EDUCATION minister Luc Ferry has made the best-seller lists with a controversial book which blames post-1960s "individualism" and child-centred education for the failures of today.
Mr Ferry intends his book to be the opening shot in a debate on education which will precede legislation next year. It has been distributed free to 800,000 teachers.
Mr Ferry, a philosopher rather than professional politician, was head of the national curriculum council before he became minister a year ago. He says the "roots of harm" in education are due to "individualism at work since the 1960s", a reference to the libertarian aftermath of the 1968 student and worker upheavals.
This individualism had "pushed schools into crisis, valuing innovation to the detriment of tradition, authenticity at the expense of merit, leisure against work, and unlimited freedom in place of freedom regulated by the law", he writes.
He claims that the 1989 education Act introduced by Lionel Jospin, the then education minister, which placed the child at the centre of the education system, was a consequence of this ideology, contributing to the educational problems of today.
Transmission of knowledge should be central to education, says Mr Ferry, who intends to change the Jospin law.
He identifies three priority areas. First, the "scandal of illiteracy": between 10 and 15 per cent of pupils enter secondary school unable to read and write properly and up to one third have some difficulty. His proposals for reform will focus on reading and writing.
Second, he notes the "alarming figure" of 158,000 youngsters who left school last year without qualifications, and intends to reintroduce and raise the status of vocational options at lower secondary level.
The minister's third worry is the increase in "violent incidents" in school, with more than 81,000 reported in 2002.
Mr Ferry plans to rethink punishments and restore authority, including more out-of-school units for disruptive pupils; finding ways to reconcile pupils with school; fighting against academic failure; and encouraging young people to take up constructive activities outside school.
Among other areas he targets are the inclusion of disabled pupils in mainstream schools, encouraging youngsters to do good works, teacher training and decentralisation of some national education responsibilities, including non-teaching jobs.
But the book, which contains brief contributions from schools minister Xavier Darcos and research minister Claudie Haignere, has been received with scepticism by teachers' unions, which are planning their fifth strike since September on May 6.
Lettre ... tous ceux qui aiment l'ecole by Luc Ferry, published by Odile Jacob and Sceren-CNDP, price euro 9