jeudi 30 mai 2013

Better Baccalauréats Through Pharmaceuticals

  You can tell we are approaching the Baccalaureat, or "bac" examination period because the pharmacy windows are displaying all their "memory-enhancing" homeopathic granules, sublingual pills, topical salves and herbal tinctures.  The French baccalauréat exam, which is actually a series of exams taken during the last two years of high school, dates back to the 13th century.  At that time, four areas of expertise were evaluated:  theology, law, medicine and the arts.  Today's examiners will pose their questions to the entire nation of high school students in the areas of French language, philosophy, history, geography, mathematics, natural sciences, physical education, and two foreign languages.  And that's just the base; depending on which bac the student chooses (literature, economics and social sciences, or science), other subject area exams are added to the mix.

No wonder there is a brisk business in folklore remedies.  "A couple of glasses of champagne each week" is my favorite one; something in the bubbles encourages retention in certain areas of the brain.  This tip is most likely popularized by Veuve Cliquot.

You'd think that France would have built up a huge ancillary industry around the Bac.   I've watched what has happened to college admissions in the U.S.A. over the years and am astounded at the enormous amount of service providers ready to take your money, having replaced (more likely supplanted) college guidance counselors and good, old parental support.  From "Educational Consultants" to "Application Coaches", these "experts" recognize a market that can be easily convinced to outsource what was, in my day, work traditionally undertaken by all college-bound high school students.  Sure, it was tough to sort out where you wanted to spend your next four years, but reading over the (hard copy!) catalogues and typing up your personal statements contributed to the natural excitement inherent in playing a part in your own destiny.  How sad for the family that thinks their child is not capable of doing this himself.

No, France has not yet caught on to this opportunity to separate French parents from their euros by convincing them that the schools aren't doing their jobs and Academics R Us can provide Bac Preparation for a fee.  That said, there are a few shady entrepreneurs out there who have offered special intensive review sessions for these important exams.   One of them, Acadomia, was sued in 2010, not only for hiring a non-diploma-holding staff of "Educators," but for keeping internal memos on their clients with irrelevant notations such as "father in prison,"  "mother of student stinks," or "adopted child."   I don't think they are still in business.

So for now, French parents continue to rely on the "sweat of your brow" approach to test preparation, with just a little help from Arctic Root and Gingko Biloba.  As the parent of a child heading into her Baccalauréat exams next month, you can be sure I'm stocking up.

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