Paul Valéry on Diplomas and the Baccalaureate

Excerpt from Le bilan de l’intelligence (1935)

I never hesitate to declare that the diploma is the mortal enemy of culture. The more important diplomas have become in life (and this importance has only increased because of economic circumstances), the lower the performance of education has been. The more control was exercised and extended, the worse the results became.

Bad for its effects on the public mind and on the mind itself. Bad because it creates hopes, illusions of acquired rights. Bad by all the tricks and subterfuges it suggests; the recommendations, the strategic preparations, and, in short, the use of all expedients to cross the dreaded threshold. This, it must be confessed, is a strange and detestable initiation of intellectual and civic life.

Moreover, if I rely on experience alone and if I look at the effects of control in general, I find that control, in all matters, results in vitiating the action, in perverting it… I have already told you: as soon as an action is subjected to control, the deep purpose of the one who acts is no longer the action itself, but designing the forecast of the control, the defeat of the means of control. The control of studies is just a special instance and a striking demonstration of this very general observation. (more…)

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