Yesterday French high school students took their first exam in the long and arduous preparation and execution of a series of tests to gain their Baccalaureate, which theoretically will be the key that opens the door to higher education degrees and, with a great deal of luck, the job of their dreams.
The challenge on Wednesday was philosophy. This is one of the things I absolutely love about France. Critical thinking and reasoning are still revered and philosophy is a required subject in lycées throughout the country.
A few of the questions from which the students could choose this year included:
- Is it possible to be completely disinterested when engaged in a search for the truth?
- Is one the creation of one’s past experiences?
- Please comment on the chapter in Saint Thomas Aquinas’ Summa Theologica on the spirit versus the letter of the law.
- Is respecting all living beings a moral imperative?
- Is it necessary that art has a sense?
- Can politics avoid the obligation of truth?
Students were also “invited” to comment on texts from Cicero, Tocqueville and Spinoza.
Some 642,235 French high school students applied themselves to the notion of creative and abstract thinking. When they came out of the four hour exam, television cameras were waiting for them. Most seemed dazed and were not quite sure whether they succeeded in correctly presenting their arguments.
The entire multi-day process of several exams, including orals, reportedly costs the French ministry of education more than 50 million Euros. That includes selecting the subject questions and organizing the operations which takes about 13 months. Then, throughout the country, some 160,000 teachers are mobilized to correct the four million examination papers in philosophy, history, languages, literature, mathematics or physics that the students have produced.
Maybe even more stressful for the students is the long wait, July 6, for the results of their efforts which are then published outside their schools and on the Internet.
And sadly, from my point of view, is the anti-climatic finish to their years in high school. There are no official graduation celebrations, no caps and gowns and ceremonial handing out of diplomas.
I’m looking forward to a dinner party when we sit around the table with glasses of wine and answer some of this year’s “philo” questions.
What do you think about the questions? Fascinating, non?