La vie active and French right-wing vocationalism

The always useful website of Sauvons L’Université has just published the text of a curious proposal in the French Senate for a new law that would require all French students pursuing a traditional high school or university degree to also study for a vocational diploma. The proposal has some interesting remarks on what a university is:

Outre les qualités intellectuelles qu’elle amène à développer, l’université, par la diversité de ses étudiants et de son corps enseignant apporte des qualités humaines à celui qui y étudie. L’université est le lieu transitoire entre la vie d’un adolescent et la vie d’un homme, qui devient autonome, assume ses choix, ses études et par là même, ses résultats.

Cette formation est un des piliers qui permet à chacun de se construire.

Un deuxième pilier est cependant indispensable pour aborder efficacement le monde du travail, je veux parler de la formation professionnelle.

Beyond the intellectual qualities that it helps to develop, the university, by the diversity of its students and its teaching staff, brings human qualities to those who study there. The university is a transitory place between the life of an adolescent and the life of a man, who is becoming autonomous, accepting responsibility for his choices, his studies, and thus also for his results.

This education is one of the foundations that allow each of us to construct ourselves.

A second pillar is nevertheless indispensable for efficiently entering the work world, I mean professional training…

The proposed law would thus require that university students spend five hours weekly on getting a BEP or CAP, which are both secondary-level education certificates, on the level of American vocational-technical diplomas. Typical specializations for the BEP or CAP are things like carpentry, retail sales, automobile maintenance, graphic design, secretarial work, and restaurant work: they are degrees that, in essence, aim to produce the specialized “technicians” who make up the French working classes in an increasingly post-industrial era. Given widespread complaints about out-of-work university graduates, it isn’t surprising that this proposed law hopes to enhance job placement prospects, while also (in a charming moment of humanist pragmatism) allowing students to “balance their knowledge” between pure theory and pure technique.

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More and more disappointed


A poster for a film that was apparently about the exploitation of women. I saw it across the canal from our interview.

One time I was interviewing a feminist activist, a friend of mine who had been in France a few years, who originally came from Brazil. At one point, we talked about the connection between her relationship with her boyfriend and her politics. It was interesting and sad.

Un des points difficiles était le féminisme, elle dit.
– Il dit que je suis devenue obsédée par l’oppression des femmes, que je la vois partout, que je ne vois que ça, que je ne pense qu’à ça.
– C’est ridicule ça, je dis.
– Enfin, elle continue, je suis de plus en plus deçue qu’il réagit comme ça… L’oppression des femmes est partout.
– Il est militant comme toi ?
– Ben il n’est pas militant mais il est de gauche et nous sommes d’accords sur plein de questions…

Feminism had become a major issue for them, she told me.
“He says that I’ve become obsessed by the oppression of women, that I say it everywhere, that I can’t see anything else, that I don’t think about anything else.”
“That’s ridiculous!” I say.
“In the end,” she continues, “I’m more and more disappointed that that’s how he reacts… The oppression of women is everywhere.”
“Is he an activist like you?” I ask.
“Well, he’s not an activist, but he’s on the left, and we agree about a lot…”

He had gone back to Brazil before her, and she said she was going to see him, but that she wasn’t sure what would happen. I need to rediscover myself, she said, to be independent. We are absolutely dependent.

We talked a while longer about activism at Paris 8, but she eventually had to hurry to get to an NPA meeting in Paris.