by Marco Malaguti

Being part of a community necessarily implies recognition, as well as acceptance, of differences. Usually, in Western societies, it is the school where the process of familiarization with differences between individuals begins. The differences that can emerge among children, in a Western society, are many. From culture of origin to skin color, from religious beliefs to eating habits, there are many fault lines that divide pupils, and the school itself creates new ones when some students discover themselves, for the most varied reasons, to be better than others.

Leveling downward

However, things get complicated in systems that, almost by vocation, qualify as allergic to the concept of merit. In France, where the word égalité has been part of the national motto for more than two hundred years, the state does not claim to limit itself to guaranteeing equal learning opportunities but takes an active role with regard to equality.

For the French political tradition, equality is not something taken for granted once and for all: an equality before the law, acquired at birth through citizenship, must be matched by a daily equality within the nation, all to be built up through the education and training of each individual citizen. Since downward leveling always turns out to be easier than upward leveling, school systems such as those in the Hexagon, that is, governed by a strongly interventionist state in an egalitarian key, prove to be highly vulnerable both with regard to the demolition of the old "notionistic" schooling and with regard to massification through the introduction, within the school programs, of doctrines cherished by the current dominant ideology. Since measures aimed at making schools more "inclusive" often also prove to be functional in the deconstruction of skills, this has meant that even in France the new trends of creative pedagogy have broken through with devastating effects on learning.

More talented or more lucky?

Last among the gusts blowing from the valleys of progressivism is the proposal of pedagogue Louis Maurin, director of the Observatoire des inégalités (Observatory of Inequalities), who is championing a battle that is at first sight unusual: raising the age for learning to read.

What is the promoter's proposed thesis? The obvious inequality among primary school pupils, some more gifted others less so, would be the result of nothing less than social inequality ahead of school entry. Nothing new so far, but the diagnosis of the "problem" goes deeper. The inequality, for Maurin, stems from the ability of parents from high social backgrounds to teach their children to read before they enter primary school: the children of the wealthy, in essence, would arrive at school already literate and thus with a distinct advantage in learning over children born into immigrant families or from the most deprived classes. The solution? Always the same: level down by raising the age of learning to read from six to seven. At six years old, what is the point - Maurin wonders - of knowing how to read?

An "authoritative" proposal

The proposal may raise eyebrows until one discovers that Louis Maurin is not a creative pedagogical whiz-bang spreading his theories from his living room, but one of the most authoritative sources, in education, in the entire Hexagon. In fact, the Observatory on Inequalities is an association affiliated with the public administration (and funded by it), and it gathers on its scientific council the cream of the French academic authorities in the fields of sociology, economics and philosophy, whose analyses are often taken up by "Le Café pédagogique," a very popular website and a true opinion maker for many French teachers.

Germany rearms itself and prepares to (re-)reckon with its past

Maurin's proposal, then, does not consist of an impromptu stunt but of a new and precise chapter in the deconstruction of cognitive skills that schools in Western countries seem to be pursuing almost intentionally. To justify this under the cloak of equality, as well as ubiquitous anti-fascism, is a folly that has not failed to attract the attention of "Marianne," a weekly magazine aligned strongly to the left but never soft with woke fashions, often considered, by a large section of French people, to be American cultural trends foreign to the rationalist roots of the République.

Opposing voices, even from the left

In an editorial signed by Natacha Polony we find considerations with a republican flavor that are not new to French public opinion and have been expressed before by intellectuals such as Pascal Bruckner: equality must be a secondary benefit of education and not its primary goal. For Polony, in fact, the primary task of a secular and republican education must be to provide notions capable of creating free men, not to make inequalities disappear "par magie," especially since, as Maurin himself acknowledges, bourgeois families would certainly not cease to teach their children early reading. The school, for Polony, has the task of providing skills that will then be rewarded by merit.

So we see that, as the adage goes, all the world is a village, and the debate on what education we want for our future is being twisted, at least in the West, precisely around the concept of merit, which for some pedagogical schools would be nothing more than the smokescreen designed to hide the class privileges of an unspecified "bourgeoisie."

Real inclusiveness is meritocratic

As Polony points out, these are old theories, such as, for example, pedagogical constructivism (according to which it is the child who constructs for himself the knowledge he needs) that were already widely circulated in the years of youth contestation, and which seem to have found new life from the woke eruption coming from overseas, that is, from what in France, and elsewhere, passes for the home of inequality par excellence.

Ironically, it seems that people like Maurin fail to see the plank in their own eyes: that is, how the deconstruction of "notional" schooling does not provide the working classes with a tool for emancipation; on the contrary, it deprives them of perhaps the most fundamental.

After all, have not aristocracies always been the fiercest enemies of merit?

+ post

Research fellow at the Machiavelli Center. A philosophy scholar, he has been working for years on the topic of the revaluation of nihilism and the great German Romantic philosophy.