It’s that time again. When the state asserts its dominance over its citizens and shows its power by visiting our family in full force. The yearly French homeschool inspections.
This year, for the first time, we were graced with the presence of three employees of the state. The inspector tasked with questioning me, one pedagogical counselor for my oldest daughter, and one pedagogical counselor for my second daughter.
We have proven every year for three years now that our system works. Time after time, (though our children are English speakers from birth) my children have performed to their expectations and beyond. In French.
And yet. Contrary to what they profess, they come into our home and judge us. They question the kids relentlessly for over an hour. And, right in front of them, they give their synopsis on how well they did. Where they succeeded and where they failed.
As with previous years, we received the official word of the French homeschool inspection for our two oldest daughters approximately six weeks prior to the actual date. Despite fears prompted by the decree released in August which stated inspections could now be unannounced.
Thankfully it would not be just before the Christmas vacation. (See What to Expect When You’re Inspected – Now With 2 Children – A French Homeschool Inspection Story for how that went.) However, it would take place in January. A week after the vacations were over.
This is important to note because of the drastic decisions I had made based on our last year.
Because my second daughter had been traumatized by her first inspection the year before, we had actually not been able to finish our usual school year in June as I had previously scheduled.
In fact, we had been forced to postpone much of her work in French for months. She had refused to do any work until around April. And that put everything off, as you can imagine.
New Start Date
As a result, I decided to change our school years to begin in January of every year. In this way, she could comfortably finish her work before moving on to the next level.
Since I had never been comfortable with the fact that my oldest daughter had been forced to start school when she was still technically five years old, this also worked in her favor. As the work became more complicated as she approached middle school, I could see her struggling to stay with it. Her maturity level (as good as it was) wasn’t high enough for her comfortably to move on to Ambleside Year 4.
What’s tragically funny about this is the timing. I had been agonizing about this for months until September when I made the official decision to postpone our school year to January. I scheduled it all out on the calendar to make sure the dates would fit with scheduled school vacations. And to give us a month break both in December and the summer.
Our start date was Monday, January 13th.
We received our notification for the inspection in November. Start date? You guessed it, Monday, January 13th.
Because of the date announced for our yearly French homeschool inspection, I decided to adjust our own start date. But not by much. The more inspections I pass, the less likely I am to be conciliatory. Especially considering the fact that they don’t follow their own rules.
We started our school year, Thursday, January 9th. Giving us two days of work before their interrogation.
The three employees of the state arrived approximately five minutes late. They were welcomed and led into the dining room which has now become our schoolroom. Since two of these employees have been to our house before, they immediately noticed that we had changed locations. Previously we had been on the first floor in what used to be the master bedroom.
For the first time, no one asked to be allowed to set our children apart for their interrogation. Maybe it was because we had covered the dining room table with boxes. Maybe it was because they finally learned that I would respond with a resounding “No.”
Whatever the reason, for the first time, they asked where they should seat themselves. Shocking. And very welcome.
My Information Speech
But before letting them continue their usual routine of separating us mentally (since the inspector would interrogate me all the while my children were being interrogated), I made my speech of our changes.
I informed them that I had changed our school year to follow the calendar year. That we were actually starting our new school year the very day they showed up. That not only had my children not yet started CE2 or CM1 but my oldest wouldn’t be starting CM1 before January of the next year.
I wanted them to be aware of this so that they could adjust their questions to fit our preferred method of homeschooling. Per the law and the most recent decree released in August of last year.
But they did not respect this. Again. They broke their own law, their own decree, by proceeding to ask questions of my children for CE1 and CM1.
Of course, if I broke the law and refused to allow the inspection, I would risk jail time and a fine of nearly 10,000 euros. But they are free to break the law with no consequences.
France. The land of the free. But only if you work for the state. And do what you’re told.
Inspection & Interview
So even though they had been informed of our methods and program, the counselors questioned the girls based on their own program. That of the state.
Even more frustrating was the fact that I told them my oldest was, in a sense, repeating CE2 because I was doing Ambleside Year 3.5. Which means we were nowhere near broaching the work of CM1. But every question he asked of her was in regards to CM1.
But I told them that she was thriving, despite all their constant meddling. And was right on track, according to my program.
When it came time for me to discuss my second daughter, I informed the inspector that my second daughter had been so traumatized the year before that she had nightmares. And that this same daughter had refused to use or learn French for almost four months afterward.
She asked me how to alleviate this. I told her, “stop coming.” She thought I was joking. I then said she needs to feel like she’s not being singled out. That her future homeschooling is not at risk. And that she did not need to show results to continue.
She said that next year I could sit next to her and reassure her during the interrogation.
I made sure to let them know that the stress of these French homeschool inspections causes us to lose at least a week, if not two, out of our school year. The week before I prepare them mentally. I use the second week after to give them a chance to decompress.
Now it was time to receive the wisdom of the state employees. In front of the children, of course.
My First Daughter
The counselor for my oldest daughter began. As mentioned previously, he had questioned her according to a grade level above her current studies. Obviously, he was setting her up for failure.
And then he proceeded to say, right in front of her, that she did not pass the work of CM1. Well, duh. We hadn’t begun it. As was our right.
I also had to laugh at their absurdity when he proceeded to tell me that she had a great implicit sense of French grammar. But did not know the terminology yet. Thus proving the fact that the Charlotte Mason method works. Even in a second language.
The fact that we had never worked on grammar but she still “got it” didn’t even register with him. Simply reading lots and lots of books gave her the confidence to not only write French sentences correctly but to also spell the words correctly. Without the constant “practice” of worksheets and grammar lessons.
That’s not to say we won’t begin grammar at some point. Simply that I’m letting the method do its thing. Just as we learn to speak a language by hearing it for a long time first, we learn to write by reading for a long time as well.
But they refused to acknowledge that reason for her success when they expected her to fail.
My Second Daughter
My second daughter came next. Her counselor proceeded to tell me that she was behind in several areas of the French language. For example, the reading and writing of French numbers. Seeing as how we had lost so much time the previous year, I wasn’t surprised. I only hoped she wouldn’t react similarly this year.
But she was strong in various other sections, like the understanding of spatial concepts (though I had to translate for her a couple of times). All in all, they were pleased enough with her progress to grant us their approval.
Return of the Frise Chronologique
At this point, I had a flashback to the homeschool inspection in our second year.
The inspector made a huge point that we did not have a frise chronologique (historical timeline) plastered across our walls. At the time, I argued in favor of our Book of Centuries which my daughter preferred. But she would not let it go. I finally had to concede the point just to get her to stop.
As a result, I purchased a historical timeline that could be used also as a placemat on the school desk. I figured I could show this as an acknowledgment of her advice. It seemed to work as she had not mentioned it during our third inspection.
However, at the end of the interview, the inspector brought up the fact that we did not have a frise chronologique on our wall. I pulled out the timeline placemat for her to see. I thought it would appease her.
But apparently she has been paid off by lobbies of the frise chronologique. It was not interactive enough. The children needed to manipulate events in order to see their placement in history. I once again tried to show her the Book of Centuries my daughters had created. This was clear evidence that they were manipulating events. Between writing, drawing, and pasting different people and events in their proper place in history, they were seeing first-hand how it all fit together.
She didn’t like it. We had to end by agreeing to disagree. Thus cementing the word frise chronologique as a family joke. Anytime someone in our family is being so stubborn they refuse to see reality, we just have to say frise chronologique. And they are forced to rethink. Plus, we all get a good laugh.
The After Party
Normally, this would be the end of our French homeschool inspection for the year. However, because of the new law, we had other business to discuss. The next inspection for our two youngest children, aged three and six years old.
Because of the increase in the number of homeschoolers, they would be unable to schedule our next inspection until around April. I gave my agreement to another morning session. And we discussed some particulars.
Problems of Bilingual Learning With an Inspection
Having bilingual children is a blessing. But there is a natural order that is followed in the learning of two languages. And one language is always dominant. Usually that of the mother. And since I am an American living in France, my children’s first language is not French.
Though they understand both languages equally well (having heard both from birth), they begin communicating first in English. And their ability to respond in French doesn’t start until around five or six years old.
Under the old law, this was not a problem. The children were old enough to be able to respond simply in French for the first homeschool inspection. However, under this new law, my youngest child is caught in a dilemma.
Not only was she a late speaker in English, but now she will be inspected in French. At three years old. Not to mention getting her to talk to any stranger. It takes her a few hours to warm up enough to talk to her own grandparents. And she knows them well.
For my six-year-old, it will be less worrisome. He was born in early January. This means that he is around the same age my first daughter was on her inspection. Only he won’t be questioned at the CP (1st Grade) level. He is still considered kindergarten. Lucky for him.
I had to laugh at their reasoning when I requested an inspection for all four children at the same time in the future. For our family, having multiple visits in a year throws off our school schedule by multiple weeks.
We lose up to two weeks every time they come, as mentioned earlier. I’ve found that attempting to start schoolwork immediately after a visit only provokes tears and anger.
So this year, because they are coming three times (if you count the mayor’s office visit in October), we will have lost a month and a half of valuable learning time.
But they informed me that that would be impossible. They will continue coming on at least two separate occasions because we have a large family (four kids? large? really?).
And their reason for doing this? Because they cannot work effectively with four children at a time. Even though they would bring one adult per child, plus the inspector for me.
Okay. I would buy this except for one thing. They come from the same educational department that puts 30-40 students in a classroom with only one adult. By their own reasoning, this is not effective.
Everyone seems to see this folly but them. When I tell other mothers here that I have eight employees from the state coming to verify the welfare of my children, they are astounded. And six of these employees are there simply to ensure my children are receiving a good education and are progressing in their studies.
This makes other parents angry because their children don’t get such good attention. They are ignored by the system that professes itself as the best means of their child’s education. And they are not even assured of their child actually progressing before being shipped to the next grade. Is it any wonder more families every year are giving homeschooling a try?
And as a result, I expect we will be seeing more restrictions in the future for French homeschool inspections.