Friday, May 12, 2006

French universities and the revenge of the weak

French universities sound like some American public grade schools:
Higher Learning in France Clings to Its Old Ways - New York Times

... There are 32,000 students at the Nanterre campus of the University of Paris, but no student center, no bookstore, no student-run newspaper, no freshman orientation, no corporate recruiting system.

The 480,000-volume central library is open only 10 hours a day, closed on Sundays and holidays. Only 30 of the library's 100 computers have Internet access.

The campus cafeterias close after lunch. Professors often do not have office hours; many have no office. Some classrooms are so overcrowded that at exam time many students have to find seats elsewhere. By late afternoon every day the campus is largely empty.

...Nanterre is where the French student revolt of 1968 broke out...
When I was in Thailand in 1981, I visited the campus of a lesser known Bangkok university. It was inexpensive or free, the students came from diverse backgrounds. Some worked in the tourist industry; a diverse trade back then. The main building was an enormous concrete block structure, ventilated by ceiling fans. Aging TV monitors hung from the ceiling. Somewhere a lecturer spoke ... It sounds better than Nanterre.

I wonder if France has public pre-university schools that are as miserable as some of our "local property tax funded" disasters.

I think of this as an instance of a much greater problem, "the problem of the weak". In the modern post-industrial world the ranks of the "weak" are growing daily. Once an IQ of 90 was consistent with a productive life working shifts in St. Paul's Ford assembly plant -- that plant closes next year. Once twitchy and restless men were able to fit into a less competitive corporate world. Once outsiders could find reasonably well paying jobs so their children could become insiders. Once poor children could get a good education, and find opportunities as adults.

Now the "weak" are warehoused in places like Nanterre. This is not a good thing. Eventually, they will become restless. The "strong" will neeed to study the residential architecture of South America.

From each according to their ability; to each according to their need may yet rise again ... [1]

[1] Follow the link to learn the provenance of the quote, and appreciate the serendipity of Google. I found this article because I could only recall a fraction of the quote, Google brought this reference up when I tried to complete it. This is what US political struggle is all about now.

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