2 DECEMBER 1911, Page 23


THE excellent French weekly journal L'Opinion has just published the answers given by some French recruits to questions in general knowledge. It is the custom of French officers to put such questions to young men who have just joined their regiments in order to decide which men are fit to recruit the cadres and which must be kept back to attend special classes and lectures, of which the officers themselves have the management. It is said to be the experience of all countries that few of the facts acquired in the course of an elementary education remain long in the heads of the majority of pupils when they have been set free from school. One can easily understand that if education has inculcated no habit of thinking and reasoning the most interesting historical facts may pass out of the memory—having no tangible application to life and contemporary events—as readily as the names of the Jewish kings or troy weight pass out of the memory of better-educated men. Even so, it is astonishing that historical allusions which occur in the least serious of newspapers should not keep alive certain memories. What a clean sweep may be made of knowledge, presumably acquired to a certain degree at school, is proved by the results of the young soldiers' examination published in L'Opinion. The journal says that these results, transmitted to it by an officer, are not exceptional. The recruits were of normal quality. The answers, at all events, are among the most curious things we have ever read. They are a revelation. The late M. Berteaux used to be chaffed when he was Minister for War for encouraging young officers personally to con- duct their recruits round Paris and explain to them the historical monuments. Perhaps he had seen such an examination paper as we shall now describe.

The first question asked was, " Who was Joan of Arc ? " This was pretty easy for Frenchmen, as France is crammed with statues and pictures of La Pucelle. The number of men examined was fifty. Of these thirty-seven knew roughly who Joan of Arc was, answering with a single phrase more or less accurate. Eight were completely ignorant. Of the others one said : " Joan of Arc betrayed France to the English " (this man had been five years at school) ; another said, " A girl " ; another, " A Frenchwoman " ; another, " She was burnt "; another, " She freed France from the Gauls " (six years at school). The next question was, " Who was Henri IV. ? " Thirty- six knew something about him, but fourteen were com- pletely ignorant. The next question was, " Who was Napoleon I. P " Thirty-six knew something about him. Eleven were absolutely ignorant (three of them five years at school, one Nix years, and one seven years). Other answers were, " An emperor who reigned at Orleans," "I do not know his nationality," and " A Russian emperor." The next question was, " Who was Victor Hugo ?" Thirty knew something about him. Other answers were, " A writer who lived two hundred years ago, but I do not know to what country he belonged," " A great savant," " An e mperor," " A republican who saved Paris " (five years at school), " A French general " (six years at school). The next question was, " What is Alsace-Lorraine P " Thirty-eight knew something about the lost provinces, but twelve were completely ignorant. In vain are the wreaths placed on the statues in the Place de la Concorde ! In vain does Y. Deroulede make speeches in front of them ! The next question was, " What was the war of 1870 ? " Thirty-nine knew something about it; nine were entirely ignorant ; two answered that it was a war between France and England.

The next question was, " Who was Bismarck ? " Twenty-five knew something about him. Seventeen were completely ignorant. The other answers were : " He is a writer " (five yeiirs at school), " A Frenchman" (nine years at school), " A Prussian emperor," " A general who betrayed France," and " A king." The next question was, " What is Morocco ? " Thirty-eight knew some- thing about it. Ten knew nothing. Of the remaining two one answered, " A foreign Power in Italy," and the other, "In Morocco there have been some strikes." The next question was, " What is the name of the President of the Republic ?" Forty answered correctly. Eight did not know. Of the remain- ing two one said, " M. Loubet " (seven years at school) and the other, " M. Casimir Perier " (six years at school) The next question was, " What is England ? " Thirty-eight answered more or less correctly. Nine were completely ignorant. Of the remaining three one answered (shades of Edward III. and Henry V. !), " It is a French country" ; another, " A hostile Power "; another, " A town." The next question was, " What is an aeroplane ? " One can imagine the joy and unanimity with which the distracted recruits swooped on to that question. But, alas ! there was not really unanimity even then. Two did not know what an aeroplane is. " These men," says the report, " are not illiterate." The next question was, " What is the' Country' (la ' Patrie ') and what is your Country (votre Patrie)? " Forty-three answered correctly. Six were quite ignorant. One answered, "It is a Christian life." The last recruit answered better than he knew. Altogether the percentage of correct answers shows that there had been careful, pos- sibly mechanical, instruction in this subject. The next question was, " What is Paris ? " Forty-six answered quite satisfactorily, but four could not answer at all. The next question was, " What is the Flag ? " Forty-three answered correctly. Six were entirely ignorant (of whom one had been seven years at school and another six years). The remaining man answered, " A glory of France "—also a better answer than the man knew. The last question was, " What was the Great Revolution of 1789 ? " Twenty- five knew something about it, but twenty-five knew abso- lutely nothing ! One is reminded of the story of Talleyrand bringing to Napoleon a woodcutter who lived in the suburbs of Paris during the Terror, but had never heard of the Revolution, had never heard that the King's head was cut off, and had never heard of Napoleon. That was a duly sobering experience for Napoleon, but we daresay the answers published in L'Opinion will be an equally sobering experience for some of those who conduct French primary education.

But would Englishmen—let us say young English soldiers, to take an exact parallel—come out much better from such an ordeal ? We believe they would, yet we feel uncomfortable enough to desire to have any. doubts resolved. Would some one be so good as to set a general paper to raw British recruits at a depot and let us know the result ? Let us suggest a series of questions as nearly as possible of equal value with the French questions :— (1) Who was Alfred the Great?

(2) Who was Nelson?

(3) Who was Wellington? (4)) Who was Shakespeare ? (5 What is "The "United States"?

(6) What was the Indian Mutiny?

(7) Who was Napoleon ?

(8) What is South Africa ?

(9) Who is the Prime Minister ?

(10) What is France ?

(11) What is an Aeroplane ? (12) What is your "Country"?

(13) What is London ?

(14) What is "The Flag"?

(15) What is " The Empire"?