Students come from different circumstances. Thus some parents compel their children to study. Others less so. In order to attenuate the resulting endowment effects, new French president François Hollande proposes to ban homework. That proposal might appeal to disaffected students everywhere, but those disaffected students probably won't learn about Harrison Bergeron until it's too late.
Banning out-of-school assignments would put France on the cutting edge of pedagogical fashion, though it wouldn't be entirely unprecedented. An elementary school in Maryland recently replaced homework with a standing order for 30 minutes a day of after-school reading. A German high school is also test-running a new homework ban, after an earlier reform lengthened the school day and crowded out time for extra-curriculars such as sports or music.

These small-scale experiments aim to give students more freedom to excel on their own initiative. Mr. Hollande wants just the opposite. As Education Minister Vincent Peillon told Le Monde, the state needs to "support all students in their personal work, rather than abandon them to their private resources, including financial, as is too often the case today." The problem, in other words, isn't with homework per se. It's that some homes are more conducive to homework than others.

Here we begin to wonder: Are the French losing their mind? Fortunately not. More than two-thirds of the country would oppose the ban, according to an Ifop poll, so there's hope that even in the land of égalité there's some recognition that state power cannot equalize everything. It's also reassuring to know that a majority of French adults believe there's something to be said for instructing children in the need for personal initiative and responsibility, regardless of excuses or circumstances.

Mr. Hollande, however, remains out of step. At the Sorbonne, he stressed that school is where "the child becomes the citizen of the future." Perhaps his ideas about homework say something about the kind of citizens of the future he wishes to see.
Insta Pundit guest correspondent  Elizabeth Price Foley quips,
Kinda like a French “No Child Gets Ahead,” I suppose.  We wouldn’t want to “abandon” kids to “private resources” like support, love, and a culture of hard work.  Better to let the government take over all that stuff.  Now that’s“progress”!
I like seeing the dual proposition to No Child Left Behind propagate.

It doesn't surprise me that such an idea would appeal to the French, who used to enforce a 35 hour workweek, the repeal of which took away some perquisites for skilled workers.
The new law lets companies ignore the nominal 35-hour maximum and negotiate — or impose — longer hours for staffers. In doing so, bosses will no longer have to worry about compensating extra time with days off, as they were previously obliged to do to keep any worker's average workweek over the year within the 35-hour limit. What's more, overtime work will no longer come attached to a 25% bonus, but with one as low as 10%, to be determined through negotiation.

Opponents of the new measures complain employers will now be able to impose non-optional overtime on employees, who would have to fear being fired if they refuse. They also expect businesses to stick to the lower-end 10% scale in paying for extra time, knowing that workers fearing for their jobs may not be able to stand up to their bosses for more money. That will be especially true in smaller companies, labor experts say, where staff organization and union representation don't match levels in bigger groups.

In any case, the new law means the de facto death of the 35-hour week introduced in 1998 with great fanfare and considerable controversy by the Socialist government of the day. The measure was designed to stimulate job creation by cutting up the pie of available work into smaller pieces. Socialists claimed the creation of 350,000 new posts in its first five years; similar numbers were provided by independent economists and organizations monitoring labor activity. However, conservatives have consistently accused the law of shackling French businesses and undermining economic growth. They've also noted that state subsidies softening the impact of the reduced workweek on businesses have cost taxpayers billions. The new legislation, its backers say, will leave companies freer to demand more work from staffers when needed, and allow employees to heed Sarkozy's appeal to help lift the economy — and their own slumping purchasing power — by working more.

Thus far, lower-paid workers appear ready to do just that. Ironically, the new law looks more set to cramp the style of middle and upper managers, whose long work days and greater disposable income made them the 35-hour week's biggest fans.
We wait for homeschooling to emerge among ambitious French parents, and perhaps for a new birth of entrepreneurship.

No comments: