Front Page Titles (by Subject) 1.: On a New Secondary School to Be Founded in Bayonne - The Collected Works of Frédéric Bastiat. Vol. 1: The Man and the Statesman: The Correspondence and Articles on Politics
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1.: On a New Secondary School to Be Founded in Bayonne - Frédéric Bastiat, The Collected Works of Frédéric Bastiat. Vol. 1: The Man and the Statesman: The Correspondence and Articles on Politics 
The Collected Works of Frédéric Bastiat. Vol. 1: The Man and the Statesman: The Correspondence and Articles on Politics, translated from the French by Jane and Michel Willems, with an introduction by Jacques de Guenin and Jean-Claude Paul-Dejean. Annotations and Glossaries by Jacques de Guenin, Jean-Claude Paul-Dejean, and David M. Hart. Translation editor Dennis O’Keeffe (Indianapolis: Liberty Fund, 2011).
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On a New Secondary School to Be Founded in Bayonne
[vol. 7, p. 4. According to Paillottet, this article, probably
The question was raised in the municipal council of providing Bayonne with a secondary school.1 But what can you do? You cannot do everything at once; the most pressing needs must be met and the town has ruined itself in order to provide a theater. Pleasure first; education can wait. Anyway, is not the theater also a school and even more a school of morals? Ask anyone in vaudeville or musical comedy.
As it happens, Bayonne’s fiscal capacity represents the high point of civilization and we can properly hope that the question of finance will prove no obstacle. Confident of this, I beg leave to submit a few ideas on public instruction to the city.
When I first heard of the municipal project, I asked myself if a secondary school whose curriculum focused on science and work which would dispense scientific and industrial instruction would not have some small chance of success. There is no lack of establishments close to Bayonne that teach or, to be more accurate, pretend to teach Greek, Latin, rhetoric, or even philosophy. Larresole, Orthez, Oléron, Dax, Mont-de-Marsan, Saint-Sever, and Aire provide classical education. There, the young generation which will succeed us behind the counter or in the workshop, in the fields and vineyards, in the night watch, and on the upper deck, is preparing to take on its rough task by being bored to death with the declension and conjugation of languages which were spoken some two or three thousand years ago. There, our sons, while waiting for machines to operate, bridges to build, moorland to clear, ships to deliver to the four corners of the earth, or strict accounts to keep, are learning to chant nicely using the tips of their fingers . . . Tityre, tu patuloe recu, etc.2 Let us be just, however; before sending them out into the world and as they approach their majority, they should be given a vague idea of counting and even perhaps a glimpse or two of natural history in the form of commented texts from Phaedrus and Aesop, it being understood, of course, that they will not miss a comma of the Lexicon and the Gradus ad Parnassum.3
Let us suppose that, through an unheard-of singular occurrence, Bayonne in fact followed an opposite method, that it made science, the knowledge of what exists and a study of cause and effect, the founding principle and the reading of the ancient poets an accessory and ornament of education, do you not think that this idea, as ridiculous as it may appear at first glance, might prove attractive to many heads of families?
What is it basically that we are discussing? The composition of intellectual baggage which will nourish these children during their harsh journey through life. Some of them will be called upon to defend, enlighten, and teach morals; to represent and administer the people; to develop and perfect our institutions and laws, with the greater number by far having to seek through work and industry the means of earning a living for themselves and of supporting their wives and children.
And tell me, is it in Horace and Ovid that they will learn all of this? To be good farmers, do they have to spend ten years learning and reading the Georgics? To win their stripes in the army, do they need to wear out their youth in deciphering Xenophon? To become statesmen, to become imbued with the mores, ideas, and needs of our time, do they need to immerse themselves for twenty years in Roman life, make themselves the contemporaries of Lucullus and Messalina, and breathe the same air as Brutus and the Gracchi?
Not only does the long period of childhood spent in the past not initiate them into the present, but it inspires dislike of it in them. It warps their judgment and prepares only a generation of orators, seditionists, and idlers.
For what is there in common between ancient Rome and modern France? The Romans lived from plunder and we live from production, they scorned and we honor work, they left to slaves the task of producing and this is exactly the task for which we are responsible, they were organized for war and we aim for peace, they were for theft and we are for trade, they aimed to dominate and we tend to bring peoples together.
And how do you expect these young men who have escaped from Sparta and Rome not to upset our century with their ideas? Will they not, like Plato, dream of illusory republics; and like the Gracchi, have their gaze fixed on the Aventine Mount; and like Brutus, contemplate the bloody glory of sublime devotion?
I would countenance a literary education if we were, like the Athenians, a people of idlers. To talk at length on metaphysics, eloquence, mythology, fine arts, or poetry is, I believe, the best use of their leisure that a people of patricians can make, as they move above a host of slaves.
But for those who have to create the nutritium, the vestitum, and the tectum4 for themselves, what is the use of the subtleties of the school and dreams of the seven sages of Greece? If Charles has to be a ploughman, he has to learn what water, the earth, and plants are in reality and not what Thales and Epicurus said about them. He needs the physics of facts and not the physics of poetry, science and not erudition. Our century is like Chrysale:
And is it not sad to see, to use the current jargon (which rather resembles that of Belise), facts smothering ideas?
I would reply that the idea of the heroic age, that of domination, plunder, and slavery, is neither greater nor more poetic than the idea of the industrial age, with its concept of work, equality, and unity, and I have the authority of two great poets, Byron and Lamartine, on my side.
Be that as it may, if man does not live by bread alone, he lives still less by ambrosia and I dare to say (asking you to forgive the play on words) that in our system of education it is the idea, and a false idea, that smothers facts. It is the idea that perverts our young people, which closes off the avenues to wealth to them and impels them toward a career by way of various positions or a desperate idleness.
And tell me, my native town, you whom corrupt laws (also the offspring of erroneous education) have stripped of your trade, you who are exploring new trade routes, who spin wool and linen, who smelt molten iron, dig up kaolin from your native soil, and do not know how to use it, you who build ships, maintain a model farm, and, in a word, you who draw power from a little boiling water and seek light in a little jet of gas, if you need hands to accomplish your undertakings and intellects to direct them, are you not obliged to call upon the children of the north for help, while your own sons, so full of courage and sagacity, walk the cobbles of your streets because they have not learned what it is essential to know today?
But let us allow that a classical education is really the most useful. We will at least agree that this is so only if it puts buyers in possession of the goods it produces. However, are these dead languages so generally taught widely known? You who are reading this, and who were perhaps first in your class, do you often walk on the banks of the Nive and the Adour7 with a work of Perseus or Sophocles in your hand? Alas! In the fullness of our age, after such lengthy studies we are scarcely left with enough knowledge to decipher the meaning of a simple epigraph. I remember that in a large meeting once, a woman actually dared to ask what the famous motto of Louis XIV, Nec pluribus impar,8 meant. The construction was worked out, followed by a word for word translation; a discussion was held on the force of the two negatives; each person had his own interpretation; no two were identical.
And it is for this result that you weary children. You saturate them with syntax for ten hours a day and for seven years in succession. You suffocate them with declensions and conjugations, you make them insipid and out of breath, you give them nausea, and then you say: “My son is charming, full of intelligence; he understands and catches half meanings, but he is frivolous, lazy, and does not want to take an interest.” Poor little boy! Why is he not wise enough to reply: “You see, nature gave me the taste and need for diversion, it made me curious, with a questioning mind ready to learn everything and what have these precious dispositions become in your hands? You enslaved all my moments to a single study, a study that was repellent and arid, one that explained nothing to me, taught me nothing, neither the origin of the sun that moves, the rain that falls, the water that flows, and the seed that germinates, nor what force supports ships in the water or birds in the sky, nor whence comes the bread that feeds me and the clothes I wear. No facts have entered my head. Words, just words, hour after hour, day after day, always and forever, from one end of my childhood to the other! To be determined that my noble will should be wholly concentrated on these miserable formulae, determined that I should not watch the butterfly that flutters by, the grass that grows green, or the ship that moves with neither oar nor sail, determined that my young instincts should not seek to penetrate the mystery of these phenomena, the food of my sensations, and substance of my thoughts, is to exact more than I can give. Oh, my father, if you tried this experiment on yourself, if you imposed this straitjacket on yourself, just for one month, you would see that it cannot be suitable to the energetic activities of childhood.”
Therefore, if Bayonne were to establish a secondary school in which Latin occupied one hour a day, which befits a useful accessory, in which the rest of the time was devoted to mathematics, physics, chemistry, history, living languages, etc., I think that Bayonne would be meeting a widely felt social need and that the current administration would deserve the benediction of the coming generation.
[1 ]Secondary education took place in royal “colleges” (former Napoleonic lycées), or municipal “colleges.” The construction cost of the latter was borne by the town. The Theater of Bayonne had been built in 1840.
[2 ]Virgil’s first Eclogue begins, “Tityre, tu patulae recubans sub tegmine fagi.” (“Tityrus, reclining beneath the cover of a spreading beech tree.”)
[3 ]“Steps to Parnassus” (title).
[4 ]“Nourishment,” “clothing,” “housing.”
[5 ]From Molière’s Les Femmes savantes.
[6 ]Belise was one of “les femmes savantes” (the learned ladies).
[7 ]Bayonne is located at the confluence of the Adour and Nive rivers.
[8 ]“No unequal match for many.”