Napoleon's Revolutionized French Education System
Napoleon organized the educational system of the revolutionary period, added a stable structure, and supplied the universities with teaching staff. Students received a well-rounded education, and would only advance in school after proving that they had retained knowledge by producing satisfactory examination scores.
French clergy and nobility had been calling for improvements in the educational system. Pondering the problems of the 1789 educational system led to consideration of "the duties and prerogatives of the state, the rights of parents, the potential benefits of higher education, the economic needs of the nation, the necessity for training teachers, and the suitable status of the teaching profession in a republic" (Vignery 21).
A decree passed in 1794 named teacher training the top educational priority. An emphasis was now being placed on schooling and curriculums were changed. The Paris Normal school plan of study included "republican morality and public and private virtues, as well as the techniques of teaching reading, writing, arithmetic, practical geometry, French history and grammar" (Bernard 154). Public secondary schools, or ecole centrals, were organized for every 300,000 people. The secondary school curriculum included literature, language, science, and arts. The decree which established the ecole centrals stated that:
"the age-range of the pupils will be from eleven or twelve to seventeen or eighteen"every school is to have one professor of each of the following subjects: mathematics; experimental physics and chemistry; natural history; scientific methods and psychology; political economy and legislation; the philosophic history of peoples; hygiene; arts and crafts; general grammar; belles letters; ancient languages; the modern languages most appropriate to the locality of the school; painting and drawing. Every central school is to have attached to it a public library, a garden and a natural history collection, as well as a collection of scientific apparatus and of machines and models relating to arts and crafts (Bernard 171).
Central schools were strengthened by the requirement that anyone seeking a position in the government had to show evidence that he had attended one of the schools of the Republic (Bernard 185-186).
Napoleon was convinced that the breakdown of order during the Revolution was because of the state's inability to establish a system of education that could replace what the Church had maintained previously. "The time was not ripe, however, for accomplishing these reforms. It needed the drastic purgation of the Revolutionary period, followed by the constructive genius of Napoleon, to put them into effect" (Farrington 87).
Napoleon explained, "Of all social engines, the school is probably the most efficacious, for it exercises three kinds of influence on the young lives it enfolds and directs: one through the master, another through con-discipleship, and the last through
rules and regulations" (Durant 65). He believed public schools should form intelligent yet obedient citizens.
In a letter to the Ministre de L'Interieur, dated June 11, 1801, Napoleon outlined his opinions on the educational structure needed for boys. The structure was to be divided first by age, for boys under twelve years and for boys twelve years and older. Grades one through four would be taught the general topics of reading, writing, history, and the use of arms. Grades five and above would have their curriculum tuned to their career. Those pursuing a civil career would study languages, rhetoric, and philosophy. The students following a military career path would learn mathematics, physics, chemistry, and military matters. Both the civil and military students would be guaranteed career placement upon their successful completion of the program.
Napoleon felt it necessary for girls to receive an education, though not identical to the boys' schooling. In his Note Sur L'Etablissment D'Ecouen, he proposed that religion and assorted domestic skills be taught at the girls' school. The girls would also learn numbers, writing, the principals of their language, history, geography, physics, and botany.
Ecoles populaires, or elementary schools, were the responsibility of each local municipality, as Napoleon was not very interested in education at this level. Because there was no state regulation of the elementary schools, religious schools shared the responsibility of educating the younger children.
Napoleon was most interested in secondary education, believing it to be the base education for both future leaders of the nation and future members of bureaucracy and the military. This school was under the direction of central authority and had been established by private initiative. The secondary institute was state-run and readied boys aged ten to sixteen for higher education (Bernard 1969).
The educational system was composed of thirty lycees. These provided education beyond secondary school, and replaced the ecoles centrals. One lycee was instituted for every appeal court district. Of the scholarships provided, one-third were presented to sons of government and military officials, and the remainder were awarded to the best students from the secondary schools.
Each lycee built on the knowledge from secondary school and offered a six-year term of study. Languages, modern literature, science, and other studies essential for a 'liberal' education were taught (Durant 68).
Eight teachers were assigned to each lycee, as well as three masters. These were the headmaster, the academic dean, and the bursar. The teachers were paid a fixed salary and pension, with bonuses for the more successful teachers. Teachers were chosen by Napoleon, who had some quite strong beliefs on the qualities a teacher should possess. All teachers were to be graduates of the system. No one was promoted to a higher post unless he had held the posts below it. Potential teachers had to obey their superiors. They must postpone their marriage to at least the age of twenty-five. In fact, Napoleon said, '[i]t would be desirable that the teacher not marry, or that he defer marriage till he has secured an adequate position and income to support a family.' As a reward, they would 'have clearly before them the prospect of rising to the highest offices of the state' (Durant 67).
The new educational system was two-fold. First it would provide an educated elite class to help run the state and military. Second, it would provide for an increased middle class. They would be successful, thus would not want to revolt against the government.
At a meeting of the Council of State in 1807, Napoleon said, 'Of all our institutions public education is most important. Everything depends on it, the present and the future' (Mole 61). This led Napoleon to create the Imperial University May 10, 1808. The decree implementing the University tells, '[it is] a body charged exclusively with instruction and public education throughout the Empire'. No school, no educational institution of any kind whatsoever shall be permitted to be established outside the Imperial University, without the authorization of its chief. No one may open a school or teach publicly without being a member of the Imperial University and a graduate of one of its facilities' (Bernard 186). This decree allowed private schools to still exist, but they were under strict public control and forced to pay taxes.
In 1810, Napoleon restored the Ecole Normale. Students were made to live in a common, bound by military-type discipline. The secular students were given special training by a prestigious family. By 1813 all college teachers were expected to be graduates of the Ecole Normale.
Napoleon revolutionized France's educational system by providing order, structure, and a self-replenishing teaching staff. He assured educational success and progression based on each student's retention of knowledge, reflected in their examination results.
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