Learning to Be Philosophical

Learning to Be Philosophical

June 17, 2015 

Today, some 685,000 French high school students will be taking the most anticipated end-of-year exam: philosophy.

The annual philosophy exam (that started at 8:00 this morning) is the test that kicks off each year’s baccalaureat – a series of rigorous end-of-year exams students must pass in order to graduate from French high school and move on to university studies.

Each year, every student in their last year of lycée responds to one philosophical question, or comments on a given text during a four-hour essay exam during which they do not express their own opinions but argue from a variety of philosophical positions.

This year’s questions (released to the public at precisely 9:15 this morning) include:

• Is it a moral obligation to respect all living beings?
• Am I what my past has made of me?
• Is an individual’s consciousness simply the reflection of the society he/she belongs to?
• Does a work of art always have a meaning?

The study of philosophy has been mandatory in French high schools since 1808. In terminale – the last year of high school – it is a compulsory subject for all students. Those specializing in humanities take eight hours of philosophy a week, while pupils studying science and technology take two hours.

Former French national education inspector Mark Sherringham explained that the teaching was vital to build a basis “of culture and reasoning in philosophy” and that “its main objective is to develop a capacity for personal reflection,” one of the central aims of the French educational system.

Pierre-Henri Travoillot, head of the philosophy department at the Sorbonne University in Paris, claims that, “French philosophy is actually very accessible. Our philosophers are often writers, such as Jean-Paul Sartre. The result,  is that many ordinary French people develop a love for intellectual and literary pursuits that continues later on in life. »

« If there is one reason to be optimistic about France, this is it,” affirms Travoillot. And the AUCP, with its core emphasis on cultural analysis and personal reflection as a key component of the experiential learning cycle, does its best to allow that optimism to spill over into the goals and ambitions of our American educational system as well. See the syllabus for the French Cultural Patterns course required of all AUCP participants.

Sources : Le Monde, France 24