Fifteen years ago, French President Nicolas Sarkozy, then mayor of Neuilly, walked into a nursery school where a bomb-strapped man was holding students hostage and strolled out 30 minutes later with all the children. (New Yorker writer Adam Gopnik tells the story here.) Now he's invested in another explosive confrontation: he's trying to remake France's entrenched education system. In a letter to teachers, Sarkozy writes that France needs to "rebuild the foundations" of the system. Students should learn "that everything is not of equal worth...that the pupil is not the equal of the teacher," he writes. The president believes that in today's French schools "there is perhaps too much nature and not enough nurture." He calls for more respect (students should "stand when a teacher enters the room"), a broader liberal-arts curriculum (less focus on specialization), an end to social promotion, new forms of alternative certification of teachers, fewer teachers, and greater principal autonomy. Whew. Such an ambitious agenda would garner fierce union backlash in America--we can only imagine how the French unions will respond. Time to defuse more bombs.

"Bac to school," The Economist, September 6, 2007

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