Stuart Basten

The education reforms of the French Third Republic: 1870 - 1914 How successful were the education reforms of the French Third Republic (1870 – 1914) ? How successful were the education reforms of the French Third Republic 1870 – 1914? “The schoolhouse is the Republic’s lasting and most fitting memorial” The education reforms of the French Third Republic may, on face value, seem unimportant. Events occurring elsewhere in Europe, developments such as unification in Italy and Germany and the subsequent Cavour and Bismarckian reforms and Kulturkampf, often take centre stage. However, in terms of the popular study of the French Third Republic (often appearing as an afterthought), it is a string of specific incidents rather than policies which gain attention - the crushing of the Commune, the Chambord Affair, the MacMahon coup, the Dreyfus affair and Boulanger. Where we study ‘Bismarckian social reform’ or the ‘process of Kulturkampf’ to make a judgement on Germany; in France a series of tenuously related incidents go to form our perception of a corrupt, ineffective and self-perpetuating regime. Perhaps the main reason for this is because, unlike Germany, a new administration was returned almost annually thus preventing any kind of policy consistency. However, in terms of the education reforms there was a high level of consistency. However, the popular perception of these reforms is, again, oversimplified. Jules Ferry, one of the few well-known Prime Ministers of the period (along with Thiers, MacMahon, Gambetta and Clemenceau), did advocate changing a sporadic, disjointed, ineffective system into a comprehensive inclusive system which was “free, compulsory and secular ”. Socially therefore, the fulfilment of these basic aims could (and often are) seen as a success. Another well-known component is the role of the teachers under Vichy France. Teachers were invariably seen as the strongest advocates of democracy (in the form of the Republic), and were often central to local resistance movements. Therefore, at its most basic level, it could be regarded as a political success because of the loyalty, confidence and faith in the Republic that those closest to the system felt. The link between the success of the reforms and the quote at the top of this section is clear. The success of the reforms in terms of the longevity of there presence can be proved in a fairly straightforward way. However, whether or not it is “fitting” and “fitting in what respect” is more ambiguous. Only after the motives have been established to discover why education was one of the few policies which administrations consistently followed, and how these ideas were put into practise can this judgement be made. Why was education a "central plank of Republican activity?” The “Republic of the Dukes” was preoccupied with the Franco-Prussian War, the Chambord Affair and the MacMahon coup. External problems and internal crises led to fundamental constitutional crises necessitating the founding of the Republic in a practical, short term way. However, by the time of the Republican coming to power in 1879 under Waddington and Grevy, other fears, which were particular to the bourgeoisie , came to prominence. Across Continental Europe there was still great fears held about the implications of 1848 . However, in France this fear was particularly acute with the very recent experiences of the 1870 Paris Commune. Here a far more dangerous threat was exposed, with a more organised movement with its roots in an ideology fundamentally opposed to the bourgeoisie (now running the country) . It was therefore clear that measures must be taken in order to safeguard the Republic (and the bourgeoisie as a class) from the threat of socialism. Repression, as favoured by previous regimes, could under the circumstances have had dire consequences, which could have easily resulted in a repeat of 1830, 1848 or 1870. Besides this, practically, the French army was greatly depleted after the activities of the Franco-Prussian war. Ferry, the Prime Minister (1880-1882) most associated with education reform, was "wholly uninterested " in social reform, a path, which for the conservative bourgeois government was principally wrong, as the leading exponents of social reform were socialists . Though an argument for appeasement can be made, the prevailing opinion was the necessity to avoid giving the impression of bowing to socialist pressure, which would inevitably help the socialist cause by giving it respectability. The answer given by social scientists (a field very much in vogue in late nineteenth century France) such as Georges Picot was that of a "coalition between the bourgeoisie and the working classes." This was in order to neutralise socialism in areas in which it had flourished and where it had the potential to flourish in the future (in, for example, certain Paris arrondisements). Emile Durkheim, contemporary social theorist, had great influence with his early writings . By stating that religion could be replaced by "another force" and that "discipline of education", not in terms of brute force, but in terms of desire for a goal , pointed the way forward. The Republican interpretation of Durkheim was that the state should replace religion (discussed further in the 'laicisation' section) and that coming closer to the state - i.e. bourgeois Republicanism - should become the "discipline" or goal. This had its moral implications in an age of universal suffrage. Indeed, as Levasseur states "It is now necessary to enlighten the sovereign" . Charles Robert linked "prosperity of industry" to the "moral and intellectual development of workers" . But it was the thoughts of Armand Audiganne, an acute observer of the French industrial and social scene writing in the 1860's, which moulded Durkheim to the Republic. For Audiganne, "industrial concentration occupies more and more activities and embraces more and more interests...working class children must be enrolled in schools and equipped to resist the distractions and pressures of a life of labour...which lead to antagonism between Capital and Labour." This notion was translated into contemporary theory by Picot, saying that the bourgeoisie must "accept any sacrifice to liberate the nation from social fantasies that threaten its ruin, from Utopias that possess it. '' It was now necessary to turn the theory into practice. Policies to enact these ends were comprehensively adopted both locally and nationally, short and long term. This was because the threat was not only to the government, but also to the bourgeois class as a whole. Though specific reforms will be dealt with later on in the essay, it is important to give an overall view of the plans made. Central Government were to concentrate on the highly contentious issue of primary and secondary education in order to create a "generation of Republicans" securing the long-term future of the Republic . French local government, almost exclusively bourgeois controlled, however concentrated on adult education. The national reforms of the primary and secondary (and university) systems would inevitably take years to bear fruits, so in the meantime great local funding was given to the universite populaire movement - similar to the English YMCA. This taught workers aged predominantly 18 - 32 (the age group most associated with radical agitation and the target of socialist propaganda); who were perceived such - "Between the time of leaving school and entering the barracks, during those dangerous years . . . the youth...runs the risk not only of forgetting what he has learned, but of losing any sense of morality.'' Therefore, by interpreting Durkheimian principles in instilling the virtues of the Republic, short-term revolutionary fervour was quelled too. These were the plans of the education reformers, but do the implications point toward "cynical manipulation" of the workers in order to strengthen the bourgeois grip on power, or a genuine belief in the Ligue d 'Enseignements view that "Education was the answer to all social problems" coupled with a responsibility to "educate the sovereign"? Structural reform and social inequality The major criticism after 1850 was that the classical schools (or the lycees et colleges) had failed to keep up with the technical, industrial and commercial realities of life. Attempts to rectify this by Hippolyte Fortoul, Napoleon III's minister of Public Instruction, were made in 1852 by introducing literary and scientific tracks at the age of fourteen. However, the pre eminence of the classics in the curriculum structure as well as a shortage of qualified scientists, let alone scientists with teaching qualifications, meant that the scheme was doomed to failure. The contemporary attitude of the 1870s and 1880's is summed up by Raoul Fray, a contemporary socio-political commentator - "the needs of one generation are not those of the preceding one...the cult of beauty should not make us neglect the cultivation of the useful. " This macropolitical view is compounded by Fray in terms of the micropolitical observation that "the multitude of indifferent and bored pupils that the law and social custom force to parade before the altar of the classics." Thus, building on the introduction of Business Studies into the curriculum by Duruy in 1864, the attack on letters gradually took place, culminating in the late 1890's when the effects of allowing Business Studies degree status (1890) showed letters to have been wholly abandoned. The 1902 Waldeck-Rousseau reforms, a plan to re-balance the numbers, however proved too successful. By doubling the university provision with more places for letters; science was abandoned with the subsequent return to a shortfall in qualified scientists - and by coincidence, the weaker candidates being admitted to the extra university places over the period 1902 - 1914 tended to take science degrees, thus heightening the problem. However, while various administrations tampered with the internal issues affecting the secondary school system, the essence was kept the same. The idea of a fee-paying school, from which le bac be taken, thus qualifying students to go onto university and high ranking jobs was one which existed before the advent of the Republic, and one which, suiting the bourgeois elite, was perpetuated. This bourgeois consolidation, as outlined in section one, was compounded by the Primary school reforms The popular image of Primary education reform in the Third Republic (other than in terms of laicisation) is that of the declaration in the 10 June 1881 Law, which made Primary schools "free, secular and compulsory." On the face of it, these aims were achieved; but on closer inspection, not only the success but also the motives can be doubted. At its most basic level, in terms of fulfilling its duty to "enlighten the sovereign" (Levasseur), it was successful. In 1864, a report showed that there were no elementary schools in over a thousand communes; that only two-fifths of children were being taught; that twenty-eight per cent of men and forty-four per cent of women could not sign their own names and that a third of the army couldn't write at all: all in a country with universal suffrage. (See appendix I) In the short term, the improved provision of adult education in the form of the universite populaire for example as well as the long term effect of compulsory elementary schooling meant a dramatic drop in illiteracy, cutting the level from 25% male and 37% female in 1870 to 4.7% male and 7.2% female by 1898 (see diagram). However, again Ferry hard-headed realism can be seen, in that increasing the literacy levels of the masses would, in his own words, " improve the economic climate." However, it was when one progressed past the most basic instruction that the great differences between Primary and Secondary education became apparent. Jean Mace, founder of the French Education League (LE), which, from 1866, fought for free, secular and compulsory education, saw the fulfilment of its aims only partially in the Ferry reforms of the 16 June 1881 Law. For Mace (and later Buisson), a reformed system would "ensure the liberation of the population from ignorance, oppression, increase equality of opportunity, reduce class divisions and provide a means of demonstrating the rationality and justice of the newly established Republican order" The Durkheimian idea of a discipline to look up to was indeed adhered to - in this case instilling the virtues of the Republic into the working classes in order to thwart socialism was done via the Primary school thus fulfilling the last of his desires. This was executed in the 28 March 1882 Law which replaced the teaching of catechisms by 'moral and civic duties.' This notion went hand in hand with the laicisation issue. This meant that, while the masses were being taught "for fatherland; by book and by sword", they were also being taught of their position in society, with the presentation of a false hope of progressing to a bourgeois elite. In 1900, very nearly all children of higher social classes went to secondary school (and then onto University). However, only a very small proportion of children of industrial and agricultural wage earners and peasants could afford the £10 yearly subscription. This meant that they were condemned to life in the Primary system. The consequences of this were stark. The peak of achievement possible under the Primary system, the Ecole Normale Primaire Superieure, while being equivalent to University level, could only give its members qualifications to return to teacher training college (which, in turn, could only qualify them to teach in the poorly paid Primary system). Because of this seemingly pointless extension to the educative life of the student, most left at sixteen to find low ranking and low paid jobs. The argument made for this lack of meritocracy was that scholarships were always available to those children who should receive the benefits of the Secondary system (and the material benefits of le bac, and a university place) but could not afford the subscription. However as the table shows, the reality was quite different Socio-economic background of parents % of scholarships awarded (1911) Civil Servants 51.4 Other middle / upper class 28.2 Artisans / clerks 14.2 Peasants 6.2 The scholarship system was therefore wholly manipulated to suit those members of the bourgeoisie who had "fallen on hard times" or who had corrupted the system. The lack of reform in the area of creation of a meritocratic system was one which not only Ferry was accused of, but also, perhaps surprisingly, the Radical governments of 1900 - 14. Buisson, the new leader of the LE, spearheaded the campaign and managed to have the issue put on the Radical agenda , but it was the secular question which grabbed the attention of the administrations, heightening the suspicion behind the political rather than social motives. This then suggests that the real motives behind "free, lay and compulsory education" were not social, but political. Ferry used egalitarian rhetoric to give conviction to a scheme that manipulated education in the interest of the capitalist elite. Behind the democratic facade of the reforms lay hard-headed bourgeois realism, with Primary school reform also acting as social reform on the cheap. This attitude is echoed throughout the period and shows "cynical manipulation" by the bourgeois elite, with the side effects, admittedly, being an improved, yet far from ideal situation for the poor.) The Republican policy of laicisation. Apart from Ferry’s famous ‘statement of 1881’, where he expressed his desire for primary schools that were “free, compulsory and secular” , the most popular component of the education policies of the Third Republic is that of anti-clericalism. The post 1880 Republic had many reasons, both ideological and practical, to follow the path of anti-clericalism. Religion in the 1870s had turned around a great decline and had become a growing force. As many Catholics saw the French defeat in the Franco-Prussian War as a “punishment for her sins ”, a new wave of pilgrimages and “pious demonstrations” began. The sudden increase in the popularity of Lourdes as a place for mass pilgrimage and the building of the Sacre-Coeur in Montmartre are very tangible icons of this resurgence in national Catholic feeling. Republicans, who saw the resurgence as merely highlighting the irrationality of the Syllabus of Errors and the Vatican Council, saw this as “deplorable superstition”. However, the greatest concern was that the pilgrimage movement was openly legitimist – i.e. in favour of a return to Orleanist monarchy. This coupled with blame for the Loi Falloux, Bonapartism and the MacMahon ‘coup’ of 1877 (which was seen as a clerical conspiracy) meant a practical opposition to the church. As Clemenceau remarked, there was also the ideological view that the aims of the Republic were “to release man from the chains of ignorance…[and] to liberate him from religious, political and social despotism.” This view is typical of the positivist ideas that emanated from Comte, and flourished in the lay academies and medical schools where Ferry, Bert and Clemenceau studied. Comte’s view that “religious dogmas belong to a past society [and] would disappear in the positivist age which was dawning” was given a bourgeois spin by Ferry whom, in turn, “desire[d] to free humanity from the retrograde spirit of the church.” However, there was of course the political incentive of the switch from devotion to the church to devotion to the state – in accordance to the Durkheimian principle of the replacement of religion by “another force.” This would inevitably lead to the strengthening of the virtues of the Republic in the political imagination of the population, and therefore consolidate the political position of the Republic. When coupled with the “hard-headed bourgeois realism” and “cynical manipulation” displayed by the Republic in terms of institutionalising social inequality, perhaps the latter, political motive, rather than the social motives of Clemenceau prevailed. The motives of the Republican anti-clerical reforms, in the same way as the social inequality question, were essentially political – a blend of the practical and the ideology of power – while masquerading as the social justice which Clemenceau portrays. The education reforms fitted into a wider anti-clerical legislative programme – legalisation of divorce, the withdrawal of state subsidies from Catholic worker’s circles and the strengthening of municipal authorities’ control over religious processions – which was enacted gradually and pragmatically throughout the 1870-1914 period. Although this programme was far less pronounced than in other European countries such as Prussia (as Pope Leo XIII appreciated), the attack on education was particularly effective. The removal of religious education from the primary school curriculum was the first reform brought about by the 1880-1 Laws. In its place, as the official 1909 syllabus states, was put lessons in: “moral and civic duties, common notions of laws and economy, drill for boys and needlework for girls (with regional specific industrial education e.g. farming in Normandy). Critics have argued over the legitimacy of the curriculum change. The process of laicisation did bring about a change for the better to the structure of the previously disjointed and fragmented primary system. However, the civil religion, which was the central part of the reforms, was, according to social historian Jean Mayeur, “often reduced to a short-winded moralism that more often than not ended in a defence of petit bourgeois life”. The “moral and civic duties” as well as the drill for boys (a component particularly emphasised by education minister Paul Bert’s in the Gambetta ministry) component is a firm example of establishing the bourgeois Republic as a “discipline” and fulfilling the popular contemporary slogan “The Prussian schoolteacher had won in 1871, the French school teacher will exact the revenge.” It is therefore possible to place severe doubt on the sincerity of the perceived social concerns of Ferry and the subsequent administrations. This view is shown in the March 1904 issue of l’Assielle au beurre, where both lay and religious teachers are pictured shaking hands “like horse traders at a fairground while the children are held as prisoners” (Claude Langlois) saying “au revoir mon cher colleague, lets hope the children won’t notice the change…the grande seminaire is dead, Vive l’Ecole normale! The curriculum hasn’t changed”. Another cartoon shows the two ‘worst’ faces of church and state – the Jesiutical monk and the bloated bourgeois beckoning the child to hilltops with a church atop one, and a factory and town hall atop the other. As Langlois asserts, the “morality of the state would replace that of the church” and that “rather than smashing old idols, the Republic merely substituted new ones.” In short, as Gildea argues, whilst the Republic did create “humanity without God or King” , it replaced “the retrograde spirit of the church” with that of the state – replacing catechisms with government propaganda. Another element of the reform was that of the change in the personnel of schooling. The reform of the Conseil Superieur de l’Instruction Publigue in February 1880 as well as the Laws of 18 March 1880 and 10th July 1896 effectively ended Catholic influence in the universities. However, a far less sweeping approach was taken with the primary schools. The 30 October 1886 Law meant that all primary school teachers should be lay by 1891 and that no new clerical appointments should be made. But, there was of course no way of proving one to be laique. It is therefore hardly surprising that many (if not most) of these teachers were often “suspicious converts to the new lay (or civil) religion” rather than whole-hearted advocates; plus coercion and persuasion by the Church in the form of refusing communion and public denunciation (known as a local, unofficial equivalent to excommunication) hindered the transition further. It was, however, in the system of social inequality that the Republic created that the true breakthrough in anti-clericalism was achieved. The two-tier system, which meant that primary school leavers could only progress to teacher training college, meant that the teachers produced had been indoctrinated with the civil religion and virtues of the Republic as outlined above. It was these who were the most whole-hearted and vociferous supporters of the Republic. The anti-clericalism question helps to answer questions about the Republican motives behind the education policies. The attention which the issue received by the Socialist-Radical administrations of the 1900’s and 1910’s while Buisson was attempting to highlight the social inequality question (see ‘social inequality’ section) surely highlights the strength of the political tool which was anti-clericalism. The preoccupation with anti-clericalism, however, is another reflection of the Third Republics concentration on bourgeois political manoeuvres rather than social reform. Conclusion – “a bourgeois conjuring trick” “The executive of the modern State is but a committee for managing the common affairs of the whole bourgeoisie” This dissertation has, unintentionally, proved Marx and Engels right. The education reforms of the French Third Republic were based on the concept of consolidation of the state – which by its bourgeois nature, is consolidation of the bourgeoisie. As the study of the French Third Republic is most comfortably dealt with in terms of events and “affairs”, perhaps it is useful to single out a particular instance which reflects the attitude of the Republic and their true motives. This incident is the Radical’s rejection of the Buisson programme in 1909, instead concentrating on the political issues of the day – anticlericalism – and, as Buisson states, “the only true interest which the Socialist-Radicals had in education was whether or not teachers could join Trade Unions” . For the French Third Republic, education played a major role, but the motives were consolidation of the bourgeois state first, with social reform at best a secondary issue; at worst an unconscious and serendipitous side-effect. In these parameters the education reforms were undoubtedly successful. Although it is possible to argue that the Republic was weak and suffered from crisis after crisis; therefore consolidation was minimal – it must not be forgotten that the Republic rode these major crises until 1940. The education reforms were successful in consolidating the Republic and in establishing and maintaining the role of the bourgeoisie in French society - it was a policy of “cynical manipulation” rather than “democratic idealism.” However, its social successes cannot be ignored – illiteracy was almost eliminated; some kind of comprehensive curriculum was established; and in general, more people received a better education. Even from the political gain of consolidation came the social gain of the teachers’ faith in democracy under Vichy. The education reforms of the French Third Republic (1870-1914) were undoubtedly successful in terms of consolidation and giving the impression of social reform. Perhaps “the schoolhouse is the lasting and most fitting memorial to the Republic”, but the motives suggest that the memorial does reflect the shadier, more cynical side of the Republic which is often seen. APPENDIX I

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