Tuesday, September 6, 2011
September arrives in Paris and the days are still long and light. Parisians have returned from their summer holidays and the cafés and boulangeries are reopening. It's la Rentrée - school starts, people go back to work tanned and relaxed after a month of off. September also is the hyped rentrée littéraire when some of the biggest books of the year are released in France - 654 novels to be exact.
Freedom is in bookshops with Jonathan Franzen fever hitting, there are new titles by Philip Roth, David Vann and French writers Marie Darrieussecq, Emmanuel Carrère and Amélie Nothomb - but perhaps the most talked about novel in Paris is Haruki Murakami's 1Q84. They'll have to wait another month for the English edition but there's an extract Town of Cats in The New Yorker.
Dominique Strauss Kahn - DSK - has also rentrée'd to Paris. Reporters, newsteams clog the 17th century square of Place des Vosges outside #13 his home. Distressing to me is this photo, it feels so American and unFrench and more obtrusive than I've ever seen. Not that I defend or sanction DSK but it looks like the NY paparazzi and that is not the French way which is to let private lives stay private.
A big part of la rentree is back to school. The head of the Education ministry is the Minister of National Education, one of the highest-ranking officials in the cabinet, named Luc Chatel. Minister Chatel has his own bodyguard, a former bodyguard of Chirac, named Joe who I met a few months ago. Joe says he's the busiest and one of the most powerful ministers in France. And he gets tired. Joe showed me a photo of Luc, snapped on his iPhone, asleep in his chauferred car en route to a round of meetings after an all night meeting at the ministry. Luc wields incredible power since he 'employs' the largest workforce in France. The teachers in public primary and secondary schools are all state civil servants, making the ministère the largest employer in the country. Professors and researchers in France's universities are also employed by the state.
At the primary and secondary levels, the curriculum is the same for all French students in any given grade, which includes public, semi-public and subsidised institutions. So Luc knows, after he's caught a few winks in the limo and off to another meeting, that in Bourdeaux students are learning the same geography lesson that the class is in Marseilles.
Madeleine, the 6 year old daughter of my friend Anne, who stayed chez nous this summer, started back at school in Paris today. Her school is two blocks from her house. According to the system Madeleine would be in the Grande Section -GS or Kindergarten in Ecole Maternelle
Ecole Maternelle (pre-K and Kindergarten)
Age Grade Abbreviation
3 -> 4 Petite section PS
4 -> 5 Moyenne section MS
5 -> 6 Grande section GS
École élémentaire (Primary school)
Age Grade Abbreviation
6 -> 7 Cours préparatoire CP / 11ème
7 -> 8 Cours élémentaire première année CE1 / 10ème
8 -> 9 Cours élémentaire deuxième année CE2 / 9ème
9 -> 10 Cours moyen première année CM1 / 8ème
10 -> 11 Cours moyen deuxième année CM2 / 7ème
However Madeleine's teacher recommended she skip a grade to Cours préparatiore because last year the teacher discovered Madeleine was READING on her own. In the French educational system skipping a grade like (from Ecole Maternelle to Ecole Elementaire) this is frowned upon and rarely done or encouraged. It's all about egalité no special or AP classes. Matter of fact, my friend Anne said it was all the teacher's doing and the teacher had to bypass a rigid supervisor to get other teacher's opinions. Anne hesitated because of maturity issues for Madeleine who has a December birthday but she didn't want Madeline to be bored while her classmates were learning to read. Anne couldn't believe our system here about AP. Or that parents volunteered and participated in the classroom...MON DIEU, she said, we're not allowed in Paris...quel differance!
Addendum - the University of Rouen workshop I did in November still hasn't paid me - aargh - I need to wake Luc up maybe?
Cara - Tuesday