Sorbonne Confidential Paperback – February 1, 2009
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Absurd, ill-adapted, discriminatory. And dramatically funny…The French university system seen through the half naïve, half incredulous eyes of an American. The reader laughs a lot and concludes that reform is urgent --L'Express
Sorbonne Confidential... illustrates how objective measures can be far from objective a concept often difficult to see when looking only at one s own context. It illustrates how rigor by itself can distract, exclude, and alienate. By taking on an institution that began before the American Revolution, the book demonstrates how systems can develop around programs, allowing them to self-perpetuate without regard for their impact on schools and society. At some level, the book is also an argument for the power and importance of teacher education and of the need for systems that care more about creating good teachers than objectively assigning scores. --Education Review
About the Author
- Item Weight : 10.4 ounces
- Paperback : 300 pages
- ISBN-10 : 0615252893
- ISBN-13 : 978-0615252896
- Dimensions : 5.08 x 0.63 x 7.8 inches
- Publisher : Summertime Publications Inc; First Edition in English (February 1, 2009)
- Language: : English
- Best Sellers Rank: #4,581,048 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)
- Customer Reviews:
Top reviews from the United States
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I would like to read more about the subjects this book touches on. I hope it has had some effect (for the better) in France. I enjoyed this book all the way through, but docked a star for some loose ends, such as - was the author ever able to interview the big-shot "educators" she approached, and if so, what did they have to say? There were also some personal notes I wish had been followed up and still wonder about, such as looking for her father's long-gone relatives. Still, I recommend it highly - it felt like "light reading" although it was very thought-provoking.
I read the Kindle version, and the formatting did not bother me as much as the fact that I could not follow the footnotes, but there were not so many footnotes as to make it a big problem. (Usually footnotes can be followed on Kindle.)
It is great to have the American viewpoint represented. I would have given more stars, but the book is a bit pricey and may not appeal to everyone...of course, what does?
American by birth, upbringing and education, Ms. Zuckerman's heroine, Alice Wunderland, is French by choice -- a naturalized citizen with fluent French who has also studied, lived and worked in France for most of her adult life. Nevertheless in the Wonderland of French public education, the exam to select English teachers places greater weight on competence in formal French than the ability to communicate in English. For example, a major component of the exam is a seven-hour essay to be written about English literature -- but in French and in the very specific style of a French dissertation. While Americans can learn to do it, because the exam is competitive, they need to do it better than the native speakers.
This practice does retain the best jobs for the French, but at whose expense? Make no mistake. Because it is the international language of business, the importance of learning English is essentially uncontroversial. Still, the French rank last among European students in English language skills. Those with money can send their children to classes out of the public school system and provide them with summers in English speaking countries. What about those without the means?
More generally, the book asks what integration into another culture means. Even as we see the system excluding the British and Americans, rather like antibodies rejecting a foreign body, we can also see Alice's own antibodies at work when she resists becoming facile with what she judges of little value or positively detests (e.g., French dissertation style, currently fashionable modes of literary criticism.) Can integration require sacrificing one's integrity?
And then, what comes into play in our views of another culture? Alice finds the French view of America distorted both in her daughter's English class and in her own classes at the Sorbonne. Intriguingly, she suggests that the negatives the French see in America are what they can't look at in their own history or culture. That is one of several topics that I would have loved to have seen explored in greater detail, but it might have required doubling the length.
The book is alternately amusing, sad and thought-provoking. Ms. Zuckerman is always intelligent -- even if you are at times tempted to ask for more argument or information in support of the insights she offers. One never questions the fundamental absurdity of an exam which distinguishes among those best qualified to teach English on the basis of their ability to communicate in formal French.
Top reviews from other countries
The system does not select speakers of English, but writers in French of dissertations. It is not interested in teachers but academics. No wonder English teachers in France are often so useless. I know by personal experience too as I have two boys in the system who are bilingual and get corrected on their English pronunciation by someone who has never set foot outside France. The word 'flour' for example, in French English is 'fluuur' as in the French town St Flour.
I feel sorry for French kids. There is no hope for them if their parents can't cough up for private lessons. Ms Zuckerman's book should have been a real wake-up call for the French, but I'm sure it resulted in very little concrete action to improve things. My kids have noticed nothing new, one English teacher is still using the old version of English Live published in 1995, not even New Live!
It must have been even more insulting for the French academics to have their precious system criticised by an American than a Brit, but there is much to criticise it seems, and little to praise. It's outdated and unfit for purpose. Well done Ms Zuckerman for raising the issues.
Negatives? I agree with Louise's comment that the naive, self-righteous policy recommendations, and the indignation, of the author are not very enjoyable. On the other hand, they are sincere and real; they make her all the more the outsider, which is what makes the book interesting. A more sophisticated and successful academic with the right witty cynicism would have written a different book.
If you're interested in any of the themes of the book: France, the French vs the Americans, Academia, teaching, languages, you'll like Sorbonne Confidential.
By turns amusing and an indictment of an out-of-touch, outdated, rather elitist and chauvinistic method of teaching English and recruiting teachers to do it.
I enjoyed the book as a whole, yet I rail against the idea that you can be an English teacher just because you speak the language . Mm-hmm.