Sorbonne Confidential

Author: Laurel Zuckerman
Publisher: Summertime Publications Inc
RRP: UK£17, US$25 (Amazon) and US$39 (Amazon)
French Edition (Zuckerrman and Fayard)
GT Issue: 2010 T2

This wickedly funny but also slightly sad book about one woman’s attempt to gain the qual­i­fic­a­tion in France which will entitle her to teach English at primary, sec­ond­ary or uni­ver­sity level depend­ing on her pass mark. That how­ever is a year in the future. In the interim Alice Wunderland, whose life bears a remark­able sim­il­ar­ity to the author’s, has to under­stand the sys­tem and make sense of the idio­syn­crasies of the French edu­ca­tion sys­tem which could be described as a closed shop to all but nat­ive French speak­ers. So what chance for an American who finds her­self unem­ployed after many years work­ing in France in the IT industry? She is a gradu­ate of France’s lead­ing busi­ness school and has been a city coun­cilor, she has acquired a French hus­band, gained two daugh­ters and has a French pass­port but the suc­cess or oth­er­wise of Alice Wunderland depends on her abil­ity to fol­low the rules… all of which appear to be stacked against her.

This cut­tingly accur­ate descrip­tion of the jour­ney through the French teacher train­ing sys­tem helps to make sense of why France reput­ably pro­duces the worst English teach­ers in the EU. Without actu­ally men­tion­ing in so many words the anti­pathy the French and English appear to have for each other it is obvi­ous that the French like the Americans even less.

The sys­tem appears to be more inter­ested in the pur­suit of aca­demia and pur­ist thought than to be aware of how to teach chil­dren… how they learn and how they should be taught.
Sorbonne Confidential talks of a sys­tem which over hun­dreds of years has grown into a huge self per­petu­at­ing industry where the major­ity of the can­did­ates are doomed to fail and the ones who pass often find they are not suited to teach­ing and are not equipped with the skills neces­sary to work with a class of 30 children.

Alice finds that she is not alone in her exper­i­ence and that other can­did­ates who she befriends also have dif­fi­culties, she looks to do an expose which when it is fin­ished will make inter­est­ing reading.

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