The Times of London has an article about that French students are shunning French literature to focus on subjects that will lead them to have more rewarding careers. This trend is worrying the Education Minister Xavier Darcos who has decided to do something about it:
“We need literary people, pupils who can master speech and reason,” he said. “They are always in demand.” As for the aspiring economists and sociologists, they often ended up on overcrowded university courses with few openings in the employment market, he added.
However, traditionalists believe that the initiative is already doomed because of the widely held view among the brightest students that literary studies are a soft option for no-hopers. This trend is an affront to the rich literary heritage that has produced writers such as Molière, Voltaire and Victor Hugo, they say. There is also resentment that intellectual literati are losing their privileged status in a Gallic society that they say is being corrupted by television, the internet and globalisation.
The simple fact that the French government is worried about this issue shows in my opinion a key difference between France and the United States. A Secretary of the education could never make such a pronouncement because the primary focus of education in the US is not culture, but preparing students to become good professionals. In France, education (even though as this article shows things are rapidly changing) is still about becoming cultivated. This explains why its education system is a lot less flexible than the American one because it is believed that there are just some things that all students should know even if such knowledge may not help them in their future career. In the United States, the education system is very flexible, but unfortunately, reading is just considered a tool to learn something else more important such as math and science. Literature is a secondary subject because students believe that it will not lead them anywhere and because not reading is not only tolerated in the US, but acceptable.