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Sorbonne Confidential Paperback – February 1, 2009
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Laurel Zuckerman has split the academic world with a book that relates her experience at the heart of the archaic French teacher-training system. Her account reveals the extraordinarily arcane and arguably irrelevant questions asked of would-be English teachers. And it highlights the ambivalence of the country s approach to English, which is seen, at best, as a necessary evil. --The Times
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
Laurel Zuckerman worked for 18 years in I.T. before turning to writing. Like her heroine, Alice Wunderland, Zuckerman is a Franco-American graduate of France's top business school, ex-city councilor and mother of bilingual children. Sorbonne Confidential is a thinly disguised account of her tragic-comic experiences at the Sorbonne in 2005. Originally published in French by Fayard in 2007 as a docu-fiction, it received enthusiastic reviews and generated considerable debate in France. Zuckerman s second book, Les Rêves Barbares du Professeur Collie, is slated to appear in French in 2009.
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The author is an American married to a Frenchman, mother of two children, and a naturalized citizen of France. She has lived near Paris for twenty years and successfully held important positions in French companies. It wasn't until she tried to become certified to teach English in French schools that she began to to feel like an outsider. As she went through courses at the Sorbonne designed to prepare her for the necessary exams, she realized that all the exams would be in classical French literature.
The fierceness with which the French defend their language and the contempt they pour on a foreigner attempting to speak it are well known. But is this really an attempt to distance themselves from (or show themselves superior to) the rest of the world? Or is it another manifestation of the French love of complications and bureaucracy? It's telling that, while the author found all of this unbearably frustrating, her French husband shrugged it off.
This is a well-written book and has great appeal to anyone who is interested in the French and their culture. Just don't expect it to answer any questions for you. And before we make TOO much fun of the French, we should remember that our own teaching of foreign languages is usually far from perfect.
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?