The British and the French have spent 1,000-odd years competing against each other. Some of the competition was peaceful, some wasn’t. The latter variety has tended to favour us, and names like Agincourt, Poitiers, Crécy, Iberian peninsula and Waterloo send every British heart a-flutter.
Had periodic wars between us continued, we’d be entirely justified to look down our noses on the French. Alas, we haven’t fought a serious war against them for almost two centuries, if you discount the few years when the French sided up with the Germans to fight Britain. No, I’m not talking about the EU, don’t be silly. I’m referring to the Second World War, when the Germans and the French buried their historical hatchet and started a love affair that’s still ongoing. Germany is the man in the relationship and the France is the partner who’s getting… Well, let’s not go there.
Economic competition used to favour us as well, off and mostly on. But some 50 years ago, driven by our congenital sense of fair play, we decided to give the French a fighting chance. To that end we sportingly redesigned our educational system to make sure that most of our children enter the adult world unable to read, write and add up.
One would think that the vaunted French chivalry would have kicked in and they would even the odds by following suit. Did they do that? Did they merde. Instead of levelling the playing field they grabbed the unfair advantage of obstinately insisting that their enfants emerged out of school equipped with basic literacy.
As a result of those sharp practices, the French now work 25 percent fewer man-hours than we do, while their per capita GDP is roughly the same. That makes their productivity higher than ours by… Sorry, I’ve never learned to add up. Let’s just say much higher and leave it at that.
Personally, I abandoned a long time ago any hope that the French would ever grasp our concept of fair play. But in comes François Hollande, unquestionably the fairest French president since Mitterand’s first two years in office.
First he put into effect an eminently just and rational tax policy guaranteed to drive the most productive Frenchmen to our shores. That’s like Zinédine Zidane pulling on an England shirt when the French were wiping the football pitch with us. This would have improved our chances, wouldn’t it?
So François made a step in the right direction. However, his sportsmanship being of the highest calibre, he has now taken another giant stride towards bringing France down to our level.
His education minister has announced plans to eliminate homework from French schools because some parents are better equipped than others to give their progeny a hand. Bravo, Mr Peillon!
Let’s say the homework is writing an essay on Descartes. Surely a professor of philosophy can help his child struggle through Cartesian rationalism better than, say, a Saint-Denis dweller who hasn’t read a book in his life and thinks Descartes is what you play blackjack with. How unfair is that? This sort of thing smacks of elitism, which, as we know, is worse than, well, just about anything this side of homophobia.
‘We cannot subcontract education to parents,’ says Jean-Jacques Hazan, Chairman of the French Federation of Parents. Spoken in the laudable spirit of fairness, and I can barely contain the urge to stand up and applaud.
Of course a sceptic might say the idea lacks novelty appeal. Both the theoreticians and practitioners of tyrannical states have been in favour of it for well over two millennia. Plato, for example, saw all children as nothing but the building blocks of the polis. To improve their ability to function in that capacity he suggested that they be taken away from their parents and raised as wards of the state.
But why go so far back? The Soviets with their young pioneers’ camps and the Nazis with their Hitlerjugend didn’t want to subcontract education to parents either. They wanted the little ones to learn what the state wanted them to learn, not the intellectual or, God forbid, religious rubbish they could get from their parents. Of course both the Soviets and the Nazis were socialists, and so is Mr Hollande but, not being a sceptic, I’m not going to draw spurious parallels.
So félicitations, Mr Hollande, for acting yet again in the spirit of fair play. But don’t rest on your laurels – the job is only half-done.
Educated parents won’t be able to help their tots with homework, fair enough. But they could still give their children good books to read, play real music for them to listen to or even defy laïcité and take children to a church – as opposed to a mosque, which would be progressive and commendable.
Such outrages must clearly be prevented, for otherwise fairness will be dealt a blow both domestically and internationally, with educated families fostering elitism and France gaining an unfair advantage vis-à-vis les rosbifs. That won’t do, will it?
To preempt such injustice, I humbly propose a few measures. Having learned about fair play from the experts, the British, I feel qualified to do so.
First, I’d nationalise all private libraries or, barring that, remove from them all books with any cultural or religious content, including the Bible. Then I’d confiscate all classical recordings and burn them, together with the books, in Place de la Concorde, where the guillotine used to be.
Second, all educated parents must be made to drink at least 15 units of alcohol a day and have at least one hit of Class A drugs. This would make them equal to parents who went to the school of hard knockers followed by Screw U, not to L’Ecole d’Administration or L’Ecole Normale Superieur. Their children must also be encouraged to consume both alcohol, albeit in smaller volumes, and drugs, marijuana rather than crack.
Third, all children must be taught to report on their parents should the latter transgress. This will redirect their loyalty away from home and where it belongs: to the state.
If acted upon, these modest proposals will create a society according to the blueprint Messrs Hollande and Peillon see in their mind’s eye. ‘We want a society of justice, so we want to have schools that offer everyone the same chance of success,’ says the latter. Next to none, is what he means, and what could be fairer than that?
At last the Brits will be able to compete against the French on even terms. So I hope you’ll join me in offering a big merci to the French government. It’s on the right track, the fair one, the just one, the progressive one.