Napoleon's Revolutionized French Education System

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Napoleon organized the educational system of the revolutionary period, added a stable structure, and supplied the universities with teaching staff. Students received a well-rounded education, and would only advance in school after proving that they had retained knowledge by producing satisfactory examination scores. French clergy and nobility had been calling for improvements in the educational system. Pondering the problems of the 1789 educational system led to consideration of "the duties and prerogatives of the state, the rights of parents, the potential benefits of higher education, the economic needs of the nation, the necessity for training teachers, and the suitable status of the teaching profession in a republic" (Vignery 21).

A decree passed in 1794 named teacher training the top educational priority. An emphasis was now being placed on schooling and curriculums were changed. The Paris Normal school plan of study included "republican morality and public and private virtues, as well as the techniques of teaching reading, writing, arithmetic, practical geometry, French history and grammar" (Bernard 154). Public secondary schools, or ecole centrals, were organized for every 300,000 people. The secondary school curriculum included literature, language, science, and arts. The decree which established the ecole centrals stated that: …the age-range of the pupils will be from eleven or twelve to seventeen or eighteen…every school is to have one professor of each of the following subjects: mathematics; experimental physics and chemistry; natural history; scientific methods and psychology; political economy and legislation; the philosophic history of peoples; hygiene; arts and crafts; general grammar; belles letters; ancient languages; the modern languages most appropriate to the locality of the school; painting and drawing. Every central school is to have attached to it a public library, a garden and a natural history collection, as well as a collection of scientific apparatus and of machines and models relating to arts and crafts (Bernard 171). Central schools were strengthened by the requirement that anyone seeking a position in the government had to show evidence that he had attended one of the schools of the Republic (Bernard 185-186).

Napoleon was convinced that the breakdown of order during the Revolution was because of the state's inability to establish a system of education that could replace what the Church had maintained previously. "The time was not ripe, however, for accomplishing these reforms. It needed the drastic purgation of the Revolutionary period, followed by the constructive genius of Napoleon, to put them into effect" (Farrington 87).

Napoleon explained, "Of all social engines, the school is probably the most efficacious, for it exercises three kinds of influence on the young lives it enfolds and directs: one through the master, another through con-discipleship, and the last through rules and regulations" (Durant 65). He believed public schools should form intelligent yet obedient citizens.

In a letter to the Ministre de L'Interieur, dated June 11, 1801, Napoleon outlined his opinions on the educational structure needed for boys. The structure was to be divided first by age, for boys under twelve years and for boys twelve years and older. Grades one through four would be taught the general topics of reading, writing, history, and the use of arms. Grades five and above would have their curriculum tuned to their career. Those pursuing a civil career would study languages, rhetoric, and philosophy. The students following a military career path would learn mathematics, physics, chemistry, and military matters. Both the civil and military students would be guaranteed career placement upon their successful completion of the program.

Napoleon felt it necessary for girls to receive an education, though not identical to the boys' schooling. In his Note Sur L'Etablissment...
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