Pleasure and boredom at school

Issue 57, September 2011

Couverture RIES n° 56

In its September issue, the Revue Internationale d'Education de Sèvres brings together teachers, philosophers, writers, psychoanalysts and sociologists from a dozen countries to call into question what is expected of schools in different parts of the world, basing their exploration on attitudes towards pleasure and boredom in the classroom - what is expected from one day to the next, as well as "for later on", with regard to an institution's purpose and of the everyday experience of attending it.

What is the "official" line from one country to another on the pleasure of going to school and studying there? Surveys, testimonies and literature: what do pupils, teachers, school principals and parents have to say on the subject? In concrete terms, what is the atmosphere like and what pedagogical practices are current in classrooms and institutions?

The investigation could go on forever. The invitation put out to a dozen contributors has revealed a heartening diversity as well as some extraordinary convergences, highlighting a number of present-day trends in that age-old global system known as Schooling.

A file coordinated by the philosopher Laurence Cornu, Director of the Department of Education Sciences at the University of Tours


Introduction [pdf - 125 Ko]
Laurence Cornu-Bernot

School, pleasure and boredom
Mona Ozouf
For some children, their first experience of schooling may be of endless hours spent in stultifying boredom; for others, however, it is a source of delight and wonder - the underprivileged children who discover the world at large within its walls as they set off on all kinds of imaginary voyages that bring inner and outer landscapes together. Mona Ozouf offers us an unpretentious and deeply poetic evocation of this childhood world. She also distinguishes between the "lethal" boredom experienced by many, especially lower secondary-school pupils, and a "good boredom" induced by intervals during the school day - free time conducive to daydreaming and reading, but whose very emptiness seems to strike fear into the hearts of today's parents and teachers, who do their utmost to fill it up with things to do. It is exactly this free time, however, which opens the door to reading and encourages thinking.

Reading for pleasure and academic performances of 15-year-olds in OECD countries
Sophie Vayssettes and Éric Charbonnier
The 2009 PISA (Programme for International Student Assessment) survey devoted an entire volume to pleasure in and engagement with reading at the age of 15. In all OECD countries, pupils who took the most pleasure in reading obtained significantly higher scores than those who were less motivated. Nonetheless, over a third of all pupils stated that they did not read regularly for pleasure, while just half an hour a day would lead to marked improvement in performance. Furthermore, between 2000 and 2009, sixteen out of the twenty-six OECD countries compared for the two assessments recorded a drop in the percentage of pupils who read for pleasure, particularly steep among boys from disadvantaged socioeconomic backgrounds.

Pains and hopes in school learning. The example of India
D. S. Muley and Daya Pant
In a country characterised by its bewildering diversity and variety of infra-structure and quality of schools, children at school have hardly any better option other than surrendering themselves to structured courses of studies and time table. The paper attempts to explore sources of enjoyment and boredom in Indian schools especially in terms of learning, curriculum, like or dislike for a subject, infra-structural facilities, linkage between learning and future career, fear of corporal punishment and bullying, examinations and lastly mid-day meal. Observations and comments are largely based on the authors' interaction with students.

Rejection of and demand for schooling - Reflections on the history of the institution and the status of knowledge in Senegal
Abdoulaye Elimane Kane
The author gives a succinct account of the movement that led from rejection of to growing demand for school education in Senegal, studying its dual political and cultural implications on the basis of African historical and literary documents, analysis of three major reforms undertaken in Senegal over the last fifty years, and examination of some of the reasons for rejection of schooling and school dropout as well as for the attraction of and need for schooling. In the case of Senegal, the universal issues of pleasure and boredom at school have much to do with the coexistence (whether in conflict or in harmony) of a variety of educational models, each seeking to produce a certain type of individual.

Pleasure and boredom as pedagogical choices France and England, two contrasting educational traditions
Maroussia Raveaud
The question of pleasure and boredom at school is tackled here through a comparison between France and England. The two school systems are based on very different educational traditions and have their own ways of viewing childhood, pleasure, knowledge and effort. The article focuses on official syllabuses, classroom organisation and children's perceptions of primary school, exploring the ways in which the contrast between pleasure and boredom can be a key factor in making sense of pupils' experience and of how teachers see their profession, and leading to reflection on the very purpose of schooling.

Pleasure and commitment at school in Brooklyn, USA: an experience of management in a high school
An interview between Pierre-Louis Gauthier and Karali Pia Pitzele, Head of a Brooklyn high school
The methods implemented at the Green School in Brooklyn, New York, with regard to work and community life require individual commitment on the part of each pupil and major investment on the part of teachers, while taking full account of the importance of pleasure, both in learning and in the extracurricular activities carried out at the school. They spring from the major changes in American education brought about by the evolution of ideas during the 1960s - an evolution inspired by the ideas and principles of John Dewey and Paulo Freire.

"Protected" schooling and school dropout - The Norwegian paradoxes
Anne-Lise Høstmark Tarrou
The author analyses the paradoxical situation prevalent in Norway, a country where the wellbeing of pupils at school has been explicitly identified as a factor in success and is officially encouraged by institutional measures, but where school dropout is far from unknown, particularly in the area of vocational education. The problem has led to fresh discussion on pupil assessment and success. Basing her argument on testimony from pupils themselves, the author calls into question the pertinence of the "practical training vs. theoretical knowledge" paradigm, and suggests an approach that above all enables pupils to see meaning in what they learn.

Pleasure and suffering at Brazilian universities - A survey of student responses
Vera Esther Ireland
This article presents the conclusions reached by research based on students' writings on the question of pleasure and suffering, mainly in the context of their higher education studies. Their responses provide a wide variety of viewpoints. The psychoanalytical approach adopted by the author as a theoretical framework also enables her to envisage practical systems for ensuring that students' voices are heard: it should be in any university's own interest to know what students have to say about their study conditions.

Suffering and management of suffering in Portuguese schools - Teachers' strategies
José Alberto Correia and João Caramelo
For the last fifteen years, Portugal's school system has been in crisis at organisational, political and cognitive level, resulting in loss of familiarity with pupils and teaching matter on the part of the teachers themselves - a break-up that has led to professional suffering born of the near impossibility of giving form to sufficiently coherent professional and personal projects. The authors' analysis is based on interviews, and identifies three trains of argumentative reasoning used by teachers in order - paradoxically enough - both to disguise and express this suffering.

Appreciating and enjoying literature in the classroom - An example in France
Anne Maurel
In the eyes of the author, who teaches literature, boredom at school is boredom in the strongest sense of the word, a "lethal" boredom generated by mummification of texts - their institutional transformation into series of clichés. To ensure that her pupils do not simply view literature as "frozen texts", but rather come to understand it as a mirror held up to reality, the teacher strives to bring the texts they are dealing with to life, to make them visible and audible. Through listening to the teacher's voice as she reads aloud, pupils come to first-hand understanding of what literature has to teach them, not just about literary history but about themselves. Deeper yet than the pleasure of reading, they discover the joy to be had from forms that unfold life in all its agonies and ecstasies.

Bibliographical references
Bernadette Plumelle