School Update

June 19, 2012

Our school year is winding down here in France, so I thought it would be fun to write up another little update on our kids’ experience in the local schools. I hope you enjoy it!

The first thing I wanted to mention was handwriting. I snapped the photo of the chart below in the 6-year-old’s classroom at my kids’ school. Having good handwriting is a big deal here! And seems to be a universal skill. Even at the village market, all the signs for fruit and veggies are hand written in beautiful script.

Ralph says when he first arrived, his math teacher picked up one of his worksheets and publicly started scolding him. (This is awful! I can’t read it at all!!) Ralph was so embarrassed! He has since started working hard on his penmanship, and has vastly improved.

Script is the main form they learn to write in — even the littlest kids. I don’t think I’ve ever seen kids use basic print on their school work or even notes to friends.

Along with good handwriting, instead of mostly using pencils in school, they write with pens only. In fact, all of my kids agree that in French schools, pencils are exclusively for art and geometry. No exceptions!

From the moment they start learning to write the alphabet, at around age 5, they use refillable ink fountain pens. But. They also have pen erasers — a separate tool from the pen itself.

Something else that seems so different is athletics. Sports seem to play a less influential role overall in the schools here, compared to our experience in New York and Colorado. Maude says there are still jocks — they’re the kids that are good at soccer. But that being good at sports isn’t really what makes you popular, and that even the athletes feel like school work is the most important.

Sport shorts are short! For both girls and boys. And no one would ever wear athletic clothes or sport shots as school clothes. Athletic clothes are reserved for gym only. The same holds true for adults — I have never seen an adult running errands in workout clothes or yoga pants. Never even once!

Here are the sports that have been covered in my kids’ gym classes: Badminton (this is big here!), handball, inline-skating, swimming, ping pong, kayaking, rugby, cricket and soccer (which, of course, is called football here). They’ve also had a section on baseball, but Olive says it’s not quite the same — for example, they hold the bat with one hand!

Lastly, one thing my kids have noticed that’s really different from American schools, is the public criticism. Similar to the story of Ralph’s handwriting above, the teachers announce each student’s grade on every test and assignment publicly. And they’ll scold (sometimes even mock?) students who didn’t score well — right in front of the rest of the classmates. My kids report that the French kids don’t seem to notice, it’s just the way it’s always been. But you can bet my kids are always relieved when they get a good score!

I’d love to hear what you think! Would your kids thrive in a French school? Do you have an opinion on good penmanship?

P.S. — You can find earlier reports about school and my kids learning French here, here, and here. The very first report is here.

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{ 105 comments… read them below or add one }

1 Genevieve June 19, 2012 at 7:11 am

As an American, the public criticism seems super harsh to me. But, I love the emphasis on handwriting! How interesting!


2 Laetitia June 19, 2012 at 10:02 am

As a French, the public criticism WAS super harsh to me. I hate this from my years in school. And it goes from primary school to University….

I had one year of relief when I did my Bachelor in Ireland…another (amazing) world for me!! Such consideration for every single student. I loved it!!


3 Patricia June 19, 2012 at 7:14 am

Oh Gabrielle, you brought me back to my elementary school years in the DR with this post! All the descriptions you mentioned about the assignatures using pens except for art and math (pencil) is so true over there. Also, the fact that script or cursive handwriting is still practiced and taught beginning in first grade is a so true and a huge deal. I guess is the old world school upbringing that’s stil very much alive. So enjoy it, and you are fortunate your kids are learning, and excelling at these new (old) skills!


4 Beth June 19, 2012 at 7:25 am

Considering in our school district cursive writing isn’t even taught any longer, the focus on good penmanship actually seems like a good thing. I also think it’s good that not everything revolves around sports or constant activities.


5 my honest answer June 19, 2012 at 7:29 am

I was brought up in the UK, and yeah, if you were acting out, your teachers let the whole class know. I was once joking about as test scores were being handed out, and my teacher said, ‘I don’t know what you’re finding so funny, you got a C!’ and gave me my paper.

I tried much harder the next time, and, to be honest, I think it ‘took me down a peg or two’ (as my mother would say) and taught me to deal with criticism (and stop being so cheeky). Because goodness knows I’ve never had a boss who writes down my faults and hands them to me privately!

But maybe it’s just also part of British / European humor? The whole depreciating / self-depreciating thing is pretty common.

It’s interesting to read about the pens – we started with pencils and we were ‘awarded’ a pen when our writing was deemed good enough (aged about 7). We were all so desperate to be called up to the desk and given our first pen!


6 Lou June 20, 2012 at 5:47 am

You have a good point. I went to school in the UK, and tests were often handed out in order (from best to worst). It certainly made you work hard! Oh, and I remember the day I was awarded a pen! Because I’m left-handed I ended up going back to pencil because I got ink all over my hands.

About the French writing, I went to a lycée several times and the handwriting I saw there was always so neat and tidy – I always marvelled at the profs ability to write so neatly up on the whiteboard!

I’ve been to a German Gymnasium as well, and in the Biology class the teacher simply read out the most recent marks at the front of the class.

That said, in both the German & French schools I’ve found that the students mess about far more than in UK schools, i.e. there is always background chatter so it’s not like everyone is listening intently to each others marks.

Certainly in the French schools, the profs don’t consider it their job to control the class, it’s their job to deliver a lesson. The lady who taught me French said she once went on a trip with French teachers and their students and the students were basically rioting in the back of the bus and the teachers not once stepped in. Part of the training to become a teacher in the UK involves aspects of discipline, but this isn’t the case for French teacher-training.


7 Anna June 19, 2012 at 7:44 am

How interesting to read about schools in France. I am surprised to find many things very similar in my experience with schools here in Germany. I have three kids, all with dual citizenship: one in primary school, two in (academic, they stream them at age 9!) middle school. I must say, I found the whole fountain pen/handwriting thing a bit weird (in Grade 3!!) but now admit that they all have really nice writing.
The public announcement of grades & results – and the public scolding – also took some getting used to. However, my oldest son reckons it unites the kids against the teacher in a very solid way! :-)
And, they’re all in the same boat anyway, so if some start letting the side down, their friends might lean on them a bit to get better results so the whole class looks better…. and good grades are definitely attractive :-)
I agree, here sport is very secondary, and I am amazed at how much homework they have ! My 8 year old has 1.5 hours on a normal day – and she’s good at school…
It’s certainly different from my own experiences at school in Australia.
Sadly, the school system here does not currently provide for any extra-curricular stuff like drama, music (my kids have music lessons, just not at school) , sport or extra languages. Although there is a local sport club that uses school facilities, it’s not affiliated with the school.
But I am esctatic that they are all three fully bilingual and have the possibilities that open up with that. Who knows where they’ll end up.
Continue having fun with your cross-cultural offspring!


8 Catherine June 24, 2012 at 5:21 am

Hi Anna,

How did your children go with the transition from the Australian schooling to the German way. We are considering moving from Australia to France , i’am interested to know what my kids may go through having not been through the french system. The australian system at the moment seems a bit lacking. Especially in appearance and penmanship.


9 Victoria June 19, 2012 at 7:46 am

When my son attended a Dutch school they learnt cursive writing from the start. He then moved to an English international school where he slipped back to print. He’s now he’s at a US school and thy are only just starting cursive at age 9! Hopefully his handwriting will look as good again as it I’d when he was 6! He was also using an ink pen at age 7 at Dutch school.


10 silly eagle books June 19, 2012 at 7:48 am

How interesting! I especially love the handwriting chart–I’ve been looking for one for my kindergartner and really love how this chart has both print, script, upper and lowercase in both all in one chart! How handy and useful for comparison as the children learn how to write their letters. I’ve only been able to find one or the other here.


11 ris June 19, 2012 at 7:53 am

My dad was born and raised in France and he has that distinctive French penmanship. I think it’s so beautiful!


12 Shawna Greenway June 19, 2012 at 7:53 am

Have you heard that some US schools are going to stop teaching cursive handwriting? It’s unbelievable! Here in California, my daughter learned cursive in 3rd grade and in 5th grade she was told it was ok to go back to normal printing for all assignments and tests. I think the logic behind it, if you can call it logic, is that this generation will be in front of some sort of computer screen/iPad for most of their lives so there’s no need to perfect cursive writing. It’s a shame, really. My mother, who is in her 70′s, has the most gorgeous handwriting of anyone I know and it’s because not writing in cursive was never an option for her generation.


13 Yannick June 19, 2012 at 8:11 am

I recognize a lot of my childhood in your stories about your children’s french schooling. Our school system is similar to the french. We never learn script in school, only cursive and yes, for the entire elementary school years, you are awarded grades for your penmanship. We started with a pencil and at Christmas time in the 1st year, ‘graduated’ to a pen to write our new years letters.
Pen erasers are a staple off course.
Everyone around here writes in cursive, so it was quite the revelation when my american pen pall wrote in script.

The public criticism might have been less severe in my neck of the woods, but it’s there, even until uni. Grades are announced publicly yes, but why would you care? And being called upon your behavior in public does make you think before you act.

Our school had a policy on gym clothes: short shorts or leggings only, for safety reasons. Apparently with baggy shorts and track pants you could get caught on some of the gym equipment. I still have childhood trauma’s from the very short gym shorts in the middle of winter ;-)

Sports has never been a way to gain popularity in my school. Everybody did something after school (school hours were from 8.25 – 12.00 and 12.50 – 15.35, with wednesday afternoons off) but nobody was more or less popular because of it. I think unbuckling sports from school takes the peer-pressure off, nobody knows who is good at what as most kids are in different sports and different groups so nobody knows how and what exactly you do. But no, I don’t recall anybody ever coming to school in their tutu, soccer outfit, or other sports-related clothing. You changed before gym, you changed afterwards.

And the biggest difference: nobody was grossed out when you wear the same thing two days in a row. Off course we shower (as do the french!) and change underwear and socks. If shirts are dirty and/or smelly they get changed two, but why change your skirt/pants and sweater as well? And if something is not dirty, when you had a calm day and it’s still clean and fresh, why can’t you wear it again? Weird american habits I guess, nevertheless I never found people in the US smelling less than my countrymen or the french or italian or other european people…


14 mtp June 19, 2012 at 10:50 pm

I just LOVE the comment about wearing clothing two days in a row. YES… I’d rather see someone in classic attire two days in a row rather than in ‘clean’ and changed yoga pants and t-shirt changed daily.


15 Lesley June 19, 2012 at 8:18 am

I think the public praise/scolding is actually a really fascinating approach. I think being able to take criticism is really important. I think reading scores aloud keeps kids accountable to their peers, and it would certainly motivate me! I think it would also open up some unique opportunities for students to be aware of their peers, and either ask for help, or offer help to another classmate.

I still write in cursive as an adult, and I love it. It is so much faster than printing. It feels so traditional, and I always love sending and receiving hand-written letters. With regards to writing and cursive, I think it’s really sad that writing, and letter writing is an art form that is dying. I’m turning 30 this year, and I feel like my age group was the last to still use letters before email became a mainstream form of communication. I loved having pen pals growing up, and there’s nothing better than getting something in the mail. That, and I love hand-written letters because they are a physical piece of someone. I used to tuck letters in my pockets to read and re-read on the bus or train (before cell phones), and I really, really miss letter writing. You can’t tuck an email in your pocket, and emails are far less personal (and show less personality!) than emails. That’s going off on a tangent, for sure, but it makes me sad to think my children won’t do a whole lot of writing in school, and it sounds like they won’t be learning cursive either.

We better move to France!


16 tn June 19, 2012 at 8:18 am

My son is starting Maternelle (French Preschool) in September. He has already been told from his daycare that the teacher will not put up with his ad behavior. I think we might be in for it…

One teacher and 32 three year olds! To be fair she will have a helper maybe two if our directorice has her way (doubt it).


17 Janae Wise June 19, 2012 at 8:35 am

This discussion is fascinating to me, particularly because I have 4 kids & the oldest will be in 2nd grade, so I haven’t much experiences with public education except for my oldest son. My husband just started a career as a JAG officer for the AF, so we’ll be traveling around the world–hopefully we’ll have a stint in England & Europe at some point! I’d love for my kids to have different experiences in other countries.

The French certainly have a way of doing things don’t they? I don’t know how I feel about their approach to a lot of things–seems really rigid & unforgiving, not quite the American way, where we like to go rouge & independence as well as free thinking is a virtue.

That said, the emphasis on penmanship is important. If nothing more than it trains the young mind in discipline & precision, something that I think many American students lack.


18 Amanda June 19, 2012 at 8:41 am

Was Olive playing rounders? We play that at school in the UK. It looks like baseball with 4 bases you run a round but the bat is smaller and you hold it with one hand.


19 Nicole June 19, 2012 at 8:46 am

As an American who spent 3 years in public grammar school in France, everything you said in this post rang true for my experience as a child there in the late 80′s/early 90′s. I came back to the US with a love of fountain pens, a recognition that my penmanship was far from perfect, and wound up being 2 years ahead of my American school system for math!

My teachers did not read test scores aloud, but if a kid did not follow instructions for an assignment, it would get ripped in front of the class and the pieces would be thrown out the window! Dramatic.


20 katielee June 19, 2012 at 8:55 am

I love these posts! I find them so interesting (I’ve always lived in the US). I’m wondering how your kids are doing with their french? Are they fairly fluent now? Are they able to be fully involved in school (as opposed to when they knew little of the language)?
Thanks for sharing your experiences! They’re so fun to read.


21 Cathryn Ramsden June 19, 2012 at 9:18 am

I have always adored French handwriting – and my own scrawl is so inelegant, especially now that I type everything and don’t write much any more!!!


22 Tori June 19, 2012 at 9:32 am

The American way of schooling has produced dismal results for decades now. Perhaps it’s time to try things the European way.


23 Hayley June 19, 2012 at 9:36 am

This fascinates me! We lived in London for 2 years, prior to having children, and this really makes me wish we were in Europe for our children’s schooling years. Or even near a “big city” that gave language immersion options. Instead, we’re stuck here in the sticks where options are limited to public school or 3 small private schools. Reading all these posts make me long for Europe again! :) Thanks for sharing!


24 UK lass in US June 19, 2012 at 9:40 am

My son’s teacher (American school) said that they teach cursive mainly so that the kids will be able to read it.

Sounds like Olive might have been playing rounders: smaller bat than baseball; posts instead of bases; no strikes; no 3 outs and inning is over; only score if you round all 4 bases in one go etc.


25 Robyn June 19, 2012 at 9:40 am

I attended middle school in England and the experience was identical to what you’ve described.

At my children’s elementary school here in the US there is ZERO concern for penmanship. As I’ve questioned this, I’ve been told that they don’t want to discourage children from trying. So long as they are writing, it’s all good.

But IT CHURNS MY STOMACH watching kids start letters at the bottom of the line, cross t’s starting on the right, etc.

I was taught better than that :)


26 Sharon @ Discovering blog June 19, 2012 at 9:41 am

These posts are so great! It shows how we are so used to the way we do things, and expect that those ways are the only ways.

I would LOVE to have that handwriting chart! So classic and simple.


27 Hayley June 19, 2012 at 11:27 am

I want that chart, too!


28 Sarah June 19, 2012 at 9:46 am

i have to say, it is all rather appealing! i’m even drawn to the idea of some degree of public criticism – seems like it could be more useful than the feel-good approach i see here in the states. i LOVE the emphasis on handwriting, and the de-emphasis on sports… i would love to find one of those handwriting charts somewhere!


29 Nora June 19, 2012 at 9:54 am

I was raised in Canada (albeit back when the Earth’s crust was cooling) and we had a strong emphasis on cursive. My son here in Oregon was taught cursive writing in 3rd grade but it was never required for assignments. It was sort of a cool thing to do if you felt like it. Now in 7th grade most of his assignments are typed and some students are quite proficient at typing, I mean keyboarding. However, keyboarding is not taught in school and some kids, like my son, are left pecking away until all hours of the night (until I can’t take it anymore and finish the job in 10 mins!). My goal this summer is to get him up to speed (ha). Cursive writing still comes in handy from a speed perspective for taking notes in high school and college, next hurdle.


30 JenG June 19, 2012 at 9:56 am

I have found that handwriting is just a section that our kids take in school (BC, Canada), more just to see how the letters are formed (and my kids attend a traditional model school!). My children do all their assignments in printing form. I find this disappointing because it is a good skill to have, let alone being able to decipher what words say in script. A teacher friend of mine says that handwriting is totally useless and out-of-date! Yikes!


31 Sonya June 19, 2012 at 9:56 am

I have to say that even though I was a good student, I would not want my grades read aloud in front of everyone. It sounds like your children are not only getting a good education, but will be a little tougher than their American counterparts (not that they’re not American, but you know what I mean!) I think that these practices sound fantastic. Sports and recreation are important for skills and exercise but schoolwork should come first. I am surprised that they spend a lot of time on script/cursive. I think writing legibly is extremely important, but I always thought cursive writing was a waste of time that we were forced to endure in third grade (where I grew up). I pitied the teachers who had to read that terrible writing. Thank you for sharing all of this! It has been really interesting.


32 Sarah June 19, 2012 at 10:09 am

I used to teach elementary school and while I think that legible handwriting is important, it’s just not necessary to dwell on something as superficial as cursive penmanship. I don’t write in cursive. Ever. I don’t care if my son never learns it at all. It’s nice and beautiful and artistic, but it’s just visual. I care much more about the substance of the writing. Honestly, I think learning to type is more useful than cursive.

Yes, the “American” system has troubles. But I would still prefer it to most other systems. Our system has produced some of the most creative ideas in the world. Creativity is stifled when children are publicly berated for making mistakes. From what I understand, the French education system places kids in tracks (college/career) based on standardized testing. This is certainly not the way I’d like to see education go in this country.

I think it’s really easy to look to Europe and idealize their methods (in education and otherwise) but our country is one of a distinctly different history and multicultural heritage.

And as far as the sports stuff goes… well I can dig it, lol! One of the nicest things about living in Europe (I did a few years back) was that everyone was dressed so well!


33 Tsultrim June 19, 2012 at 11:26 am

Hi Sarah,

I am just replying to explain you something. In France and other french speaking countries (as Belgium) handwritting is a very important tool to your administrative and juridical life. I once typed a three page letter to explain a situation to the Royal Public Prosecutor in Belgium and I received a reply that for it to be official I had to send it in my handwritting. I literally had to copy the letter in handwritting. It all turned out well and I have gained my case. I don’t know all the reasons for this, but within others, it doesn’t exclude people who don’t have a printer at home (you would be amazed how many people don’t have one and how it is not a priority) and it certifies that you are you -if they need to check it with forensics. So differently from the US, it’s not only an aesthetics issue, it’s a life tool.


34 Lorena May 9, 2013 at 5:47 am

I live in France and school my two children here and I agree completely with Sarah. To romanticize French schooling is really unwise and unrealistic — it is well-known fact that French schooling is a failure (witness the huge overhauls every few years here!) The French system doesn’t value creativity at all — for ex. my 6 yr. old with autism was told to form his body into a sculpture during “motricite” class, and he did with his arm swinging like a Calder he had seen at MOMA and the teacher held him up as an example of what not to do! They do not value creativity in students! French university level (where I also teach) is dismal and fraught with problems — I find that students are not motivated, won’t participate except begrudgingly, if theyeven show up, and talk incessantly during class (gossipy and most students don’t pay any attention to the professor.) I could go on and on, including that 80% of kids with a “handicap” (which we wouldn’t consider a basis for pulling them out of school in the USA, but we do here in France!) are not schooled! That alone is an outrage.
Just warning you that when you actually really live in France, you will learn that French schooling is a “catastrophe!” My kids can’t wait to get back to the USA schools where positive and analytical thinking is valued by teachers, and teachers won’t be hitting (yes, hitting!) yelling and screaming at kids during classtime. That’s what it is really like.


35 tammy June 19, 2012 at 10:21 am

as a child, I went to a french school in the U.S (California) where all my studies (and teachers) were french. The penmanship thing was huge there. Even now as an adult, I’m told I have lovely handwriting. I also almost always write in script, so I guess it stuck with me!
We had some of the public criticism, but not as much as you would get in a french school. I think it makes kids work harder and teach them consequences. But it is a little sad; they’re just children after all…


36 Kim June 19, 2012 at 10:24 am

Thank you for sharing some of the details of children’s learning experiences in France. I agree, the handwriting is beautiful. The system sounds fairly well-rounded. All three of my children were and are very athletic, but most of their competitions before high school were “club” oriented. Are athletic clubs popular in France?
When I was a young girl attending elementary school in Oregon, we didn’t begin cursive writing until the fourth grade, which is around age 10. That was in the 1960′s, and it hasn’t changed much. Cursive handwriting is still taught in Oregon, but not nearly with the same emphasis as I received as a young student, and still, it just depends on the teacher as to the use of pens or pencils.
Recently, I read about the school children in Finland, who are ranked TOPS in education amongst all nations and Finland has a positive and different approach to successful learning with astounding results. Finland begins with extremely well-educated teachers. It is quite fascinating to read about. In the United States of America, we need dramatic change in our educational system, overall, and change which will require VERY involved parents and citizens contacting our Congress for changes of many kinds. The answers are not all in our current system, but we haven’t done everything wrong, either. We have tenured teachers, many of them who teach well, but at the same time, makes it nearly impossible to release ineffective teachers.


37 Lindsay - ShopEllaLou June 19, 2012 at 10:29 am

I taught in a French school as an “assistant d’anglais” for a year after I graduated from university. I was shocked when on the first day one of the teachers I was working with stated, in front of her students, that “this is my stupid class.” Throughout the year I continued to hear teachers publicly criticize students for sub-par performance or behavior. This was one of the elements of the French school system I liked least and which has made me think very long and hard about sending our daughter to French school (either in France or the US).

However, I now have a different perspective after having discussed the issue ad-nauseum with my French husband and seeing how he has excelled in the US workplace. Learning to take criticism is part of the French education – there is no sugar-coating or rewards for effort but poor performance.

As a result, I find that my husband and many French friends living here in the US have a very different perspective when they receive professional criticism – they do not take it personally. They simply see criticism as a comment on their work product and resolve to improve the next time around. In a professional world where there are few rewards for trying hard but not performing, the French school system prepares students for “real life.” My husband, having been raised in the French school system, does not lack confidence, quite the contrary in fact. However, he does have an innate ability to take constructive criticism, self-reflect, and move on.

While, as an American, I don’t know that hearing a teacher publicly criticize my daughter or other students will ever be easy (and I have certainly witnessed examples of French teachers taking it too far), I now believe that the rigidity of the French school system prepares students for the challenges they face as adults in the “real world” and workplace.


38 Caryn June 19, 2012 at 10:29 am

Wow! Every time you post something like this about France, I send it to my husband and then we discuss for hours that night when we could move there. We just had a baby (2 months today!) and we are terrified about raising her in the US. We are both artists and love lettering. I’d love for our daughter to have to learn and appreciate good writing.


39 Lisa Taylor Whitley June 19, 2012 at 10:42 am

I like that in France they emphasize academics and not sports. Having said that, I do think it is very important for children to get exercise every day but it certainly doesn’t have to be in an organized game. I’m not sure how I feel about the public criticism. It definitely seems like a way to hold students accountable but I can see how it could be detrimental as well.


40 susan June 19, 2012 at 10:50 am

I love the first picture. The chart with upper case letters with lower case directly below in cursive followed by the same letters in manuscript is brilliant. My kids with special needs learned manuscript and then when I taught them cursive they had difficulty reading it and still do. Teach it all together. I must say again that is brilliant!


41 Carrie Corder June 19, 2012 at 10:58 am

I am not defending American public school systems. Many are atrocious. However, as a former English teacher, I think effective discipline and education can be accomplished very well without ridicule. We in the US could learn from the emphasis on academics, but the French in turn could learn a little diplomatic tact in the classroom from us. I have a friend who’s husband helps oversee a plant in France. Evidently, Frenchmen’s hard work in school does not always translate into a steady work ethic professionally. My friend’s husband reports that workers are frequently inexplicably absent on the job. Their is truly no ideal country or culture.


42 Vicki June 19, 2012 at 11:22 am

Hmmmm…. Maybe there is a connection to French Kids Don’t Throw Food and a strong emphasis on handwriting. There are many studies on this…
is one example. As an educator and a mom I’m just sayin’…


43 Darcy June 19, 2012 at 11:29 am

I love that penmanship is a big deal.
I homeschool and am adamant that my children use good penmanship…always.
I may even try to find a french alphabet chart like the one you posted. You know the one thing that I found I took the hardest when I became an adult is that when a boss gave me constructive criticism or criticism at all I felt berated or attacked. But had I been exposed to this earlier in life I would have been able to look at it subjectively and not ran away crying.
Anyway, Hooray for French school!!! I hope someday that my family and I have a chance to live there.


44 Susie June 19, 2012 at 11:43 am

I wonder how they deal with learning disabilities? Expecting perfect penmanship from my dyslexic/dysgraphic son would be a disaster. As would riduculing him for his atrocious spelling tests. From what I understand, the French are mostly in denial about dyslexia, which is a scientifically acknowledged neurological difference that shows up on fMRIs. My otherwise very smart son would likely end up dropping out of French schools altogether.


45 Lorena May 9, 2013 at 6:03 am

Susie, there are very few French public or private schools that would even accept your child to begin with. Your son would, in all probability, be sent to the Institute right after maternelle and he would have to get therapy (not really an education) and not be around peers much. Even just small reading problems, etc… are often used as a means of pushing a child out of school and into the institute medico-educatif world, or making them repeat a grade. It is against the law, as the country tries to enforce inclusion, but it doesn’t happen much in practice here.


46 cgwena July 3, 2013 at 5:06 am

I have to react to that comment!!!

I’m a french primary school teacher, I teach in 4th grade, and 2 of my pupils are declared dyslexics (and I suspect some 2 or 3 more are too, but parents won’t hear about it…). They have someone to help them part-time with everything they have to write down, as it is their main difficulty, but they can follow most of what’s done during the day. And their penmanship is perfect…

I have other pupils who have difficulties writing in cursive (but I think their writing wouldn’t be perfect in printing either), but they’ve been learning to write this way for 4 years now and we really teach them, show them how to form letters and they’ve practiced a lot, so it’s natural to them… It’s certainly more difficult if you’ve learned to write in printing and then asked to write in cursive without anyone telling you how to do it…

As for inclusion, it is compulsory now (it’s been for almost 10 years now), every children must have access to school, whatever their handicap may be… It’s not always easy because some of them need extra help, so people are hired, but they’re not always trained, and have to learn how to do their job in the classroom, while they know nothing about dyslexia for example… And I think THAT’s a shame!!!

Finally, some children with great difficulties are going in other classes in classic schools or in other places, but they’re not learning nothing there, trained teachers are in charge of these classes where their difficulties are taken into account, and they can learn at their own rhythm because they are only 15 max, and that’s not possible in 28 children-classes…

What Lorena depicts is the situation that existed 30 years ago, when I was at school, but things have changed since!


47 Gina June 19, 2012 at 12:06 pm

It was the last day of school at our French “Lycee” in Stockholm — I have a team of French boys running around our yard in a last day of school birthday party here. (Yes, my quick and guilty pleasure is to take a quick peak at what you’re writing about today before they’ll all inside again! Always interesting and irresistible! I have to comment quickly! I think about these subjects daily.

This is completely true and as our children started, here, in the maternelle, they all have learned the beautiful script from that age. I thought the progression from printing to 100% cursive during their kindergarten (GS) year, was so interesting with the teacher’s notes and classroom signs progressively transforming throughout the year from block letters to cursive , helping the students to not only learn how to write this was but to make sure that they learn how to read cursive. Of course, aesthetically, it is beautiful but I find the goal of mastering a task (penmanship) to be something concrete and goal oriented.

I’m asked regularly asked to compare the American, Sweden and French educations and always respond that American schools are somewhere between the two. True, in French schools one is corrected in public but in a Swedish school, one is never told no!

I was struck from day one with with the way the French teachers were able to allow themselves to see an individual and voice their opinion vs the Swedish schools where any assessment was much more neutral and opinion it extremely difficult to decipher. I think being put in a foreign situation really makes one take a look at these everyday situations with such different eyes — In the French system, I find that I find value an opinion as long as it isn’t humiliation and in the Swedish, the space to develop at your own tempo, as long as it isn’t passive. These systems are day and night. Oh, I would love to hear and discuss more. It’s really fun to hear about your experiences.
(On a last note, I’ve spoken to many French teachers who love to teacher their FRench curriculum in the free environment of Sweden… I had heard very harsh harsh reprimands from friends at schools in France and I honesty, question what that does to one’s self-esteem — which has come up interestingly in conversations with French school school grads & French teachers. )


48 Leanne June 19, 2012 at 12:32 pm

Wow, so it is true. My family is moving to France next month from Canada so our 1 1/2 year old will start school there. At least she won’t know any different with being scolded in public. I love handwriting and like to know that she will learn it. I found out the other day that my friend’s 16 year old daughter doesn’t know how to write (but she does know every texting short form).

Thanks for the post


49 Trudy June 19, 2012 at 12:48 pm

Intreresting to read the differences. I enjoyed your post on child-rearing, wondered if there are any interesting variations in homekeeping between American and French mothers?


50 Valerie J. June 19, 2012 at 1:18 pm

I will have to agree with Laetitia on this one. Being French too, the public scolding was pretty harsh at times even if I was rarely on the receiving end of of it.
When I came to the US and was a TA as part of my grad program, it took me a little bit to adjust to the teaching here. In some sense I was very amazed at how fearless the American students were, asking all the questions that crossed their minds. I liked that they were able to express themselves so freely. At the same time, it was annoying too in the sense that it seemed that many did not bother thinking about an answer to the question they were asking. It may sounds silly but that’s how I was trained: repeat the question in your mind and make sure the answer is not obvious otherwise if you ask and it is “trivial” that would be the answer you would get (as in “it’s trivial, figure it out”).

This type of approach from the teachers back home is there from the beginning (maternelle) but I think is the harshest at college level like in the “classes prepas”. I’ve had maths teachers asking some friends after 2 year of college, majoring in maths, if they’d consider a career in litterature or art as they were “incompentent” or “clearly lacking skills”. I can assure you the ones being told that were not incompetent but still were humiliated in front of the class.

I think it did make us tougher, maybe coming across as arrogant sometimes (because of the lack of tact giving feedback for instance) but definitely more resilient. These are the positive aspects I am taking out of it, that and good handwriting! My grand-ma was a primary school teacher so our summer times were full of “pages d’ecritures et dictees”!


51 Traveling Mama June 19, 2012 at 1:35 pm

When we were in Morocco our kids attended Moroccan schools that taught with the French system and we were utterly AMAZED by the good hand writing that was required from the time our daughter came home from her first day of kindergarten. Unfortunately since we have left she says she has forgotten the cursive writing because the American and Danish systems only use print. It is a total bummer in my opinion!


52 Mariar June 19, 2012 at 2:01 pm

There´s another place on Earth, where old school learning and habbits are very much alive and practised. Its Russia, and to some extend, the Eastern Europe. All the things you mentioned about using a pen, not a pencil for writing, as well, as criticism infront of the whole class, sports classes-it all sounds so familiar! We live in Finland, and my daughter has learned to read and print write in Russian, and I am looking forward to enrolling her to the Russian Embassy school, so she can learn proper script writing.
When I moved to Finland, as a schoolgirl, I found it trendy, and new and fascinating to print write, so I abandoned my scripwriting for some time, but as an adult, I´m totally back to it!!!


53 sarah jane June 19, 2012 at 2:09 pm

This was SO fun to read! And in my opinion (since I was a school teacher and can speak intelligently about the subject) it sounds like American schools could learn a few good lessons from French schools! We coddle our students way too much and I’m actually terrified to see how the next generation is going to run this country. Terrified! I also love how “sophisticated” the French seem to be. Never wearing workout clothes, writing in script, using pens. Our society is SO casual and personally I think it is hurting our youth. There’s no respect. It makes me cringe when my 3 year old calls my friends by their first names. I would NEVER have done such a thing when I was kid, but that’s just the norm these days. Anyway…could write a book, but I personally like the way the French do things! Maybe I should move there, right?!


54 Jennifer June 22, 2012 at 12:21 pm

It’s so interesting that you said this (about calling adults by their first name). I am in my early thirties and was NEVER allowed to call adults by their first name – it was either Aunt/Auncle or Mr./Mrs. depending on the situation. My fiance is French (I’m there currently) but we’ll be moving back to Canada soon. He likes the casualness of North America (well, some parts!) and doesn’t think the name thing is a big deal. As an educator, however, I cringe when I hear children call their friends parents by their first name. Sometimes I think it makes what they’re saying quite rude, albeit unintentionally.
As for yoga pants….I never wear them in France, not even at home anymore! Last year, I was at home working and wearing my yoga pants. My fiance came home for lunch and then we were going out. I asked him to wait a few minutes until I could get changed. He replied, “Oh, you are not going to wear your pyjama outside?” (cheekily!) However, here in Canada, I have an administrator who wears them to work! Much TOO casual in my opinion.


55 Lisa Mackin June 19, 2012 at 2:11 pm

I think I might belong in France rather than here in the states. I was jus lamenting to a friend how handwriting is becoming a lost art. I went to 12 years of parochial school here in the US- with an environment that sounds very similar to the one you mention – granted this was many years ago. Penmanship was huge! But I get compliments on my handwriting all the time , so I guess it paid off. And pens vs. pencil – I still only use pencils for math and sketching. Our town school system is so sports heavy it’s ridiculous. I LIKE the way the French school system sounds – minus the scolding.


56 christie June 19, 2012 at 2:42 pm

we moved to London from New York last September and my 3 girls go to British schools (my 15-year-old son goes to an international IB school). we’ve experienced the same thing with handwriting and fountain pens for everything except here they teach the kids a victorian kind of script called “joined-up writing”, which is an odd version of cursive that I even find hard to read.

as for the public discussion of scores and grades, it’s a bit old-fashioned in my mind, and very unlike the American school system. I find their parent-teacher nights to be hilarious and quite like speed dating: 5 minutes with each teacher, often accompanied by the teacher schowing you the class rosters with everyone’s scores listed next to their names. so far, though, my kids have just accepted it (they are not anywhere near the bottom of the class, which helps a lot!)

Even ballet test scores are posted on the outside doors of the schools or churches where the classes are held for any random passer-by to see — first and last names and scores right next to them!
I think the British kids don’t know any differently, but it surely is a motivating system for my girls!


57 Elizabeth June 19, 2012 at 2:57 pm

Reading this is very funny to me, because so many of this is simply a Europe-America clash. I am Dutch and though the French are much more traditional (read: stricter and more old-fashioned), many of the things you describe here were true for my schooldays in Holland. The American emphasis on sports for example has always amazed me.


58 jend'isère June 19, 2012 at 3:56 pm

My family”s tricultural experience has made me idealize where whcih country offers the best for each age. Swedish preschools allow the most exploration with self-expression, American primary schools provde a fun place for creative learning and the serious French high schools teach solid basics with rigor.
Kayaking and cricket are foreign sports which I never heard of being taught at French schools. PS. My daughter takes a French bacclaureate in 8 hours from now/


59 Cindy June 19, 2012 at 4:11 pm

Your post reminded me of my amazement of the neatly organized pencil boxes (although you’re right, no pencils in there!) that all students in France carry. I noticed this at a business school as a college student, so the tradition is a lasting one. The worst is when people forget to take the refillable fountain pen tubes out of their clothes at the laundromat… aaarrrgghhh. I was in total amazement that twenty-something, tight t-shirt wearing guys were using rulers and different colored pens to organize their notes. As a college instructor now, I have NEVER seen this from boys or girls in my experience teaching. Thanks for taking me back :)


60 Yana Mironov June 19, 2012 at 4:59 pm

It’s interesting how many parallels there are with the French and Russian schools. My mother would tell us stories of her school days. They also only wrote cursive and in pen. Teachers would announce grades and mock some students as well. Also popularity was based on how good your grades were not on sports. I wonder if this type of behavior encourages kids to do really well. The American way of teaching seems to set kids up to fail. Use pencil because we know your going to mess up. Hide your score so if you fail no one will know and you can secretly be bad at school. Is transparency better?


61 Katherine June 19, 2012 at 5:15 pm

Aaahhh… the joys of “ecriture” and the blunt feedback in French schools. Recently I was sorting thru’ my son’s old cahiers from grade 1 (By the way, do you keep all of your kids’ old school notebooks? I have 2 kids and have already filled 5 boxes – what to do?!!!) and he got his share of screaming red pen comments – “too slow”, “too messy” (actually it was even blunter in French) etc. I used to feel deflated by these comments but my son seems to have survived. He’s now a straight A student which leads me to my next point…the grade announcement.
My son was singled out and bullied badly by a gang of (under-achieving) boys in his class. Thankfully the principal was able to resolve this and the bullies have backed off – but guess what – they actually ‘fessed up to the principal and said that they targeted my son bec he was the smartest in class. I did ask his teacher if she could stop the grade announcement, but her reply was even if she didn’t announce the grades, they’d know that my son was very smart anyway. Sigh. I didn’t know what to say to that.
One of the posters above asked how the French system copes with learning disabilities – they don’t. (At least not in my kids’ school). It’s sink or swim. Over the years, I’ve seen some parents either seek help outside the school or just give up and transfer their kids to the more forgiving anglo-saxon system. As one of the French mums at school said to me – in the French system, the students are only measured in terms of academic success so kids who are not academic have fewer opportunities to derive any satisfaction or sense of accomplishment – perhaps this then explains the bullying behaviour of the under-achiveing gang of kids?


62 Nicole June 19, 2012 at 5:48 pm

This was very interesting to read. When my super sensitive first born was 4 he took French on Saturdays and did a French camp at the local International school (all French operated). He was wounded by the harsh criticism that was so second nature in that school and says he never wants to do French again. It makes me sad that he had such a bad experience because I love the language. I am glad your kids were able to handle it and thrive.

We live in America but are also amazed by the ridiculous emphasis on sports in many schools. Luckily, the school my kids attend (American but private) is small and places all emphasis on academics and the arts. I teach Kindergarten at the school and though we use pencils, handwriting is very important and my students are graded on it even in Kinder. There are even handwriting competitions in the older grades.


63 Natalie - Confetti Diaries June 19, 2012 at 5:49 pm

Now I know why my European friends have such beautiful handwriting. It’s not a bad idea to only teach cursive. I’m just happy to hear there is a focus on penmanship. Having taught elementary school, handwriting has been replaced with other studies. I guess the assumption is that they’ll all type when they grow up. At least we know in Europe, beautiful handwriting won’t be a lost art!


64 juliagblair June 19, 2012 at 6:13 pm

Loved reading about the schools. I had excellent and massive training in pen-man ship and cursive writing in 3rd and 4th grade. Then it all dissolved with the typewriter. I believe pen-man-ship is an art form. I swear that Chinese are all artists and amazingly good at details because they spend so long learning to write Chinese Characters perfectly when they’re very young.
There’s much to be said about accuracy, details, art, imagination etc. Much
for me to think about. Millions of thanks!


65 Hannah Cole June 19, 2012 at 6:16 pm

I would die!!! I never even showed my friends what results I got in any test! Oh dear!

Thanks for sharing this! I’m learning French at the moment, and hope to live there one day, so I love hearing your stories about the different things.

Sydney Australia


66 Jill June 19, 2012 at 8:13 pm

I enjoy your blog so much…thanks for everything you share ;) You and your husband are giving your children such a wonderful gift! You are amazing!

Jill from California p.s. I also love reading Jordan’s blog. I live in the Bay Area and she is giving me so many great ideas of places to visit in San Fran!


67 Caitlin June 19, 2012 at 8:52 pm

I lived in Paris as a teenager but went to the American school. Even there, the French teachers had the same style you describe. And they would call on you for answers in class and if you didn’t have the right answer – boy, were you in trouble. It was always so terrifying lol.
I also vividly remember sitting in class one day watching a movie and out of nowhere – BAM – full on frontal nudity. Hello! Pretty sure that would NEVER be allowed in the states. It was rather scarring to my young mind.


68 Anna June 19, 2012 at 9:35 pm

I just had to leave a comment about your last post. I moved here to Colorado from Australia where in the 3rd grade we get our “pen licence” and get to use pens instead of pencils. There is certainly a huge focus there on pen manship and I think it is becoming a lost art. My husband is a computer guy and his hand writing is horrible, I can’t even read it, and I tell him this!!! I know that computers are becoming a lot more popular in schools but there is nothing more beautiful than nice hand writing. There should be pride in our hand writing, each letter a work or art. Great article.


69 Amy June 19, 2012 at 9:59 pm

I have to have that chart! Gabrielle, do you know where French schools order their supplies? I’ve been looking for years and American educational suppliers just don’t have good cursive charts. Anyone else have any leads?


70 Brandy @ The Prudent Homemaker September 22, 2012 at 5:47 pm

Yes, please help us out here!


71 cgwena July 3, 2013 at 5:24 am

I know it’s been more than a year now, I don’t know if you found it, but if not, you cant print it from this website :


72 Rachel June 20, 2012 at 2:31 am

Hi Gabrielle! It’s funny to read this posting since it sounds exactly like what we experience here in the Netherlands. No pencils for writing only pens are used. I was initally shocked when our son came home with completed math sheets in pen! I asked my husband (who is Dutch) what do they do when they make a mistake? His response was, ” You just cross it off and start over.” I don’t think I will ever get over the publicly annoucing grades, as an American I find this a bit abrasive but I guess the other kids don’t even notice. Our son only knows this way since he’s always gone to a Dutch school, he’s currently in first grade. Sports as we know in the States are not asssociated with the school. They do have gym once a week and this year our city is continuing swimming lessons once a week but this will stop next year and on due to government cutbacks.


73 Beaula June 20, 2012 at 3:37 am

I’m a Belgian/American who moved to England in January and have been nannying for a local family. We live in the village so the school only has 45 kids, but I love how diverse of an education they get. On top of all the sports, arts and field trips, they also do gardening, cooking, and building projects. Whats also great is that the Infants (2-3 years) mix in with the kids in the morning, and the older kids are so much more aware of being gentle or paying attention if theres a little one around than any kids I’ve met in America. They also have a ton more play/recess time than kids in America.


74 Martina June 20, 2012 at 9:08 am

Sounds a bit like home school in the US—at least what I hope to provide for my kids someday: a diverse education, lots of hands-on skills and playtime, interaction with kids of all ages, etc.


75 Adelaida June 20, 2012 at 4:52 am

I think it’s quite similar in the whole Europe.
For me (I’m from Poland) it’s just weird to write in basic print. And the script looks so much better :) When it comes to public scolding and announcing grades – it surely is awful when you’re about to get bad grade but it also motivates you to get a better one and be proud in front of the whole class. If I had to complain I would just end up with quick oral tests in front of the whole class at the beginning of each lesson (is there a proper name for this kind of checking students’ knowledge from previous lessons?) – they were just too stressful for shy me.
And about sports – in my opinion they are rather basic for everyone and you can easily (too easily!) skip them and do nothing for the whole lesson. There are special classes and school though, where the biggest emphasis is put on sports but people tend to think that only not-smart-enough kids go there.
And shorts are always short :) I have never ever seen a kid, teenager or young adult in long pants. Unless, it’s winter and you are forced to exercise outside in the snow/rain/blizzard ;)


76 amanda June 20, 2012 at 7:13 am

I attended a public kindergarten in Belgium in the early 80s. My mother saved much of my school work and I still marvel and the carefully written cursive letters. I still prefer to write in cursive as an adult. I recently read that cursive is no longer being taught in many US schools. This makes me sad as I fear that the handwritten note or letter will soon be extinct.


77 JR June 20, 2012 at 8:05 am

I think the public school system has done such a disservice to children by no longer teaching them cursive. Nor are they teaching grammar, only reading and comprehension. My grandmother was an elementary school teacher and we diagrammed sentences for fun!


78 noelle June 20, 2012 at 8:07 am

i’m old school and value nice penmanship but no one uses it. it’s a dying art and with the electronic age, i’m not sure we’ll get it back. nice your children have a chance to work on it and use it.


79 Martina June 20, 2012 at 9:05 am

Legible penmanship is important but I’m quite surprised that ANY school is still teaching cursive writing that strictly. Typing seems like a much, much more importnat skill since hand writing more than a sentence or two seems to be unnecessary these days. I imagine in the future less and less school work will be done on paper at all. Hopefully they’re also teaching typing.


80 lovely things June 20, 2012 at 10:05 am

My son (13) has the worst penmanship and I truly believe it’s because he has never been held accountable for it. Even though we use computers for everything, it’s still useful and important to be able to write legibly…if not beautifully.

It all seems to lead back to formal vs. informal…or maybe just lazy? Why do we wear athletic clothes all the time? Well, they don’t need ironing, they are very comfortable…my daughter used to ask to wear yoga pants to school when she was in middle school. “Mom, everyone does, and they are so comfy.” My reply, “I’m not sure if you need to be that “comfy” at school….you’re not sleeping in school.” Now at 17 she would never consider wearing athletic clothes to school. She dresses appropriately and is very put together every day. Her day starts at 5:15am…no excuses.


81 marni June 20, 2012 at 10:44 am

my son learned this method in kindergarten-first grade . i loved the gracefulness of the letters, then we moved and he was back to standard print. i think his writing suffered for it. i don’t believe penmanship is even a subject anymore and i think it’s sad. to me it’s another creative subject that has been bullied away by time spent on standardized test preparation.


82 Christina G. Smith (@Rvaya) June 20, 2012 at 10:47 am

In the US when I was taking a semester of French 101 before moving to France in 2007 our teacher was like that. She was French and it didn’t go over well.


83 Martha June 20, 2012 at 11:45 am

My mother is a 9th grader English teacher at a poor inner city school and uses what she calls “public humiliation” for her students’ discipline; it sounds similar to French teachers. Except my mom doesn’t do it about grades – she does it for poor behavior. She makes them stand and then asks sarcastic rhetorical questions such as, “do you really think it’s appropriate to grope your girlfriend in front of your teacher? is this where you prefer to engage in such private activities? Do you think your classmates enjoy this while trying to learn?”
The sad fact is that so many youth have had no discipline and do not know how to behave – and no one expects anything of them. Students seem to respond well to her style, because she is also effusive about praise when they do well.

She homeschooled me and insisted on good penmanship and doing well in all subjects, because she knew that I could. When friends asked if I could play, she had no compunction about saying “no she can’t; she is failing math because she is lazy. If she stops being lazy and does well, she can play.” This system really helped me personally, and when I then went on to attend Oxford University, I was perfectly prepared both for the work load and for the teaching style!

But I still had to do swimming and baseball…Florida kids deal with year-round sports hell!!


84 Brandy @ The Prudent Homemaker September 22, 2012 at 5:52 pm

As a homeschooling mother whose oldest has been slacking in math lately but still wants to play with her friends (to which we have been sayng “no”) I really appreaciate your perspective on this.


85 Jordana @ White Cabana June 20, 2012 at 1:12 pm

You have just taken me back to when I was 16 – I lived in France for 3 months as an exchange student. The refillable fountain pens and the erasers – those were awesome and when I came back to Canada I tried to continue the tradition but it just wasn’t the same. I was always more casually dressed than my classmates. And the grading system – although you haven’t mentioned it in your post – was completely different and something I had to get used to. It’s really amazing that you and your kids are getting to experience all this. I continue to talk about my French highschool experiences even now. I learned so much!


86 Roshanthi June 20, 2012 at 10:46 pm

This brought back memories for me too! I grew up in Sri Lanka (a british colony for 200 years). And this is truly a very parochial colonial style of emphasizing education. Hand writing, uniforms, good behavior and classroom humiliation was very much the norm. I totally lament the lack of this type of structure in the classroom. Kids are increasingly disrespectful to teachers and fellow students in the US, not to mention how they are dressed (take jailin’ baggy pants for example). I personally believe this is partly why the rest of the world is accelerating in education/economy when the US is slowing down. A lot of kids here can afford a good kick in the behind!


87 Kit June 21, 2012 at 5:31 am

The one handed baseball sounds a lot like rounders which I was introduced to when I moved to the UK when I was 15. I didn’t know what I was looking at the first time I did PE in school!


88 Greyson June 21, 2012 at 10:45 am

I have to say that I appreciate the emphasis on the handwriting, as well, the clothing. Don’t get me wrong, I am not one to shy away from wearing yoga pants to the grocery. I just like the idea if keeping things simple. Carrying traditions from generation to generation. I believe that the emphasis on the handwriting teaches children a certain amount of discipline and respect. As for the scolding in the classroom, well, that is definitely some accountability. Work hard to get the good grade. As well respect for the teacher. We have lost a lot of that here in the US. (Matter of fact they are considering not teaching cursive in public schools here!!!!!!!!!!) But, boy, I hate to hear a child being embarrassed. Breaks my heart! Fine line.

I would love to hear more about the language barrier for you, as an adult. I do believe that children adapt well but as an adult with no french, how is that?

I loved this post. I always enjoy hearing and learning about other cultures. Really neat to hear the children’s perspective!


89 Stephanie June 21, 2012 at 1:39 pm

I’ve always loved French handwriting, it’s so distinctive =) It reminds me of 2nd grade, when my teacher (Mrs. Donson!) had us write in cursive, using rulers. Not to brag (hehe okay, just a little), but I’ve had lovely handwriting ever since. And much like cursive writing, constructive criticism is definitely something we could use more of in schools here in the States. Many kids (including my generation, I admit it) have gotten so used to being praised just for showing up that they grow up with a sense of entitlement and aren’t always as hardworking as they are ambitious. (Reality television comes to mind) Being taken down a peg hurts the pride, but it sure does build character.

(I’d love to send my future children to French school one day. It just sounds like such a great experience.)


90 Carrie S June 21, 2012 at 4:29 pm

I finally got around to asking my 4th grader is she had been learning cursive yet–and apparently–they aren’t teaching it anymore in the schools around here! I am so so so sad. What a lost art, don’t you think? I mean, how are children supposed to learn how to write a signature (if the parents don’t teach them)?


91 Alex June 21, 2012 at 10:32 pm

I am from Poland and that is the way it was through my school years all the way through college. I do not see anything wrong with it. When you think about the public announcement of grades you should think about adult life. In USA it does not happen and only here in US you have so many people in therapy and on prozac, zoloft, etc.
I was shocked when I found out that kids in US do not do cursive and proper handwriting.


92 Melissa - Keith Pitts Portraits June 21, 2012 at 10:49 pm

My two girls attend Montessori school her in Arizona – fortunately there is an emphasis on handwriting. The intro to cursive handwriting was this great book called “Handwriting without Tears” – a really good hands on approach to learning cursive – and the kids LOVE it.

The public announcement of grades reminds me of my Catholic school days just outside of Boston. The Monsignor would hand deliver the report cards and if he didn’t like what he saw he either reprimanded you in front of the class or took you into the hall for a private berating. Either way, the entire class knew what opinion he had of your grades.


93 bdaiss June 26, 2012 at 2:04 pm

Oh Gabby. You must stop. Really. So many of us are going to move to France at this rate. : )

I *love* that handwriting chart. I must find one. I (like others) know schools are cutting cursive from curriculums. I find it horrifying. (Heck, I took calligraphy courses for a few years!) I am determined my children will learn, even if I have to teach them at home.

I do like the idea of publicly announced grades. Although in practice I can think of a few reasons not to. However, I’m one of those Americans who think we, as a society, have become too “soft”. Too protective. Too “everybody-wins!” The real world will not be so kind to our children. We better teach them how to stand up for themselves and work hard for what they want or this country will not be long for the world.

Thank you. Thank you for sharing your taste of another culture. (Or a big tall drink of it as the case may be.) But please – stop it! My husband is sick of hearing me blather on about it! : )


94 Ima June 27, 2012 at 12:51 pm

I adore the “font” used to teach cursive at your children’s school. My grandparents all used that lovely script and I really would like my child to learn it as well (it’s so much more attractive than what is taughtin U.S. school, IMO). Any idea where we might be able to find practice books in the States?



95 Katie September 11, 2012 at 6:09 am

I’m not sure of how I feel about the public announcement of grades. Essentially, discipline (or “education” as you wrote in one post) should go from least-controlling to controlling. This means that you try subtle things first and then move to something more obvious and only when it is absolutely necessary do you do things like calling a kid out by name and scolding them publicly and potentially humiliating them in front of everyone. Doing that first just seems odd to me, and obnoxious. (Basically, by calling one kid out, you distract the rest of the class, and take time away from learning.)

As for the penmanship, I love it! I have graded so many illegible papers. I remember when I was in elementary school I worked really hard on my cursive, and my teachers told me that I would have to write papers in it someday. This never happened. By the time I was in classes that required formal essays, everyone expected things to be typed–thankfully I already knew how to type. Which brings me to another frustration… kids these days can use iPods and touch screens and they can do stuff on a computer that I haven’t even heard of, but they can’t type! This generation got rid of typing the way mine got rid of cursive, I guess…


96 Jasi September 24, 2012 at 11:26 am

I absolutely belong here. Down with cursive! Hours wasted. That said, I love the extra curricular activities here. I love the balance of responsibility and sensitivity toward students. Adore allowing for individualism and supporting team work. Cooperative sports, school art exhibits, music performances- all wonderful. My only gripe is our reluctance to adopt metric.


97 Lina March 18, 2013 at 9:10 pm

What a fascinating discussion this post has inspired! So interesting to hear what people’s experiences are in different countries.
I love that kids are learning cursive! The public announcement of grades is interesting.. in one sense I think it’s sort of horrific, but in another, if that’s the way it’s always been.. talk about creating motivation to try your best! Not a bad thing, really.


98 Anne Kreder June 18, 2013 at 6:02 pm

Any suggestions for purchasing French notebooks and fountain pens online for students practicing penmanship?


99 cgwena July 3, 2013 at 5:49 am
100 Kay August 18, 2013 at 4:46 am

In my high school in England, we had a maths teacher from Italy, and she was the only teacher who read our results in front of the whole class, and also criticised publicly. It may be a continental European thing, as British teachers rarely do this. I think French schools also display major exam results on the wall for everyone to see, whereas in England it’s given privately to the individual student. But bear in mind, education is much more important for a job in France. French employers demand a university degree much more than English employers, so French kids are groomed from a very early age for this.


101 Linda September 3, 2013 at 8:38 am

This was a very interesting read for me! I am fifty-three now but when I was three years old my family moved to France (Laon) and stayed until I was six. I don’t have as many memories as I would wish but I do remember the script writing. When we moved back to the states I got in trouble for using it in school! No one that age could write in cursive. So I had to revert back to print. I also remember eating the best waffles ever in French school and we had a pet hamster. OH and yes I do remember a scolding. A teacher pinned a yellow note to the front of my dress for my mom to see. I don’t remember what I did wrong but I was so humiliated and I think my mom had company that day when I got home. Also I learned to speak fluent French but completely forgot all of it at some point when we moved back home. When I took French in high school I barely made an F! That made me crazy.


102 French Reader January 6, 2014 at 4:27 pm

I am French. I went to public French schools in the 70s and spent time after that in Italian and American schools. I don’t recall any of the criticism which is a far cry for remotely being constructive; however, I do recall in the US while doing my bachelor the grades being handed out out loud in a few classes with the same intent.

My point being, don’t generalize.


103 Delphine Wood May 13, 2015 at 2:34 pm

The picture you took of the cursive board is exactly the one I was taught at school. (I was born and raised in France). I live in the US. I would like to teach my son the way I was. Where can I find this board or worksheet.
Merci! :)


104 Karl November 20, 2015 at 8:04 pm

I like the French way. I don’t like the idea of having kids in America. I have nightmares about how they may turn out. So I don’t have them yet. I’m hoping for something else. I am so disgusted by the sight of so many fat, nasty, spoiled, ignorant, selfish, greedy, aggressive, foul-mouthed American brats. And that’s just the parents! As far as public shaming, I was a victim of the “nice” American approach in school. But then comes the reckoning in exams and in life. Now I’m hard as nails and ruthless with my own self-criticism. And I plan to be the same way with my kids when I have them. If you truly care for a child, you will teach them the right way to live and not let them do whatever they feel like.


105 Caroline Bedard July 9, 2016 at 7:47 pm

When I studied Interior Design a few years ago, (most of us were there for a second career, many already had college degrees) my classmates from France were so ashamed if they did not do really well on tests or assignments. They said that shaming and scorn were the norm – from both classmates and teachers. Both the teachers and students tended to help people when they were struggling, which they said would never happen in France. One of these women had gotten her BA at Boston University, and was reduced to tears during our AutoCad tests and during drawing assignments. She already had a successful business doing interior design work at the time!


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