17th and 18th centuries: From the Caricature of the Greek Genius to Scientific Humanism
Primary schools: elementary education – reading, writing, counting, and singing.
Brothers of the Christian doctrine: the religious fraternity founded in Reims enabled boys from poor families to learn trades. The French language was introduced.
Port-Royal schools: the schools created by the Jansenism religious movement set the example. High-quality teaching in French enabled the study of the Cartesian philosophy and logic.
Secondary schools: the Latin language took precedence over the French. Only Oratorical colleges followed recommendations of Descartes and Comenius and French, history, geography, and science were highly regarded subjects. Only in the second half of the 18th century was French literature added to rhetorical studies.
Universities: education adhered to the Aristotelian logic of antiquity and condemned Descartes. Compared to colleges and academies, universities developed slowly. General liberal education was finally introduced in the late 18th century as the basis of sciences.
Education for girls: Fénelon (New Catholics Congregation) and Madame de Maintenon (Saint-Cyr-l'École) provided education to girls. Reading, writing, grammar, history, literature and art were among the disciplines taught.
Central Schools: after the revolution, Central Schools were opened under a decree. The curriculum covered the following disciplines: mathematics and physics, as well as humanities, experimental, and social sciences.
Primary schools: teachers were hired by residents or by the parish priest. They were often poorly educated, poorly paid and had a very unstable status.
Brothers of Christian doctrine: Jean-Baptiste de la Salle set up a seminar to train school teachers and founded a practical school.
The idea of Higher Normal (Pedagogical) School for training of teachers arose, although the first project lasted only a few months.
Primary schools: the students were divided into groups according to their level. In catechism, students learnt by memorising the answers to questions.
Port-Royal schools: innovative teaching methods were used, and the psychological characteristics of the individual children were acknowledged. Games were used as a learning method. Oral methods of teaching and personal judgment were preferred to books and encyclopaedic knowledge respectively.
Brothers of the Christian doctrine: their principles of teaching included knowing their students, specialized and practical education for life, and enabling children to participate in school life alongside differential teaching.
In Rousseau’s novel Emile (1762), the active pedagogy which formed the basis of modern pedagogy was emphasised, and inspired teachers such as Kant, Basedow or Pestalozzi.
Small charity schools: elemental education was given to people living in temporary shelters surrounding parishes. Teacher services were paid by charitable institutions or individuals. There were more schools in the North than in the South of France, and schools in cities provided better quality education.
Small Port-Royal schools: these schools were created by the Jansenists and spread out by Louis XIV.
Brothers of Christian doctrine: these schools were intended for children of the working class.
Primary schools after the revolution: in the late 18th century, Condorcet defined 3 levels of learning: the first provided general education, the second describes specific professional skills, and the third represents scientific learning. Lakanal’s Law of 1794 appointed teachers who were paid by the state to teach in the primary schools, but free education in such schools was eventually cancelled. From 1795 there was one school in every canton.
Secondary schools: these schools were intended for privileged people.
Technical schools: military schools were responsible for technical education and developed from the late 18th century.
Higher schools appeared (Central, Polytechnic, Higher Normal School, and the Pedagogical Institute).
Specificities : Working class girls did not get schooling until the 17th century, where access to schools was enabled by the religious orders.
Three movements strongly fostered changes in traditions: Locke’s philosophy (knowledge stems from perception and education should be founded on curiosity), Rousseau (education can be effective only if it is based on the nature of the child), the Encyclopaedists (development of technical humanism that contributed to the development of manual and technical skills). After the revolution, education was nationalized and thus, aimed at shaping “an enlightened citizen”.
Key concepts and important figures:
Brothers of Christian doctrine, Jean-Baptiste de la Salle, Descartes, Comenius, The Oratory, Madame de Maintenon, La Chalotais, Locke, Rousseau, Kant, Encyclopedists, Diderot, Condorcet, Fourcroy.
Further readings (in French):
Vial Jean, « L'Education au XVIIe et VIIIe siècles», Histoire de l'éducation, Paris, Presses Universitaires de France , «Que sais-je ?», 2009.
Vial Jean, « La révolution et la Pédagogie», Histoire de l'éducation, Paris, Presses Universitaires de France , «Que sais-je ?», 2009.