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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
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Top Customer Reviews
The author is an American forty-something former IT professional, naturalized French citizen with a French husband, and mother of two children in French schools. She speaks fluent French and has a degree from a prestigious French university. Finding herself dislocated from her work in IT, she decides to challenge the uniquely French competitive examination ("l'agrégation") to become qualified for 'lifetime' employment as an English teacher. Up until making this momentous decision, the author had felt well-grounded in her own assimilation into French life, saying, "[I had been] accepted to a fine French business school, I had worked successfully for fifteen years in managerial positions in French companies and been elected to local government. My children were perfectly integrated, excelled in French, enjoyed school and their friends. I loved living in my town in France and appreciated the company of my neighbors. I probably thought that I had integrated."
She goes on to say: "What the year preparing for the agrégation showed me was just how superficial this all was. My French language skills, sufficient to manage multimillion-dollar projects, were insufficient to qualify me to teach English in a French public school...Read more ›
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?
I agree with the author's criticism of the agrégation for the most part. It is indeed a strange method of choosing high school teachers, since there is very little focus on pedagogy or any training for the job. As many people in the book point out, it is simply a way of narrowing down a large field of candidates to the number required to fill vacant posts.
However, I disagree with a couple of points. First, I have never seen any evidence that the agrégation is designed to favor the French and eliminate the native speakers. I know several English speakers who have passed the exam. Certainly, it is important to master the French language in order to pass and to understand how to write a commentary and a dissertation. Contrary to what the author suggests, the commentary and dissertation are not designed to keep English speakers out of the agrégation, they are simply forms that are well-known in France to French students, who compose the majority of those taking the exam.
A second, and more important point, is the author's implied belief that a native speaker is always a better teacher than a non-native speaker. I will not try to claim that a non-native speaker speaks the language better or has deeper knowledge of the culture than a native speaker.Read more ›
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.Read more ›
Most Recent Customer Reviews
According to the author, the majority of French parents are anxious for their children to speak fluent English and go so far as to pay for (not to mention forcing the kid to... Read morePublished on April 2, 2014 by Whistlers Mom
I've never been through any of France's dreaded academic bureaucracy, but this rings true to my experience as a part-time Parisian. I enjoyed it and recommend it.Published on May 12, 2012 by John Pearce
"Sorbonne Confidential" is a well-written and humorous account of one woman's discovery that French higher education actually stacks the deck against students who are not of French... Read morePublished on August 14, 2010 by Carlisle
English is the international language but the French education system works hard to keep native English speakers out of the classrooms. Read morePublished on October 20, 2009 by Paris Writer