The pleasure of reading, on the French bac program?


From the choice of books in original formats to the sharing of stories or playful workshops around writing, parents and educators compete to help the young generations to forge strong links with books. Promoting reading as a pleasure is the leitmotif that drives libraries, book fairs and Ministry of Culture campaigns .

How does the school support this relationship to the book? As we recalled in a previous article , several uses and definitions of reading coexist there: reading as a skill, the foundations of which are laid during the first years of kindergarten and primary, reading as a knowledge tool , and therefore a means of accessing other disciplines, or heritage reading, a transmission belt for cultural baggage.

From this last point of view, the lycée constitutes a key stage, and the reform of the bac which is being implemented is a game-changer. While the new letter programs have raised multiple reactions in the faculty regarding their heaviness, let us look at the vision of reading they carry.

” Languages ​​”

Half of the Official Bulletin devoted to the presentation of the French general and technological second program is devoted to “studying the language in high school”. This attention to “work on the language” is therefore strongly affirmed whereas the hours dedicated to the discipline have not increased.

Teachers who entered the profession out of a taste for literature must now improve pupils’ comprehension and written and oral expression as well as impart “linguistic knowledge” to them. It is a question of extending the spirit of the common base of culture and knowledge of the college so that, including the pupils who will not follow a “literary” way, express themselves as best as possible.

What will students think of this accent on language? They left the college and find themselves in it somehow maintained, as they enter an age of personal questioning. And these programs are not just theoretical. The presentation of the French test places first “mastery of the language and expression” for the written word and recalls that, for oral, teachers must “assess the quality of the candidate’s oral expression “.

A vertically structured corpus

The lycée’s French programs do not forget “literary culture”, however, and it is a question of providing “solid knowledge” which notably covers literary analysis and history. In this, they were designed on the basis of a vision of the spread literary production from the Middle Ages to the XXI th century.

Four “objects of study” were selected and placed in the same row: poetry, theater, “literature of ideas and the press” as well as “the novel and the story”. Between the second and the first, students must sweep these vast areas.

Fun can arise if students decide to think with the program categories. Some will no doubt succeed, but many will watch this “pleasure” escape them, failing to register in a personal capacity in a universe built for them and not by them.

Just look at the latest CNL survey on young people and reading . In 2018, adolescents between 15 and 19 years old first cited novels (67%) then manga (38%) and comics (36%) as genres of books read during the year. The theater, poetry, the “literature of ideas” are absent from the universe of their practices. And among the novels, they cite almost as much science fiction (31%) and the fantastic (30%) as the “great classics” (34%).

Without necessarily starting from the students’ practices, it would be conceivable to choose themes (love, otherness, the fantastic, etc.) from which links would be woven between “literary culture” and their own world of books.

An ideal student

This vertical choice rests on a conception of the pupil as a receptacle of programs of which they are the recipients. And, in this case, his ideal portrait amounts to drawing that of the designers of programs that are both cultivated and strong of a high quality of expression.

The instructions show this difference not only in the type of book to read but also in the number of books to read. In the second, students must read 4 books (one per “object of study”) and 3 works in “cursive reading” and eight in first (4 + 4).

According to the 2018 CNL survey, middle and high school students declare that they read 5.3 books per year as part of their studies (compared to 8.9 for their leisure time). We can therefore already predict that many students will not read two to three of the books on the program.

Rather than taking note of the report of young people to school reading, the official texts maintain the illusion of a high intensity of this practice, which makes it possible to design “ambitious” programs.

Change of direction ?

Since the 1970s and the emergence of the social problem of illiteracy, the educational institution has considered reading as a practice to be fostered. The idea develops that the prescription of readings can have a repelling effect on the whole practice.

Max Butlen showed how this vision, supported by the libraries, was imposed in the school environment. And again in the 2008 college programs , this request appeared: “the professor seeks to arouse the taste and pleasure of reading”.

The official texts of the 2015 college programs are already seeing the disappearance of this request. Pleasure only finds its place in physical and sports education, the plastic arts or musical education. There remains, however, the idea that pupils must take “a taste for reading” to acquire a “literary culture”. In the last high school programs, the pleasure of reading has given way to “the pleasure of literature”.

In other words, the pleasure of reading is reduced to that of the prescribed corpus. And it is not certain that teachers can give them this pleasure as they are themselves subject. They have no choice of works and must draw from a list of three titles imposed for each of the objects of study and renewed (by half every year) of the school heritage . Difficult to personally invest in texts that change so often. The pace of renewal of the works on the program is currently under discussion .

Thus, the new French baccalaureate program marks a distance from the dominant discourse of “pleasure to read” and the students will have to learn to deal with this inventory, and to combine the classics of the programs with comics, manga, and screens of their hobbies.

Author Bio: Claude Poissenot is Lecturer-researcher at IUT Nancy-Charlemagne and at the Center for Research on Mediations (CREM) at the University of Lorraine