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Carnot Bill

Carnot Bill (Projet de Loi Carnot) As minister of public instruction and religion in the French provisional govern ment between February and July 1848, Hyppolite Carnot initiated a program of far-reaching reforms in primary education. Although the assembly failed to ratify the law after his fall from power, its main tenets reflected republican adherence to the principles of liberty, equality and fraternity. Considering public education as "the reciprocal obligation of a society to the citizen and the citizen to the society", Carnot called for free compulsory primary education for both sexes arguing that "we want the state to act as a father towards his children and that it offer education and assistance". In addition, he advocated liberty of schooling in order to stimulate healthy competition between public and private education. Not surprisingly, Carnot's plans inspired the educational policy makers of the Third Republic in the same way he drew inspiration from the First Republic.

Son of the revolutionary Lazare Carnot, himself minister of public instruction during the 100 Days, Hyppolite's association with the Saint Simonian school in the 1830s strongly influenced his social policies and made him aware of feminist demands. Although he broke with Enfantin in 1831 because of opposition to his attacks on family and property, Carnot remained a political radical. He served as a Parisian deputy of the opposition between 1839 and 1848 and was, as such, a natural choice for minister in 1848.

Once appointed Carnot called on two ex-Saint Simonian friends, Jean Reynaud and Edouard Charton, to help him in his task. He created the high commission for scientific and literary studies composed mainly of members from the Institute of France, the University and the Société d'enseignement élémentaire to prepare a new law on primary education. As the commission set to work, Carnot began his efforts to develop the masses' political education with the rallying cry that: "A revolution does not just renew institutions, it also must renew men". In this perspective he sent a circular on March 6 calling for schoolteachers to spread republican ideas and encouraging them to run for the April elections. He argued that rural-born teachers should "express before the legislature the needs, wishes and hopes of that essential part of the nation which has been neglected for so long". As in 1789, Carnot believed education --perceived broadly-- could fashion a new society. Beginning with the young, he created a normal nursery school under the guidance of Marie Pape-Carpantier to train teachers for the renamed écoles maternelles (previously termed salles d'asile). He organized public readings for adults, and gave a colleague the responsibility of organizing local libraries. More generally, he sponsored various competitions: one to produce republican textbooks and another for national songs to be sung at public fetes. His pet project, however, was the creation of an École Nationale d'Administration where the study of political thought would become the "hearth from which republican light would spread over all of France". Opened on July 8, 1848, the professors taught 150 students under the aegis of the College of France until it was suppressed in August 1849.

Carnot deliberately neglected secondary education saying that its reform could not be done in haste. The same was true for girls higher education "because it involved opening a new world, because it is not task of the minister of public instruction to create it, but that of the government as a whole". Nonetheless, perhaps under the influence of Josephine Bachellery, he did consider creating a superior normal school for women and decided that the School of the Legion of Honor at Saint-Denis was the most apt to serve this function. More concretely, he appointed Legouve to offer a course for women at the College of France. On June 30, 1848 the commission finally presented the proposed law. Foremost, it established free compulsory primary education for both sexes while recognizing freedom in teaching. The law-makers added the study of agriculture and industry to that of the traditional subjects in higher primary education: reading, writing, the French language, elements of arithmetic, the natural sciences, the history and geography of France, song and linear drawing. Most significantly the republicans eliminated the study of religion from the curriculum. The second section changed recruitment procedures for teachers. The minister (as opposed to a regional committee) had the authority to appoint teachers who were divided into different ranks. The project guaranteed a minimum salary of 600 francs for male teachers and one of 500 francs for female teachers. Every village of 300 inhabitants or more had to have a public school and when the school was co-educational, a mistress for the girls had to be appointed. The state required all male schoolteachers --both public and private-- to have passed the certificate of aptitude; whereas all women needed the teaching certificate (brevet de capacité) to teach as of a ruling of June 5. Finally, compulsory education meant that those who failed to send their children to school were subjected to fines and even the suppression of electoral rights if they persisted in not complying.The tenor of this text clearly harked back in its inspiration to the revolutionary period when the principle of free compulsory education for both sexes was first proclaimed in Lepelletier de Saint-Fargeau's educational reform. As regard to the existent provisions of the Guizot law (1833), the inclusion of girls and the elimination of all school fees marked a significant advance in the quest for universal schooling. In addition the project significantly improved the position of schoolteachers who became civil servants with an adequate salary and a retirement pension. By extending the professional requirements to become a teacher to lay and religious teachers alike the law effectively struck a blow at the privileges of female religious teaching orders who largely dominated girls education. Throughout most of the first half of the century the law exempted congregationists from obtaining the brevet. At the same time the Commission increased the number of officially appointed inspectors to counteract the influence of local authorities who previously controlled schoolteachers' careers. Although radical in its implications for primary education, the project left out discussion of normal schools, the "écoles primaire supérieures", nursery and adult schools. Republican rhetoric to the contrary, Carnot's initiative to reform primary education was neither an isolated nor an inopportune action even if consensus on the way to achieve this reform remained non-existent. In the 1840s criticism of the Guizot law was rampant amongst both liberals and conservatives, particularly concerning clerical and girls education. The progressive Society for Elementary Instruction was amongst the most vocal calling for free compulsory education for boys and girls. Both sides of the political spectrum increasingly recognized the need to improve the situation of schoolteachers. The previous minister of public instruction, Salvandy, had indeed proposed a reforms to this effect, but the revolution cut his initiative short. Carnot's circular calling schoolteachers to defend the republic served, however, to politicize even further the debate over education while consolidating the conservative alliance against him. Even journals favorable to educational reform, such as the Revue de l'Instruction Publique and the republican Siècle, criticized his action. At the local level, priests and local councils who were hostile to the principle of lay education subjected schoolteachers to varying degrees of harassment. The June Days intensified this opposition, so that the law project's submission to the assembly on June 30 occurred in a particularly unfavorable political climate. Conservatives were undividedly opposed both to the elimination of religious education and the exemption of school fees for rich and poor alike and their hostility influenced moderate Republicans. Radicals, on the other hand, attacked the principle of freedom in teaching which allowed private schools to continue to thrive. At this critical juncture, Jean Reynaud resigned as President of the Commission and Carnot only narrowly kept his position in Cavaignac's new government. On July 5, 1848 discussion concerning Carnot's proposal to allocate extra funds for schoolteachers degenerated into a polemic about Charles Renouvier's education manual. Carnot had authorized the manual which the conservative alliance claimed was communist in its inspiration. Given such widespread opposition, the government forced Carnot to resign, appointing the historian, Vaulabelle, in his place. The new minister sent the reform project back to another commission headed by the moderate republican, Barthelmy Saint Hilaire. This meant the end of republican idealism since the new commission set about retracting the more radical aspects of the proposed law. In particular, it reinstated the study of religion as well as school fees for all but the destitute. Still the principle of compulsory boys and girls education remained. But even this more restricted project encountered Catholic opposition, partly because ut maintained the same professional requirements for lay and religious teachers. Louis Napoleon's election in December 1848 spelled the reform's death knell when he appointed the conservative Catholic, the Comte de Falloux, as Minister of Public Instruction. Catholic journals rejoiced, claiming: "Mister de Montalembert actually controls the Ministry of Public Instruction under the cover of Mister de Falloux's name". Louis Napoleon promptly withdrew the Carnot project on January 4, 1849, and established an extra-parliamentary commission to write a new law. The resulting Falloux law marked a severe setback to the principles Carnot defended, and particularly girls' education, since it exempted religious teaching orders from the need for professional certification.
Rebecca Rogers


Ferdinand Buisson, Nouveau dictionnaire de pédagogie et d'instruction primaire. Paris: Hachette, 1911.

Hypoolite Carnot, Le Ministre de L'Instruction Publique et des Cultes depuis le 24 février 1848 jusqu'au 5 juillet 1848. Paris: Pagnerre, 1848.

Georges Cogniot, La question scolaire en 1848 et la loi Falloux Paris: Editions Hier et Aujourd'hui, 1948.

Murice Gontard, Les écoles primaires de la France bourgeoise (1833-1875). Toulouse: C.R.D.P., 1957.

Octave Gérard, La legislation de l'instruction primaire en France depuis 1789 jusqu'au nos jours Paris: 1900.

Françoise Mayeur, Histoire générale de l'enseignement et de l'éducation en France. III: De la Révolution à l'école républicaine (1789-1930)Paris: Nouvelle Librairie de France, 1981.

Françoise Mayeur, L'éducation des filles en France au XIXe siècle. Paris: Hachette, 1979.

Joseph Moody, French Education since Napoleon. Syracuse: Syracuse University Press, 1978.

Antoine Prost, Histoire de l'enseignement en France (1800-1967) Paris: Colin, 1968.

"Coup d'oeil sur la situation actuelle,"Revue de l'Instruction Publique, March 15, 1848.

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