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Alain (Émile Auguste Chartier)


French philosopher, essayist, and schoolmaster, one of the great intellectual forces in France during the first half of the 20th century; b. Mortagne, France, March 3, 1868; d. Le Vésinet, June 3, 1951. Of Norman ancestry, he inherited the rugged common sense and obstinancy of the Norman peasant. Of Catholic parentage, he gave up his religious beliefs in youth and never became fully reconciled with Catholic dogma. After graduation from École Normale Supérieure, he taught in various lycées, finally becoming a professor of philosophy at Lycée Henry IV in Paris. His renown as philosopher and teacher extended to all parts of France, and many of his pupils attained eminence, among them the later biographer and historian André Maurois. Although after his retirement his home became a rendezvous for distinguished Frenchmen, he is not well-known outside his own country.

He wrote daily propos for the Dépêche de Rouen. These short essays, embodying his views on a variety of subjects, were collected from time to time and reissued. They form about half of his complete works and include Les propos d'Alain (1920), Propos de littérature (1933), and Propos de politique (1934). Among Chartier's other published works are Le Citoyen contre les pouvoirs (1925) and Histoire de mes pensées (1936).

Although his life was devoted to teaching and many of his works contain references to education, he wrote only one book on the subject, his Propos sur l'éducation. The style, though informal, is forceful, displaying an original mind. His educational philosophy shows the influence of G. F. Hegel rather than of J. J. Rousseau. His educational views followed few of the accepted patterns of his day. The task of the school was twofold: (1) making of citizens; and (2) integration, by which he meant the maintenance of the moral and intellectual man, who in turn makes the nation. To achieve this end, he favored the Napoleonic system of centralized control in education and austere educational surroundings. He advocated the early intense and detailed study of the best literature, and stressed mathematics, history, and geography with particular emphasis on geometry and Latin. He aimed to induce pupils to think long and deeply on worthwhile things and insisted that progress be slow and thorough with excellence as the main goal.

Chartier was mainly a conservative and looked askance at the "new education." He objected to observation lessons, so much insisted upon in the Decroly system. He considered wasteful many of the motivational devices used in the modern school, holding that the child responds best to something challenging, and lightly dismissed the findings of psychology on individual differences. His own ideas on pupils' capacities were formed from his experiences with the select group that attended the French lycée. The concept of equality of opportunity did not interest him. The aim, he insisted, should be to discover and concentrate on excellence. He disregarded parental rights in education, holding that centralized state authority was best fitted to use the school as an instrument for achieving the "glory of France."

In France, between World Wars I and II, his teaching and extensive publications exercised a wide influence. This lay largely in strengthening and conserving the prevailing classical and French tradition of an elite excelling in scholarship and indirectly, therefore, obstructed the liberalizing and democratizing efforts of other educational leaders. He contributed nothing to furthering distinctly Christian ideals in French education.

Bibliography: j. chateau, ed., Les Grands pédagogues (Paris 1956). a. maurois, Alain (Paris 1949). g. pascal, La Pensée d'Alain (Paris 1946). "Hommage à Alain," Mercure de France 313 (1951) 581661, made up of seven articles on various phases of Chartier's life and thought. c. l. hall, "Alain, 18681951," School and Society 76 (1952) 28992.

[m. r. mclaughlin]

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