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Thursday, July 18, 2024
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    Elite squared

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    Is the minister lying? Amélie Oudéa-Castéra, France's new minister for education, youth, sport and the Olympic Games in Paris in the summer of 2024, a bloated major department, has introduced herself to her office rather mediocrely well.

    A few days ago, when she made her first public appearance as education minister, she told the cameras of the television crews that rushed to the scene that she had taken her firstborn, Vincent, and his two brothers out of public school and enrolled them in a private school because she and her man had been frustrated. A lot of lessons were canceled because the teachers were unwell and they were not replaced. “At some point we got tired of it.”

    Gabriel Attal, the new prime minister, stood nearby and listened, petrified. Not because he was surprised by his parents' choice of school: he himself graduated from a private school in Paris, the École Alsacienne. After all, school choice is free. But a broadside against the school of the republic, which all French people can afford, which is supposed to integrate everyone, with values, and which has been subjected to a series of austerity rounds in recent years, is perhaps not an ideal start for an education minister.

    There was great outrage and it overshadowed the start of the new government. And it was soon to grow even larger when it became known that Vincent had only been at the Littré public primary school in the 6th arrondissement of Paris for six months, as a three-year-old, in pre-kindergarten, before moving to the upscale, very Catholic Collège Stanislas. His two brothers were never in Littré. The newspaper Liberation found Vincent's now retired teacher and said that no classes had been canceled in this short time. But the parents wanted their little one to skip a step, even though he had neither the age nor the maturity for it. And so the Oudéa-Castéras switched to the selective “Stan”, where they ignored it.

    The minister herself seems like a caricature of the educational career at private schools

    Now the calls for her resignation were loud, from the left and the right, even if the minister used verbal acrobatics and half apologized to those who might have felt snubbed by her words. The unions who were invited to the ministry to meet each other only stayed a few minutes and left again. Worlds collided there.

    And so France is once again debating the social bubble formation in the national school system. Rich people are more likely to send their children to fee-paying private schools, where they stay among each other. In private schools, of course, some of which receive high public subsidies.

    The example of the Oudéa-Castéras seems like a caricature of the phenomenon. The minister was a tennis professional as a teenager, then went through all of the country's elite schools – including the high administrative school Ena, in the same year as Emmanuel Macron, France's President. Her husband, a former major banker, is now head of the pharmaceutical company Sanofi. Elite squared. The French would at least expect a little more finesse in their performance, a little more class.

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