Building and Economicizing the French Educational System during the Early 1950s: How an Institution Becomes Functionalized

By Philippe Bongrand

While French schools under the Third Republic implicitly tended to reproduce their contemporary socio-economic structures, building a modern educational system between 1944 and 1975 (economic boom years, otherwise known as the Thirty Glorious Years) explicitly aims at bringing about new and different professional groups. Fostering equal opportunity among children, the “school reform” public policy also intends to meet future economic needs for managers and technicians. This project, which aimed at building a socially and economically efficient school was then anchored in the structures of a new “educational system,” the central mission of which consists in guiding students towards various sectors and levels of employment. Based on professional literature and administrative archives, this article questions the way state schools endorsed a global economic finality between the late 1940s and the mid-1950s. Their endorsement was precipitated by a growing interest for training among agriculture and industry actors, and the competition between different groups within the French ministry of education. The circulation of knowledge documenting the economic and democratic views on education reform as well as their compatibility acted as a catalyst. The article concludes that the public policies aiming at reforming education were designed to achieve a specific social process: the economicization of education.

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