Philosophy class in French lycees
July 5, 2014 7:43 PM   Subscribe

It is my understanding that French high school students take a year-long philosophy course in the last year of the lycee. So what's it like in this course, anyway?

How do the teachers typically teach the material? What sorts of authors are covered? The Greek classics? Kant? Heidegger? Do they cover any of the Anglo-American analytic philosophers? How academically demanding is the course? Do students enjoy the class or do they view it as boring and irrelevant? If you took the course yourself, did it have any lasting positive effect on you? Would you do it again if you had a choice?
posted by the hot hot side of randy to Education (5 answers total) 7 users marked this as a favorite
I don't remember mind being particularly rigorous tbh. It was mainly photo copied hand outs and discussion with some paper writing thrown in. This may all have been a product of the teacher of course. I honestly can't say I remember much about it other than goofing off a couple of times. no one really took it that seriously, definitely seen as a bit of a blow off class. It was structured somewhat similarly to tok from the in iirc or vice versa dunno which came first. Hope this helps!
posted by Carillon at 12:31 AM on July 6, 2014

Best answer: I did not attend a lycée but my Canadian private high school offered 1.5 years of philosophy. It was essentially a survey course, using photocopies and Journeys Through Philosophy. We started with discussion about philosophical discourse and a bit of logic including a small amount of symbolic logic, in order to have tools to approach texts. If I remember right we skipped around a bit in the first half year; I remember we had to do presentations first critiquing texts and then defending them. In the full year we started with Heraclitus and ended with Nietzsche, I think, hitting the majors along the way.

I loved it. In many ways learning to think that way has, no joke, saved my life -- philosophical talk about perception in particular. I did not major in philosophy but I continued to study it at the university level and I would say it informs my thinking all the time. I wish it were a standard part of the curriculum, even with all the dead white guys. This was in the late 80s, but if you want me to try to dredge up details from my brain feel free to memail me.
posted by warriorqueen at 5:47 AM on July 6, 2014 [2 favorites]

Best answer: I went to French schools many decades ago. I remember looking forward to studying philosophy and then being sorely disappointed. We read a lot and wrote a lot of essays. We never had class discussions, that just wasn't done in the French schools of my time. On the philosophy part of my bac exam the subject was obedience. We were given four hours to write an essay on that incorporating the ideas of any and every philosopher we could think of. I used Thoreau, we had never read him in class but I had read Civil Disobedience a couple of years before. The French graders accepted it and I passed. I really don't remember much else about it.

It wasn't until many years later that I learned that many other French kids, usually poor kids, had already finished school years before the luckier ones got to study philosophy and take the bac.
posted by mareli at 7:53 AM on July 6, 2014 [2 favorites]

I did not attend a lycée either, but I did take the International Baccalaureate Theory of Knowledge (ToK) class that I think Carillon is referring to. For us, it was added on before the start of the regular school day, at 7:45 am, so my memories are a bit fuzzy. We did not read a lot of primary texts, but definitely discussed the Greek classics. The course was structured around "Ways of Knowing" and other verbs of knowing. I would describe it as philosophy-lite. It was about average in terms of academic demand--as I said, we were not reading primary texts, but I recall that we were expected to write relatively rigorous essays (compared with the rest of my Canadian high school experience; it might have been easy in other contexts).

I think there was a mixture of opinions among the students; some enjoyed it, others found it boring. Most were taking the class as a required part of an IB diploma. I took ToK as an elective because I was interested. Pretty sure there were only a few others doing the same. In terms of lasting positive effect, I think it prepared me for university, both in terms of essay writing and in terms of having a baseline knowledge of philosophical thought that not everyone in my (non-philosophy) courses did. I don't think it's had much effect on my life outside of school, though. If I had to make a choice to do it again, I suppose I probably would, but I wouldn't feel particularly strongly about it.
posted by snorkmaiden at 10:37 AM on July 6, 2014 [2 favorites]

Best answer: My school had both the International Bac and the French Bac, so I took both a French Philosophy course, and Theory of Knowledge. I think a lot has to do with the teacher - our ToK teacher was really into demagogy and he would pose "thought-provoking" questions like "how do you know what you know?" and then just let us hash it out, which usually devolved into mind-numbing conversations.

The French philosophy course was much more rigorous. I don't remember tons, but I think we read excerpts from a variety of philosophical traditions (never analytic philosophy) - Greek, Enlightenment, Continental, and she lectured on the history of ideas. The approach was basically such that if we were given a topic (like obedience, as mareli said), you could present a history of how various philosophers treated it, synthesizing them into your own argument. I later learned that my teacher was a last-minute sub, and she was actually one of Paul Ricoeur's translators, so I guess we lucked out.

I would totally do it again. It had a huge impact on me: the prof was hardly flamboyant (unlike "how do we know what we know??" boy) but her thinking was very subtle and she taught the evolution of philosophical ideas in a very compelling way. It's hard to really point to the "relevance" of the class, but I think it made me think beyond the confines of school and exams. It made thinking exciting, but it also gave me confidence - I think I was more adventurous in the courses I took in college than I might have been otherwise.
posted by microcarpetus at 8:49 PM on July 6, 2014 [2 favorites]

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