation would be that we’re free to express ourselves.

    We have good friends in Paris with a son my daughter’s age — the equivalent of a high school senior. They were visiting once and heard my kids perform in their school Latin jazz band, and the French teen was wildly envious. They get almost no art or music in their schools — even though his school is named after Maurice Ravel — and nothing so exciting as Latin jazz. This boy attended U.S. public schools for a few years in elementary school, and also told us about a big difference he observed — in U.S. schools fighting and bullying are not allowed (not that this works perfectly, of course), while in Paris schools they are tolerated, even accepted.

  5. North of 49th says:

    There was an interesting segment on CBC Radio (Canadian Broadcasting Corp.)’s program, The Current yesterday. It was an interview with author Pa,erla Druckerman who has a new book out on French parenting entitled Bringing up Bebe (sorry, can’t do the accent marks).

    Her take on French parenting is somewhat different — more nuanced.
    You can hear the interview, about 10 minutes, here:

    It’s the first segment of the show.

    Druckerman’s book reviewed here:

    One take-away point which I found myself heartily in agreement with was Druckerman’s assertion that French parents “pick their battles.” They are inflexible and demanding about certain specifics (she gave the example of requiring their children to greet people politely) while others are negotiable or irrelevant. I’ve certainly found that maxim applies in teaching!

  6. “French parenting turns out well-behaved children, but “I wouldn’t recommend it if you want healthy, happy adults.” ”

    I dispute that statement for two reasons: #1 How do we know that American adults are healthier and happier than French adults? What elements are each American and French parenting comprised of? Are they able to be generalized? I would need to know that in order to make a decision.

    #2 On that note, it’s assumed that American adults are generally healthy and happy. How is that known? I don’t have numbers myself, but I know from my own experience that so much emphasis is put on math and science in schools. That doesn’t sound conducive to individualism for students who don’t actually want to specialize in math or science.

  7. There certainly seems to be quite a lot of buzz about French parenting styles recently. Call me skeptical, especially when people like to lump Americans into one neat category.

  8. From what I have read, the early childhood programs in France encourage the development of the whole child and are loving, nurturing places. It’s not until formal schooling begins at age 7 that the approach seems to change:

  9. ce que j aime chez les américains , c est quand ils sent prennent a nous les français.surtout ne changez pas .ça m aide a comprendre pourquoi j aime autant la
    France et les français.vive la culture française.