Find out how to struggle “the tyranny of mediocrity”?

In this scathing essay, Point editor Sophie Coignard bemoans the disappearance of merit in favor of the quest for equality at all costs.

By Romain Gubert

Almost ten years ago, two education ministers under Francois Hollande, Najat Vallaud-Belkacem and Genevieve Fioraso, created with the stroke of a pen a social measure that was nevertheless quite fair: scholarships for excellence.
Almost ten years ago, two education ministers under François Hollande, Najat Vallaud-Belkacem and Geneviève Fioraso, created with the stroke of a pen a social measure that was nevertheless quite fair: scholarships for excellence.

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Lare readers of Point know the fiery editorials of Sophie Coignard. In “Le monde de Sophie” (Coignard) they discover their sincere indignation every morning. But this time our editor doesn’t just invite us on a journey as a mood post. An amazing journey with that aim: to try to understand why the concept of merit, although always a basis of the Republic, is being targeted today.

Sophie Coignard’s obsession didn’t come about on a whim. However, almost ten years ago, when two Ministers of Education under François Hollande, Najat Vallaud-Belkacem and Geneviève Fioraso, pushed through a social measure with the stroke of a pen, which was nevertheless quite fair: the Excellence Scholarships, which made it possible for modest high school graduates who graduated with “very good “ Those who pass their Abitur exams enjoy an annual grant of 1,800 euros, which accompanies these brilliant young people during their studies (and thus enables them to study almost on an equal footing with young people). from privileged backgrounds).

Lights show us the way

The path of Sophie Coignard takes us to the XVIIIe Century. It tells how Enlightenment philosophers weakened the old regime by celebrating the virtues of merit and effort against the privileges of birth. And how they gradually paved the way for the republic. She recalls how Napoleon, who wanted a new elite to revitalize the state, appreciated the effort. How Guizot developed the elementary school (for boys) in 1833 with the same aim, etc. And how the CNR, the National Council of Resistance, highlighted the merit of rebuilding the Republic after the dark hours of occupation, making it a factor of emancipation and she encouraged the reunification of French society.

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The journalist out Point takes us to Harvard, where one of its most distinguished professors, Michael Sandel, demonstrates that, in his view, merit is the alibi of a liberal system that refuses to make room for newcomers, and that the few examples of ascending paths are precisely mapped out for the system received and thus “nothing changes”. An argument close to that of Michael Young, a British sociologist for whom merit is each person’s ultimate justification for himself, which makes it possible to forget the principles of solidarity with a clear conscience.

equal opportunity

Coignard does not brush aside these arguments. If she is not satisfied with the “solutions” of the extreme left, which advocates drawing lots to select new elites, the essayist agrees that the term “merit” only makes sense if equal opportunities are maintained. But nothing is less true today. An example: inheritance. The inherited share of French inheritance is now 60%, up from 35% in the 1970s to catch up with the standard of living of those who benefit from capital at birth.

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Coignard also points out that in order to talk about merit, it is probably time to examine in depth the concept of “social utility” of certain productive functions, and thus to reconsider the concept of merit in relation to moral or ethical values, citing his over example, that of the nurse and her contributions to the community compared to that of the dealer.

The editor of Point then go to our politicians. She points the finger at the populists, starting with Donald Trump, who spends his time at his rallies saying, “I really like those who don’t have diplomas” to garner votes. She denounces the “awakened ideology,” which accuses defenders who, she says, don’t sufficiently consider the concept of “white privilege” and minorities. She also tells how Emmanuel Macron, forgetting the concept of merit in favor of equality, suppresses the ENA, the selectivity of the Parisian high school Henri-IV, prefers the Affelnet system to standardize the level of the high schools or the boarding schools from to forget excellence.


The merit of Sophie Coignard’s work also lies in her solutions. The review of the social value system (carer versus dealer) and the idea of ​​the common good is a very long-term project. The dismantling of the legitimacy of the legacy does not happen overnight either. On the other hand, rethinking the education system is a sensible and short-term goal. She points out that in three decades, between primary school and the end of secondary school, 700 hours of French lessons per student have disappeared. She recalls that national education today favors savoir-être rather than skills and that at university, mastery of inclusive writing is valued more than knowledge.

Sophie Coignard also questions the more or less experimental systems that favor access routes to the Grandes Ecoles for disadvantaged high school students and defends a thorough overhaul of higher education through the promotion of intermediate courses (IUT, BTS) to then promote their integration into the Grandes Ecoles and bac+5 education rather than encouraging 80% of an age group to study. With one goal: to avoid “the tyranny of mediocrity”. Bright.

The tyranny of mediocrity (L’Observatoire, 19 euros, 208 pages)

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