27 May 2013

This House Believes That School Is Still Relevant

Valentin Derepas is FOR the motion

George Washington Carver said: “Education is the key to unlocking the golden door of freedom”. Thanks to school, everyone can get the knowledge that is so important for our futures! Education helps us understand the world and makes us independent-minded and able to rely on ourselves. And a well-informed and educated people can make a democracy work properly. Education is what makes us good citizens. How would you have been able to take part in this debate without the education you get from this school?

The French school system was only set up in 1881 (by Jules Ferry). It was a major advance for society! And it works pretty well today, so why do we want to reform it?! I hear that we “work too much”, is that it? It’s not the fault of the school system if we have become lazy in this country! Taking advantage of a good education does still mean having to work hard…

My final comment is this: school is relevant on a daily basis to 15 Million pupils; if we get rid of school, what will all those young people do?!

William Devouard is AGAINST the motion

Well, I’d like to thank my opponent for sharing his point of view… There are several points I’d like to go over with you if I may, Valentin?

First, you said something to the effect that school turns us into model citizens. Fair enough, but who in this room thinks he’s a good citizen thanks to school? OK, well you have obviously been brainwashed! School should be a place to acquire knowledge, not where you are indoctrinated into believing the State is right!

Then, you said school is important because it makes us able to think for ourselves, but actually we are just ingesting an incredible amount of facts, concepts, formulae, dates, etc., so that we can vomit them all back up on exam day…

You described the school system as still being efficient. No, it might have improved things in the 19th century, but it is not adapted to today’s society; there are more things to learn, ever more ways to learn, and many more pupils too.

You said that school was a way of keeping under control 15 million. There are surely less expensive and boring ways of keeping them busy?!

There are way too many pupils per class and each year it gets worse. We will end up with fifty kids in a single room with just one teacher unable to give individual help. Very 19th century in fact…

We should use new technologies! Pupils could learn at home, when they are ready to learn. In school, it is impossible to concentrate all day long in a classroom which is boring, overcrowded, smelly, too cold or too hot… With lessons via internet, they wouldn’t lose time going from home to school; there would be no more issues about being off sick or about missing a lesson, etc. Teachers would still be useful in helping pupils when they need help.

One day, school will be totally irrelevant. Learning will be so much more easy and fun…  Why wait?!

Emeric Desjeux is FOR

William said that the educational system in France hasn’t changed since Jules Ferry founded it. This is not true: in 1959 school became compulsory until the age of 16, since 1968 the uniform is no longer compulsory, and since 1970 most schools are coeducational. And there are frequent reforms of the system.

Nowadays, a student in high school only has on average thirty hours of class per week. A Science major can also study Philosophy. A Literature major can study Math or Physics. Knowledge is wide-ranging in the French system. Everyone can study Latin or Greek.

Knowledge is happiness and vice-versa, and most people find both at school!

Kiên Denier is AGAINST

Do you really think that school is fulfilling, that it is a place where you learn how to take your responsibilities and where you learn how to think for yourself, a place where you learn how to become an adult?

I consider school more like a place full of angst, a place full of stress. Did you know that stress can permanently damage brain cells and even damage the hippocampus, the area of the brain responsible for generating new memories and retrieving old ones? I don’t want to know the state of my brain cells after spending almost my whole life in the stressful institution that SCHOOL is!

Plus do you feel happy coming to school every morning? Because education is supposed to “unlock the golden door of freedom”, it should be a pleasure! It is not! When I arrive in front of the school; my first thought is to check if all my homework is done, so I will not get humiliated by the teachers in front of the whole class. Then I check if I have not forgotten to revise for exams. I spend my whole day stressing out…Just like you all.

And, when I get back home, after my nine hours at school, I am not in the mood to do my homework, because I’m tired!

Because, let’s be honest for a second, school is ruled by an education system which is based on humiliation. You don’t believe me? I’m quite sure that every single person in this room can remember a teacher humiliating a student! For example, when a teacher hands out the students’ papers from the best to the worst ones…Or the “innocent” comments a teacher makes to a “bad student” such as: “this is rubbish”, “look at your grades: if you have any dreams you can abandon them, you won’t succeed in reaching them” or more usually “you didn’t do your homework, I’m not surprised, you’ve never worked hard”.

Another example: streamed classes which are just so elitist, making the so-called “bad students” feel… bad. The value and potential of a human being should not be calculated according to his school grades! Humiliation is not fulfilment; it’s what fascism is based on.

As William said, the world is changing, times are changing, and school has to adapt to the new realities of our era. We are in the twenty first century! So let’s be pragmatic. Let’s create a system which takes into account reality. According to several scientific studies, a student is not able to focus before 9:30am, and can only learn efficiently for five hours a day. So what’s the point in starting a school day at 8 am, and finishing at 6:00pm?

How can we support a school system that is failing so many?! We are people, not machines, and all different from each other. We are not all able to focus for the same amount of time, or learn the same quantity of information, or learn in the same way. Our individuality should be respected. The school system annihilates the individual and his capacity to learn.

Seneca said, and I’m sure you’ll all agree: “We learn not in school, but in life”.

Romain Bullon is FOR

I would like to insist on the fact that school is where you learn to live with others which is very important for your future. As an adult, you don't live or work alone, you always need others. If you start educating yourself at home with computers and internet, you will become a sociopathic vegetable! School is not just a place where you learn things; school is where you learn about life.

When you work on a particularly subject you learn better when you are with others, you can compare your point of view with what others think. Furthermore the fact that you work with others stimulates your thoughts. A bit of healthy competition also increases motivation and results.

Learning at home will be more expensive; in France school is basically free and you can consult a wide choice of books at the school library.

At school you learn, but you can also eat, read, speak with your friends, and even snooze! You can also go on school trips which are a great learning experience. In fact, school is a good place to live your life!

The French school system is the 16th best in the world… In other words it is among the best!

Victor Monier is AGAINST

I listened carefully to what you've said Romain, and I don’t really agree with your idea of school being a good place to spend your life. Do you think school gets you ready for your real life, once you get out? Nonsense! It’s your parents who are supposed to educate you; school is just the place to get knowledge.

You think school is for making friends? Associations and sports club, cafés, etc. are the places to meet and talk and have a real social life!
School is not an efficient means to acquire knowledge; the proof is that more and more pupils have to follow expensive private courses.

Schools are not all free! Some people can afford a private (i.e. a good) school; does this make for a fairer society?

In the PISA classification of 2009, France is 22nd. It shows that in France, despite the greatest number of hours spent at school, foreign language learning is very poor and ability to speak and write in our own language correctly is far from satisfactory too.

School is still seen as the best or only way to get an education, but it is obviously not working... So, a big thank you to our teachers for their valiant efforts, but: down with school!

2 May 2013

You think that’s funny?!

Lucile: Welcome to our very serious conversation on laughter and humor! What is humor, and can we laugh about everything?

Alice: Why do people laugh?  Humor is the affirmation of ourselves, an awareness of our place in the world. It is the ability to see reality, at least the absurd aspects of it. Or maybe it is the nervous acceptance that we are unable to see or accept reality for what it is, our place in the vast universe? As Woody Allen said: “God is dead, Marx is dead, and I myself do not feel very well…” Laughter is also self-mockery.

Bénédicte: Laughter is not just a reaction to absurdity, it is also about communication. Through laughter, people share ideas and feelings with others, especially when they have the same sense of humor. Humorists provoke thought and discussion by making us laugh.

Marilou: Humor is also a means to be part of a group, of friends or at work. Someone with humor is usually well-liked; everybody likes to be with someone who makes them laugh. Humor is a means to feel happy, and we shouldn’t put limits on that. How can you forbid someone from being happy?!

Wesley: I agree that laughter is a factor of social integration, but it can also be used to exclude. Think of business people; they have to laugh at the boss’s lame jokes because he is the boss! Humor helps maintain the hierarchy in society. It is also an efficient management tool, useful in breaking the ice, in team building, in the all-important after-work parties, etc.

Alice: Humor can be nasty, used to mock someone's physical appearance, family situation, religion, or ethnic origin. There is a violent side to humor too…

Bénédicte: Yes, but there are legitimate targets for humor: the rich, the corrupt, the intolerant, the cruel, etc. To laugh is indeed to react, to react to injustice. You can make fun of other people if those other people do bad things.

Alice: Yes, but the danger is that humor becomes a weapon which destroys someone’s reputation… Think of DSK.

Bénédicte: I think DSK is a totally legitimate target for satire: a public figure who did something wrong!

Marilou: I personally think you can laugh at everyone and at everything. Nothing should be taboo when it comes to having a laugh. It’s almost a matter of survival, especially in the work place! I mean, if you couldn’t take the piss out of your colleagues or your boss (behind his back), you’d go nuts! According to a survey of 600 men, 73% said they worked better because humor was tolerated in the work place. Did you know that, according to researchers at Loma Linda University in California, laughter reduces stress by 38%? Our way of life today is very stressful, be it at school, at work, or at home, so laughter is a means to relax; it’s even, indeed, a means to stay relatively healthy in the brain and the body! People who laugh 10 to 25 times a day have fewer health problems than others according to a 2009 study published in the International Journal of Medical Sciences. When you laugh, your heart rate and blood pressure go down and you become calmer. This is why you feel a sense of relief after having a good laugh. Laughing at everything, at everyone, at someone, or at nothing in particular makes you live better and longer!

Wesley: There are different types of humor. The two main categories I would say are humor in private life and the one in public life. People have a more personal sense of humor in private life, as they know their entourage well, they may also laugh at the same things as the people they know well. In public life, people will be more universal so as to be understood by as many people as possible; it’s a means to be included more easily in the group.

Alice: Some people think it is rather dangerous to confuse public and private life… I feel it is different in countries like the UK or the USA, where there are more pubs, parties and so forth?

Wesley: I like political cartoons, don’t you? I think they’re clever, they put over a message quickly, usually because they make good use of satire; Le Canard enchainé for one uses cartoons to sometimes devastating affect!

Bénédicte: Yes, but it is sometimes difficult to share the joke, either because you disagree with the political message or because you just “don’t get it”… I sometimes feel a little censorship would not be such a bad thing!

Wesley: Understanding the joke rather depends on where you come from, what you know, how open-minded you are… If you try to stop people from mocking each other, it is like limiting their freedom of expression; after all, everyone has the right to say what he or she thinks on whatever issue! Sometimes, laughter is the only means of expression left, when action or ordinary words seem inefficient in changing a situation. Humor is a powerful political tool, which authorities sometimes try to censor…

Alice: You’re right; humor can hurt, especially as humor is by definition funny, therefore not supposed to be taken seriously, therefore not really dangerous! “It was only a joke!” is what cartoonists or humorists sometimes say to avoid prosecution.

Bénédicte: I think racist, anti-Semitic, or sexist jokes and cartoons are not funny. Suffering, humiliation, death, loneliness, etc., is no laughing matter either! Black humor just shows lack of respect for victims. Black humor is prevalent in societies that are losing the essential notion of respect for the individual…

Lucile: Yes, but everyone knows when something is meant to be funny, even if they do not find it amusing. There are obviously different degrees and types of humor, and everyone has their own sense of humor. Humor can provoke, create tension, express opposition and even loathing, but it can do the opposite too: for example, people who use jokes and laughter to defuse tension tend to have better marriages, according to psychologist John Gottman. Laughter is a good way of keeping the joie-de-vivre we had as children!

Bénédicte: Yes, laughter can be life-affirming! Illness is easier to stand if a patient finds a reason to laugh. It often takes the drama out of a situation too.

Alice: Sure, but it can be destructive too! The use of humor can sometimes be inappropriate and offensive: mocking people's physical appearance, religious beliefs, or ethnic origin can make a situation worse. Take the example of the Charlie Hebdo cartoons of Muhammad; what was the intention of the cartoonists, to shock Muslims? If that was the case, the cartoons could be seen as an incitement to racial or ethnic hatred, which the Law forbids!

Wesley: No, not at all! The idea was to provoke fundamentalists who want to stop anyone from expressing an opinion that they do not approve of! Charli Hebdo was defending freedom of speech! What someone finds funny depends on their social background, their socio-professional category, on how tolerant they are, on their ethnic origin, their tastes, their personal experience, and so on. Some people think black humor is fun; it is a way to laugh at things we take too seriously. It is in a way, paradoxically, a means of coping with tragic events or issues that are too horrible to really understand...

Lucile: Can you laugh at anything? No, not if the intention of the person who is making the joke is to stigmatize, to demean, to exclude… Desproges said we can laugh at everything but we have to be careful with whom we laugh, as they might not get the joke!