French Schools: Classroom Manners

Figure 1.-- 

Discipline at French schools was very strict. This included the way one spoke to teachers and formalities such as standing when adults came into the class or when responding to a teacher's question. Such formalities eased somewhat after World War II, but the big change came after the paris Stident Riots in 1968.

Polite Speech

A French reader tells us, "A child in an educated family, especialy in the past, was obliged to say " vous " to all adults, even to his parents as a sign of respect. An exception was that a child could use " tu " with his nanny and if the staff ought to say " vous " to him, the only person allowed to say " tu " was his nanny. Even in royalt family this was the case, demonstrating the influence of a nanny. In my time (the 1940s-50s) these rules were still were observed. The staff and workers used " vous " with my brother, sister, and me. To day in school thaere are still some private schools where the teachers say " vous " in primary but " tu " in kindergarden. But the new fashion is to say only " tu" . In Austria the teachers now say almost always only " du ". Emmigrants often don't know well these rules and it is shocking to us." A Swiss reader noted an interesting comment on the Norwegian school page about unformality in the schools. He writes to us about French schools. "As previously noted, words such as "uniforms", "discipline", "respect" and "union" are not so popular in Norway, quite different from other european countries. I remember having seen recently on the French TV a documentary on the difficulties in the French secondary schools that teachers encounter with pupils originating from the immigration ("Magreb countries such as Algeria, Morrocco etc). Some of these, although born in France, are frequently very impolite and rude, even agressive with other pupils and teachers. In a discussion between the head of school and a particularly agressive boy where the boy was using this French "TU" (like "DU" in German), the head of the school several times cut the boy's speech with that simple sentence " Depuis quand est-ce que VOUS vous permettez de tutoyer vos mátres?" (Since when do you allow yourself to say TU to your teachers ?)...until the boy finally agreed to continue in a more polite manner. If uniforms have more or less disappeared from French schools, the notions of discipline and respect are still valid, they recover as well the notion of politeness. If English has only the "YOU", in our countries we use the French "TU" only within a family or between good friends or from adult to child. But a child has to say "VOUS" to an adult."

Dress Standards

As part of an increasingly national concern about declining discipline standards, many French are beginning to discuss the utility of the uniform and mixed classes. In France the mothers are acustomed to chosing school clothes for their children. Some rules are compulsory. The child must to be clean. Make up is forbidden. The child must have a "standard look" as determined by the principal. A reader writes, "In my time , in some public school, smocks were recommended. In private or Catholic schools, a short pants uniform was institued. Commonly it was a white shirt, blue sweater, blue shorts, and white kneesocks."

Standing in Class

French students were expected tomstand when adults came into the class or when responding to a teacher's question.


Until the 1960s, corporal punishment was quite common in French schools. If a child didn't obey, was rude, or misbehaved in some wat he might receive a spaking. This varied greatly from school to school and the individual teachers. The youngest children might receive a gentle tap on the hand. The older children might be slapped on the bottom or if it was a more serious infraction, a slap in the face. In the school, it was current to have the hairs or the ears pulled. Some teachers used ruler-blow on the hands! Another punishment was to make a child kneel on the hard floor for an extended period. Many teachers who did not want to strike children used this method. Other punishmemts included: holding the hands on the head or behind the back. The pupil might be placed in a corner of the class for a extended period. Or he might have to write 25 or 50 same lines at home which had to be signed by his parents ho might well punish im themselves for being naught at school. In the 19th centuru, children might be punished by having to wer a dunce's cap ( bonnet d'ane ). Tis was abolished after World Wwar I. Since 1969 it has been strictly prohibited to use corporal punishment.


Paris School Riots

Changes in classroom manners and punishments were part of the educational reforms resuklting from the Paris School Riots.


Related Chronolgy Pages in the Boys' Historical Web Site
[Main Chronology Page]
[The 1870s] [The 1880s] [The 1930s] [The 1940s] [The 1950s]
[The 1960s] [The 1970s] [The 1980s]

Related Style Pages in the Boys' Historical Web Site
[Main school uniform page]
[Main country page]
[Long pants suits] [Short pants suits] [Socks] [Eton suits]
[Jacket and trousers] [Blazer [School sandals]

Navigate the Boys' Historical Clothing School Uniform Pages
[Return to the Main French School Uniform Page]
[Australia] [England] [Germany]
[Italy] [Japan] [New Zealand] [Scotland]
[United States]

Navigate the Boys' Historical Clothing Web Page
[Introduction] [Activities] [Biographies] [Chronology] [Clothing styles] [Countries] [Essays] [Photography]
[Bibliographies] [Contributions] [FAQs] [Glossaries] [Satellite sites] [Tools]
[Boys' Clothing Home]

Created: October 10, 2003
Last updated: October 12, 2003