I’m pretty sure the US educational system is superior to the French one. This is sort of a counterintuitive idea, in part because the narrative the US school reform movement tells itself is based on the idea of OMG US education is THE WORSE EVAR that won’t let us win the future by beating the Chinamen at math.
And there are those international comparisons that look pretty bad (even though they’re generally not normalized by income, family situation and the like).
But here’s another way to look at it. Let’s play a little veil of ignorance game: what can you reasonably expect, as a child, in either country?
Painted with a very broad brush:
Born in the underclass, in the US: You’re pretty much fucked. Your school is a stereotypical rundown den of pathological behavior where unionized, talentless, unmotivated teachers are just punching the clock.
Born in the underclass, in France: You’re pretty much fucked. Your school is a stereotypical rundown den of pathological behavior where unionized, talentless, unmotivated teachers are just punching the clock.
Born in the middle class, in France: Your local public school is mediocre. You will come out with terrible spelling and grammar. You probably won’t be numerate.
If you have any affinities beyond the most narrowly academic, unless you’re very lucky or very determined, you’re fucked. You will be categorized as dumb and put in tracks that will end up with you on the unemployment line.
Want something better, or just different? Tough luck. Maybe there’s a local Catholic school, but it’s a big expense, and anyway private schools must obey government curriculums, which means they won’t really be any different.
Born in the middle class, in the US: Your local public school is mediocre. You will come out with terrible spelling and grammar. You probably won’t be numerate.
But hey, at least you can pick and choose among some of your classes, there’s a school play, there’s probably a sports team, there’s a glee club, and A/V club or whatever. High school is a mean, and cruel scene, but there’s probably a little bit of something for everyone.
If you want something different, however, you’re in luck! It’s not going to be easy, but there’s plenty of options. Private school is expensive (even though there are scholarships—not for everyone, but better than the zero of France). And by now, even the smallest cities in the US have either a magnet school or a charter school, or some weird school that focuses on teaching classics or arts or is a Montessori school. If your parents want to homeschool, there are probably other students and parents near you who are doing it who will help you, and there’s a wealth of resources on the internet.
The point is that things could and should be a heck of a lot better, but there are many more opportunities to do something different.
Born in the upper class, in France: If you enjoy schoolwork, you will come out of high school knowing a lot of math, more than sophomore math majors at all but the top-tier US universities. You will also probably know some history (nothing before 1789), and have read two or three classics of French literature (nothing before 1830). You will vaguely know who Plato, Descartes and Kant are. If your parents are old-fashioned, you will know a few words of Latin. Your odds of having proper spelling and grammar are about 50-50.
If you enjoy extracurricular activities of any sort—programming, or chess, or art, or music, or sports at any sort of advanced or competitive level—sorry, you’re on your own! And anyway you probably shouldn’t have extracurricular activities, because if you want a good shot at life, after high school comes 2-3 years of cram school for the entrance exams to the grandes écoles, where you’re expected to study for 70-80 hours a week.
Born in the upper class, in the US: You have access to schools that are orders of magnitude better than anything else the world has to offer.
Again, painted with a very broad brush, but the core idea, it seems to me, from both anecdotal and statistical evidence, is accurate, that for a given family in a given situation, if you’re in the US, it’s hard to be worse off than in France, and often there are many more possibilities to be better off.