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Classes 89 & 90 - Public education in France - Expo Paris 1867

Classes 89 & 90 - Public education in France at the Exhibition Expo Paris 1867

At the end of the transverse gallery, where the products of Algeria and our colonies are displayed in such a picturesque way, the visitor stops in front of a portico of beautiful order, the one reproduced in our engraving. Two groups adorn the sides, one of which represents the education of children, the other the instruction of adults; and below the pediment one can read the words of the Emperor, which have remained as an unfulfilled programme:
"In the country of universal suffrage every citizen must know how to read and write. "

Primary education is not yet compulsory in our country; but every year half a million adults fill our schools during the winter.

This portico, whose design is by M. Sébastien Cornu, the organiser of the Campana Museum, and whose groups and ornaments were executed by the pupils of the municipal school of drawing in the Rue Volta, directed by M. Levasseur, this portico marks the entrance to the exhibition of the classes of '89 and '90, which consists of four rooms, taken from both sides of the circular gallery No. 2.
Here is represented all popular education, from the asylum room to vocational education and courses for adults. This is the head of the tenth group, with the other classes extending behind it to the outer circumference.

The two isolated statues you see on either side of the door are those of Pestalozzi, the immortal author of the Intuitive Method, and of Abbé de La Salle, the founder of the Institute of the Brothers of the Christian Schools. The first is the work of the pupils of the municipal school of drawing, directed by M. Lequien fils; the second was done by the pupils of the brothers.

Once we have passed through the portico, we find ourselves in front of the schools' works. The normal school of Cluny, which has only been in existence for one year, already has an honourable place in this section because of its wooden instruments and its machines made by the pupils. On the right, the drawings sent by the various schools of the brothers occupy a large section of the wall. Nearby are the often remarkable works of the municipal drawing schools of the city of Paris.

The back of this first room belongs to the Ministry of Public Education. M. Duruy wanted to exhibit here some specimens of the results of the most recent scientific missions. It is for this reason that the Mexican portico, so strangely coloured, which decorates the entrance to the second room, was erected under the direction of M. Léon Méhédin. In front of it is a block of marble, blackened by the centuries, which bears on two of its sides figures of great style.

Those who love to travel and who are thrown into endless daydreams by the sight of the fantastic palaces of the East, will willingly forget themselves in front of the numerous albums of photographs that this room offers them. Others, the positive spirits, pass indifferently before these images which have cost them so much fatigue and distant journeys; they barely cast a distracted glance at the instruments of Buddhist worship which are exhibited in the showcase on the right. Even the prayer wheel does not stop them.

There is a class of visitors who pass through this part of the hall even more quickly, they are the thousands of teachers and professors that the holidays send us. They go straight to what interests them above all else: that is, to the business of teaching itself. Let's do as they do, because here we are at the entrance to the second room.

Here we are fully in the domain of vocational education. On the left, these organs of machines, these collections of natural history, these devices for chemical manipulations, represent the professional boarding school of Ivry-sur-Seine, which obtained many rewards and whose director, Mr. Pompée, has just been made officer of the Legion of Honour. On the left are the works of the Schools of the Navy. Then comes the Central School of Lyon. La Martinière did not take part in the exhibition, because if one can exhibit products, one cannot exhibit methods.

The Fénelon Asylum Farm and the Mettray Colony were shown in the form of relief drawings. The Élisa Lemonnier school in the rue de Turenne, for the professional instruction of young girls, shows beautiful paintings on porcelain, woodcuts, needlework and notebooks which do the management great credit. Another similar institution, Notre-Dame-des-Arts, exhibits nearby the work of students, which is not lacking in interest, except that church ornaments perhaps take up too much space.

On the other side, we find the astronomical alphabet of M. Ch. Emmanuel, which puts an abstract science within the reach of the humblest schools. Nearby are the collections of the Hachette house for the teaching of science, and the small laboratory of chemistry and physics, fabulously cheap, exhibited by M. Émile Rousseau.

This same M. É. Rousseau has found the means of reproducing, with the aid of special photographic processes, the drawings of the great masters with their primitive tones rendered unalterable, which will make it possible to distribute in the schools incomparable models at the most moderate prices; we have here some specimens. The schoolchildren of today are very happy. When I think of all that they have and all that we lack, I am tempted to be jealous.

The two rooms we have just visited represent the exhibition of the class 90, that is to say what concerns vocational and adult education, at least for France. Belgium exhibited a beautiful collection of fabrics produced in the apprenticeship workshops of Flanders. But, as far as apprenticeship schools are concerned, the one in Brünn, Moravia, should be mentioned above all, which exhibits a very remarkable album of drawings and fabric samples made by the pupils. This school was founded by the Brünn Chamber of Commerce and dates back to 1860. Generally speaking, the Germans have shown an unquestionable superiority in this speciality of vocational training.

We have just mentioned the Society founded in Paris by Mme. E. Lemonnier for the vocational education of women; we must place on the same rank the Junta de Damas, or association of ladies which has been formed in Madrid for the propagation of the education of girls, and to which women who bear the greatest names in Spain lend active assistance. A similar association has been formed in Barcelona. The Junta de Damas of Madrid won a silver medal.

Let us not leave Class 90 without saying a word about the monumental and almost funereal-looking piece of furniture that stands in the middle of the second room and almost fills it. The gilded statue on top represents France. Three of its sides are lined with display cases containing volumes of documents, precious perhaps, but whose titles the public cannot see; these are collections of administrative acts relating to education or public assistance. In addition, all the documents collected in the so-called 10th group investigation have been placed here.

The fourth side, the one facing the entrance, is decorated with a smaller display case, of a particular shape, similar to the figures given of the third ark in the Bible. This is where the famous reports requested by M. Duruy on the progress of science, literature and art in France for the last twenty years are kept.

Crossing the gallery we enter the rooms which form the French exhibition of the class of '89. Here it is no longer a question of teaching adults or adolescents, but of educating children.

School equipment has not changed significantly in France over the past forty years. While Germany was busy varying its educational methods to suit the needs of childhood, we were lost in endless theoretical discussions about whether intelligence should be free or not; whether it should belong to the State or to the father. In short, we have, strictly speaking, only two kinds of schools in France today: those maintained by the municipalities or the State, and those which the Catholic clergy multiplies with the help of the largesse of individuals. But on closer inspection, these two categories of schools do not differ much.

If you want to know a little about this question of public education, which unfortunately does not interest many people in our country, go and visit the American school in the arc; see these walls covered with mottoes borrowed from the constitution or from civil law: it is clear that in the American schools they think above all of making citizens. And yet the model which has been built here is not the type of school in the great cities of the Union; it is a specimen of a cheap school.

The Norwegian school, which occupies the ground floor of the picturesque house in the Park, is closer to this, with its isolated squares. There each pupil has his own bench and desk, quite independent and separate from the neighbouring one. Schools in the United States are furnished according to the same system. The value of this detail, which seems of little importance at first sight, will be understood by all who know what a classroom is.

Such an organisation could not succeed in our country: it would be condemned at first sight as too expensive. But in the United States, nothing is too expensive when it comes to education. See the beautiful planetary that Mr. Barlow, of Kentucky, exhibited in the American section, and in which we see, by an ingenious mechanism, all the planets moving around the sun; it is an instrument costing 1200 francs. Mr. Birlow has brought here several of various models. He imagines that the schools in France are as rich as those in his country; he is mistaken. If he sells one or two of his planets here, it will be to the English, or to some ecclesiastical establishment.

The German schools are remarkable for the development they give to manual exercises and gymnastics.
France has exhibited a few globes and some geographical apparatus which are remarkable especially from the point of view of cheapness. But what we can be most justly proud of is the organisation of our schools for early childhood, or salles d'asile. There is also a piece of furniture that looks modest, but is excellent: it is the "metric staircase", invented by one of the best teachers in Paris, M. Demkès, for teaching the legal system of weights and measures.

The schools of early childhood, or salles
d'asile, which are, to tell the truth, what France can be most justly proud of in the matter of popular education, are represented at the Exposition by a few innovations of little importance, if we except the small children's gymnasium.

We would also like to draw attention to the modest work done by young blind people.

But it is easy to see that in such an order of facts what is most important to know and see is precisely what has not been shown; I mean the teacher's method, and also the moral results, the fruits of education proper, which are far more precious than a well-done page or a more or less successful drawing. In this respect, the criticisms that have been directed against the idea of an exhibition of teaching would be quite justified, if there were no more than a competition leading to a more or less happy distribution of the prizes announced. But who would stop at this idea? We might as well say that all of us have only ever studied for prizes, because every year the school holidays begin with a distribution of crowns.

No, the competition and the prizes are only a means to an end; the real aim is to bring certain facts to light and to put an end to contrary prejudices.

It had been announced that during the Universal Exhibition, the Champ de Mars would see the construction of various specimens of schools, where Americans and Germans would come to show how they understand the education of children. The Germans were to present the "kindergartens" of Dr. Froëbel; the Americans, their great national schools, those simple primary schools where citizens are trained and from which the greatest magistrates of the Republic have emerged.

Above all, one should have seen the methods in action, each country sending its best teachers with a sufficient number of pupils. This did not happen. Why did it not happen? I do not know. But I deeply regret that such a spectacle could not be offered to our country. Certainly it would have been difficult to establish fair prizes for this new kind of competition with which everyone could be satisfied. But what an impression it would have left!

©L'Exposition Universelle de 1867 Illustrée