Valedictories and Diplomas

This Saturday morning I deviated from my norm. Foregoing the customary pleasure of a visit to Martel market, I went to Brive in order to play the proud parent and watch my daughter collect her baccalaureate.

We’d been discussing the ins and outs of my attendance all week long. Tilley wasn’t at all keen. Anything to do with school, apparently, freaks her out. It would be stressful enough to gather together with her peers for one last time and troop across the stage – or whatever it was that they were expecting her to do – without a proud, beaming papa there to witness it.

I’d consulted the Oracle at Delphi (my sensible wife) about the issue. While respecting our daughter’s position, there are times when you have to exercise executive power. She couldn’t make it herself, since she’d be slaving all morning over a hot massage couch. But she felt it right that one of us should represent the official wing of the family. It didn’t seem right somehow that our daughter’s school career should end with a whimper. My presence would help the kid achieve some kind of closure.

Standing in the covered walkway outside the lecture theatre where the ceremony (as I imagined it) would take place, I looked out over the quad at the gaggles of ex-pupils, no doubt talking about what they’d been up to this summer, and thought back to all those prize days and graduation ceremonies. My parents must have felt very like I was feeling at that moment: proud as punch, but as awkward as an interviewee for a job. Did I, for example, go and find my offspring and then hover around her like one of the moons of Saturn? Or did I simply respect her independence and just continue to stand there like a lemon? I removed my sunglasses and secreted my pork-pie hat in my bag in an attempt at anonymity.

My mobile phone vibrated in my pocket. It was my daughter. I could see her with a bunch of friends across the quad. She played her final card: Dad, I don’t want to be mean or anything, but I haven’t seen any parents. I stood my ground. Well, I’ve seen parents and I’m a parent. But I did double-check with the personnage on the door that it was OK for parents to be present.

The proviseur arrived. The school principal: a suitably tall man with a wavy, salt-and-pepper hairstyle set off by a light-grey suit. He ushered everyone inside the raked auditorium and I took my place roughly half way up in an attempt to be ‘neither mickling nor muckling’, as Billy Liar might have put it. Another lone father sat down one seat away and we acknowledged each other diffidently. My daughter shuffled in with her friend, Pauline, and to my surprise and pleasure came to sit down beside me. Clearly then, the days of being forced to wear a parental burka, forbidden to open my mouth in public lest I bring her shame and dishonour, were over. Maybe I have entered the stage of our relationship where I will be presented to friends as a kind of ageing and slightly eccentric dignitary.

As the auditorium filled up with noise and young adults, another of my daughter’s friends joined us. She’s been bombarding Tilley with texts since she started her preparatory course in Toulouse, asking her to check her English translations. With six hours of exams every Wednesday, her course sounds a bundle of laughs. Another friend has started studying for a medical degree in Limoges. After a week of constant lectures and private study every evening, she has yet to meet anyone. Under circumstances like that, I would have given higher ed a miss.

When the show finally kicked off the customary 15 minutes late, the principal underlined this relentless emphasis on hard work and results by showing some slides that illustrated how The Daughter’s school was consistently above the national average. It’s no wonder then that when Debs asked a nine-year old girl the other day why we went to school, the child replied ‘To get good marks’. When pressed for any further reasons, she answered ‘To work hard’. Learning, then, and things like discovery clearly don’t come into it. You’re taught, it seems – from a very early age – that if you don’t get good marks, you’re just a failure.

And so there was nothing as I had remembered or imagined. No opportunity to celebrate each individual’s success in graduating from school by calling out their names so they could walk across the stage to the sound of their fellows’ applause and receive their diploma, a brief moment of glory and recognition for what they had gone through. Only those with a mention très bien, who would probably go on to the grandes écoles and perpetuate France’s very own and very anachronistic elitist system, were called out to come and receive a cheque for 50 euros.

By then, however, the whole thing had generated into chaos. No wonder Tilley hadn’t wanted me to come. What on earth had I been thinking of? Everyone knows that the French couldn’t organise the proverbial pee-pee-up in a brewery. No wonder the Committee awarded the Olympics to London and not to Paris. After the head had had his illustrated say, he passed the ineffectual microphone to a series of guests, who were drowned out by the constant babble. I was shocked. Either it added fuel to the theory that today’s child has got the attention-span of a gnat or, more surprising to someone who has always maintained that the general standard of social behaviour is much higher in France than it is in the UK, no one has taught these former pupils how to show minimal respect to others. I wanted to stand up and yell For God’s sake will you shut the hell up! Only, I was hampered by a lack of idiomatic French and a desire not to traumatise the fruit of my loins.

So, alas, did it end with a whimper after all. The kids piled out of the theatre to go and pick up their pieces of paper in three separate rooms according to the type of bac they followed. Needless to say, there was an aperitif offered in the refectory. I stayed long enough to drink a glass of grapefruit juice, sample the petit fours and avoid the soupe de champagne and the meaty nibbles. Still feeling acutely awkward, I spoke to no one and no one spoke to me.

Later I told Tilley about the shock I’d experienced. Why hadn’t the principal not simply instructed everyone to be quiet? She told me that it was just the way it was. Only the teachers who use menace and threats manage to gain some order. She and her friends knew enough to be quiet and listen to what the teachers had to say, but in most classes the noise level was so high that she couldn’t even hear what it was they had to say. Surprise, surprise, the testosterone-fuelled boys were the worst, egged on by the gum-chewing, earring-fiddling airheads who hang on their every idiocy. Now you can see why it’s not just me being a drama-queen, she told me with feeling.

Yes. I can see clearly now why she had to spend so much time over the years shut up in her bedroom, doing her homework and getting some kind of auto-education. I can see clearly now why everything about school continues to freak her out. I can see why she didn’t want me to come and waste my time on a Saturday morning when I could have been shopping at Martel market and watching Football Focus. Even supposedly the best school in Brive, for all the excellent trips and cultural visits, was ultimately nothing but an ordeal. I have to hope that the next three years of higher education will be a little more frivolous and joyful and truly the best years of her life.

Graham is clearly a qualified creation of Dashiell Hammett!

I like your description too Mark, duly noted for recycling.

Congratulations, Graham. Chapeau, as they say. I don't quite know what it all means, but it certainly looks the business!

Brian, I love your term for university teachers. Lickspittals indeed! I did a one-year Masters at Sussex (not really expecting that the world would open up before me, but simply because it was putting off the day when I would have to choose what to do in the real world) - and I was appalled by the standard of tuition. Self-seeking solipsistic toerags to a man (and, alas, woman). Ptui! I spit upon their memory.

It is good to see young people enjoying the French Education system but some of us "Old Farts" do so also. As I approach my 63rd birthday I have just been notified that I have received my IFAR Diploma following a dissertation for the V.A.E. After 16 years with a Professional Investigators in France they authorities needed yet another "piece of paper" to allow me to continue in the profession !!!!!

Le Titre Détective, Agent de Recherches Privées, Directeur des Opérations, délivré par L'IFAR

a été renouvellé par arrêté le 5 avril 2012 pour une période de 3 ans sous la référence NOR: APPD1209691A. Effet au 05 avril 2012, jusqu'au 05 AVRIEL 2015.

Ce Titre est inscrit au Répertoire National des Certifications Professionnelles

comme le prévoit la réglementation en vigueur.
Il figure sur la liste des titres et diplômes homologués par l'Etat au niveau III code NSF 344 t s
tenu par la Commission Nationale de la Certification Professionnelle

Rubrique Surveillance, lutte contre la fraude, protection et sauvegarde des biens et des personne

The joy of discovery etc is a slippery thing to get hold of. I taught English in primary schools in France and some classes were lovely and some not at all. Then I tried lycée and thought, I am so glad I failed the CAPES & stopped.

I taught many undergraduates in classes but also one to one as a supervisor for many years. I met people for whom learning was just the most exciting adventure on earth. Many had hated school and found freedom in universities. Then the Masters wave hit the world. It was that which killed off my desire to teach, nearly to live. Second rate courses packed out with waffle. Learn everything in the entire universe about a topic in three short uinversity terms, then walk away into a dream career. That was when I realised that like their kind in schools, many university teachers are simply lickspittals. I wish I knew the secret too. I'd package it and hand it out in bags at school, college and university gates...

'So how do you keep up the joy of discovery and the desire to learn?' If I'd known the answer to that conundrum, Louise, I might not have given up trying to be a teacher during my teaching practice. I suspect it's some kind of magical combination of good, committed and inspiring teachers (who alas come around once or twice in a blue moon), small classes, supportive parents and the spirit of Steiner. But as you say, Brian, it's all rote, rote and more rote. I was good at that, but it only ever really stuck when cemented by interest. Learning's a doddle if you're interested in something. Ah, the pity of it all!

Difficult to motivate if they are all demotivated. I was never enthusiastic at school and was bored alot of the time, but I loved history and had no problem learning/remembering it. But you can't like all your subjects. But you must have to memorise some things.

Back to create, free and open teaching that enthused children and made learning a wonderful experience. I did not have it, it was after my time, but the rote learning that is back in place. It makes learning a chore, no joy of discovery if you know you MUST do something.

So how do you keep up the joy of discovery and the desire to learn?

Louise, that means almost 99% after age seven if you look at the ECOSOC study on feelings about attending school. Even after benefits were explained to children they still only got 20 something % wanting to be there!

The joy of discovery etc disappears quickly when you have 30 pupils who don't want to be there.

Dear Christopher Trace...

I share your feelings Mark. I just remembered, filled in bits of paper and passed. My mates and I spent more time playing pinball than studying. They did not have my photographic memory so generally fell by the way and were never honoured, if anything scorned upon. It created if not class then layers. Those don't exist here. Educations does not leave scars. That is the plus side.

I am intrigued! My son get his bac just over 3 years ago and there was never any hint of a ceremony - just a circular from the lycee telling him (or me) to go and collect his certificate after a stated date in September. By this time he had gone to prepa anyway, so I simply went to the lycee myself armed of course with a stack of "justificatifs" as usual and collected his bac from the secretary. Incidentally, he got a "mention très bien" but there was no sign of any commendation much less a cheque for 50 €uros. You must be living in a very affluent area. As for the grandes écoles, he is now at one of the top "elite" ones learning how to detest his fellow students whose conversations appear to consist solely of describing their parent's houses, boats, holidays etc. and how highly placed their father is in some enterprise or another. Ironically I think it has deterred him from staying in France for ever.

Frances, I agree with you absolutely - although I do wonder sometimes whether my stance comes from having been a swot, who did well at exams and got their qualifications. Maybe friends of mine who didn't felt disenfranchised by such bashes. Nevertheless, they were 'occasions' and a chance for pupils and parents to get together (even if that would have been anathema for some).

I feel very ambivalent about the French education system. Even though it sure as hell grinds you down in some respects, it is better than the U.K. system in others. At least education is rightly valued here, even if - in my humble - they go at it all wrong sometimes. No doubt there are lessons to be learned in Scandinavia as to how education could and should be done. What I want to know is: whatever happened to the joy of discovery and finding out new things and the desire to learn? Where and at what point does that all get quoshed? Answers please on a postcard to Blue Peter, BBC Television Centre...

No, I guess you're right Louise. Our results came in the post, too. But by then we'd had an end-of-year bash. Admittedly it was just the annual prize-giving do, but it was ceremonious and it involved the whole school and seemed an appropriate way of marking the end of an era. I wouldn't advocate anything too American - monkey suits and party frocks and stretch limos and all that kind of stuff and nonsense - but I do feel that it's important that things as important as your school career don't just end with a whimper. As a Geordie friend here says, 'It's not rayt; it's not rayt'.

Terry Williams is a mask man, I am likely to be too so that I don't have seizures. Just like thoughts of school returning to my memory is likely to give me bad dreams as it is! All just a silly game that my photographic memory made reidiculously easy but otherwise was a terrible waste of time.

Jacqueline. Similar straits. But I did return for the reunion last year and also did not leave the old boys association a cheque. Interesting experience though.

Off at a tangent I am Brian but the answer is I haven't got apnea just a sort of junior version. I am taking this as good news. Advised to sleep on my right flank! I had visions of being starpped to an oxygen tank like a friend! Hope your's improves!

I was lucky enough to attend a prestigious west London grammar school, direct grant in those far off days so just the expense of the uniform for my parents. When I left after A levels I went to Teacher Training college. I didn't even get a mention in the school magazine that year in the long lists of where the sixth form were off to.There was an expectation that we would all go to Uni. There was a secretarial sixth form. If you did that you were the lowest of the low, but having talked to various old friends who followed that path, they all became very highly paid and succeeded in their careers. I left Godolphin without looking back and when I was asked back to a reunion I realised that all they were after was a fat cheque so I declined. OK, we were well behaved, but that is the only difference.

OK, UK degree ceremonies. I did all of my stuff in Latin. Lucky I did it at school, so was a little more able to blurt through than others who had come into the system from other countries without. I still own a gown, it is not that long really since it had to be worn for teaching, dining in college and various other silly things.I have been to a French degree ceremony in Paris though and they make a fuss that puts our lot to shame. It is school, as Mark illustrating, that is not honouring students in some way or other.