François Hollande has a bold new plan to tackle social injustice and inequality in France: ban homework. Introducing his proposals for education reform last week at the Sorbonne, the French president declared that work “must be done in the [school] facility rather than in the home if we want to support the children and re-establish equality.”
Banning out-of-school assignments would put France on the cutting edge of pedagogical fashion, though it wouldn’t be entirely unprecedented. An elementary school in Maryland recently replaced homework with a standing order for 30 minutes a day of after-school reading. A German high school is also test-running a new homework ban, after an earlier reform lengthened the school day and crowded out time for extra-curriculars such as sports or music.
These small-scale experiments aim to give students more freedom to excel on their own initiative. Mr. Hollande wants just the opposite. As Education Minister Vincent Peillon told Le Monde, the state needs to “support all students in their personal work, rather than abandon them to their private resources, including financial, as is too often the case today.” The problem, in other words, isn’t with homework per se. It’s that some homes are more conducive to homework than others.
Here we begin to wonder: Are the French losing their mind? Fortunately not. More than two-thirds of the country would oppose the ban, according to an Ifop poll, so there’s hope that even in the land of égalité there’s some recognition that state power cannot equalize everything. It’s also reassuring to know that a majority of French adults believe there’s something to be said for instructing children in the need for personal initiative and responsibility, regardless of excuses or circumstances.
Mr. Hollande, however, remains out of step. At the Sorbonne, he stressed that school is where “the child becomes the citizen of the future.” Perhaps his ideas about homework say something about the kind of citizens of the future he wishes to see.