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CHAPTER XIII.

THE POLYTECHNIC SCHOOL.

The Polytechnic School has been so often and so thoroughly described that it is hardly necessary to go here into its details. It is, as has been already stated, the preparatory school for the scientific branches of the public service. It is under the control of the Ministry of War, and its organization is military. At its head is a general officer of the Army. With him are associated a colonel, as second in command, and a number of commissioned and non-commissioned officers of the Army in charge of the details of discipline. The functions of all these officers are purely administrative. They have nothing to do with instruction, but belong to the military organization of the school. This military organization is not, however, an essential feature of the establishment. It exists chietly for the simplicity and ease which it gives to the machinery of school government, and for the benefits derived from military discipline in the training of youths for administrative service. The students wear a uniform, and have a battalion organization and occasional drills; but the military part of their training is entirely subordinate to the scientific.

The academic staff is composed of a director of studies, fifteen professors, twenty tutors (répétiteurs), and three drawing masters. The method of instruction is quite different from any that exists in America ; and, it might almost be added, in the rest of the world, outside of France. The class meets the professor in the amphitheater, where, after a short interrogation of a few of the students on the subject of the previous lesson, a lecture is delivered, the students taking notes. The class is then broken up into small sections and sent to recitation rooms, where a second hour is passed with the tutor or répétiteur in going over the lecture, of which a lithographed summary (feuille autographiée) is delivered to the class. This officer's duty, as his name implies, is to repeat the instruction given by the professor. During the hour of study, notes on the lectures are carefully written out and explanations are given by the répétiteur, as may be necessary. This system gives a close personal character to the instruction, which would be entirely wanting in an ordinary lecture system.

It is a well-known fact that the system of instruction by lectures to large classes, when not supplemented by searching tests, is only suitable for voluntary students. At a university such a system is possible, because the choice of studies and the degree of application rest largely with the student himself, and the object is not so much to compel all to reach a certain standard, as to afford to each one the means of reaching the standard fixed by his own capacity and endeavor. At a school like the Polytechnic, however, whose diploma carries with it an appointment in the public service, and which graduates a number just large enough to fill vacancies, all the students must be brought up to the standard of attainment that the future career exacts. Nothing cau be left to individual choice or individual volition. A pupil who is dull or indolent cannot be passed over, nor should le, except in extreme cases, be discharged; he must be made to understand and made to study. The duty of whipping in the laggards cannot well be undertaken by the professor, engaged as he is in carrying a large class through his subject; and it is with this work that the répétiteur is really concerned, the work of supplementing and making personal the instruction given to the class, by the closest attention to individual wants and the most careful tests of individual attainment. Various methods are adopted to test the diligence and acquirements of the students. First, there is the recitation preceding the lecture, to which the professor is required to devote from fifteen to thirty minutes of his total time of an hour and a half. Another hour and a half is given to the study and practice with the répétiteur, following the lecture. At intervals, brief written exaininations (erercices d'application are held, the class being divided into sections in charge of the professor and répétiteurs. Each examination consists of two sessions; the first of two and a half hour's, the second of one and a half hours. At the first, the problems or exercises are worked out; at the second, they are made the subject of explanation and recitation. In physics and chemistry these exercises consist of laboratory work. After every five or six lectures, short oral examinations (interrogations particulières) of five or six students at a time are held by the ré. pétiteurs. These come irregularly, and the student who is to be called upon has only a brief notice; so that he must be ready for them at all times. Of course these examinations take up a considerable time, and the instructor must make short work of it; twenty minutes only are allowed to each student. At the end of each course a fuller oral examination interrogation générale) is held on the subject of the course. In this, balf an hour is allowed to each man. Lastly, there are the exam. inations at the end of the year.

It must be understood that the pupils of the Polytechnic School are carefully selected at the start, and that the examination for admission insures a high standard of preliminary attainment. It is an open competitive examination, conducted by boards at various cities designated as centers of examination. The candidates must be between sixteen and twenty years of age. The competition is exceedingly close, the number of candidates being usually about four times as great as the number of appointments. The programme of examination includes arithmetic, geometry, algebra, trigonometry, analytic geometry of two and three dimensions, descriptive geometry, physics, chemistry, French, Ger. man, and drawing. Even with this high standard and close competition

for almission, it is found that the severity of the course at the school
tells bardly upon the weaker men; and it is a matter of observation that
sotne at least of the graduates, on being subsequently admitted to the
special schools of application, show signs of mental exhaustion.

The following table gives an outline of the course of study at the
Polytechnic School:

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FIRST YEAR.

Calculus (analyse): 40 lessons, 4 written examinations (compositions), 4 reviews of
examina tions (conférences).
Mechanics: 40 lessons, 4 written examinations, 4 reviews.
Geometry : 32 lessons.
Stereotomy: 26 lessons.
Physics : 30 lessons.
Chemistry : 32 lessons.
Mechanical «Irawing: 20 lessous.
Frerband drawing: 43 lessons.
Literature: 24 lessons, 4 written examinations.
History: 25 lessons.
German: 25 lessons, 2 written examinations.

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To these must be added: (1) the hours of study with the répétiteur, following each lecture; (2) the particular oral examinations (interrogations particulières), at irregular intervals, of which there would be, for example, about eight in each year's course in calculus; (3) the general oral examinations at the end of each course; and (1) the annual examitatious. The last are conducted by an outside board.

It will be noticed that the programme divides the lessons about equally between three groups of studies—mathematics, scientific sub. jects, and miscellaneous subjects, including history, literature, German, anul freehand drawing. The best part of each working day is, liowever, given to the first two groups, and the school is pre-eminently a school of mathematics and science.

The following table shows the branches of the government service for which the Polytechnic School gives the preparation, and the number of annual appointments in each; though the latter must be taken as ap

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proximate, the numbers varying slightly from year to year according to the needs of the service.

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In the graduating class, the student who stands at the head in the final classification has his choice of career among all the vacant appointments. The second man on the list has the choice of what is left by the first, and so on to the foot of the class. The choice of the highest men is almost invariably fixed on the departments of mines, and of roads and bridges, as they offer the highest inducements in the way of pay and emoluments. After these come naval construction, the engineer corps of the Army, and the tobacco department. The artillery and staff corps follow next, and are nearly on an equality, while the remaining branches come at intervals up and down the list, according to the inclination of individuals, and following no general rule.

A word should be said in' regard to the causes of the success of the school, a success so remarkable that its influence on the public service of France has become a matter of history, and it has taken a place among the very first of schools of its class in the world. Founded in 1799 by the foremost scientific men of the day, such as La Place, La Grange, Monge, and Fourcroy, it has for eighty years supplied the government with its ablest civil and military engineers. Its system is that which was devised by Vonge at its foundation, and which, with very slight modifications, has been retained ever since. The system is essentially one of lectures delivered by the ablest professors that can be obtaineid, supplemented by compulsory private tuition and private examination hy energetic tutors. Whether the system is one susceptible of general application is a question, but its results at the Polytechnic School are undoubted. It has been very generally imitated in other French schools for higher education, and the lycées and communal colleges, which give the greater part of secondary instruction in France, have also their professorial lectures and interrogations by répétiteurs. It is a fact to be poticed that a very similar system has been introduced at the Royal Saral College at Greenwich, though there has hardly been time, as yet, to test its working.

One iminense advantage possessed by the Polytechnic over other schools lies in the rewards which it offers to successful competitors. The stimulus given by competition is shown in the results of every year's work, and is acknowledged by those who know the school best to be one of the most powerful incentives to effort, if not the most powerful. It is not so much that one career holds out orerwhelming inducements, as that a great variety of careers is presented, and students are willing to do their utmost to obtain the privilege of following their individual inclinations. In this, perhaps, lies the secret of the school's success, more than in the skill of the instructors or the method of instruction.

It is not [said a recent director of studies] our interrogations, our examinations, and other contrivances, which make the pupils work; it is not even the system of competition by itself; it is not mere personal ambition, nor the desire of taking the first place on the list. All these conditions exist at the schools of application, as for instance, at Metz,* anil yet the results in regard to industry are widely different. It is the inequality in the value of the prizes offered to them, the choice of careers open to them, that is the great incentive to work at the Polytechnic; and no institution, though it may imitate the Polytechnic system, can secure similar results unless it holds out similar inducements to pupils.

Though competition produces good results at the school itself, it is of more doubtful benefit to some of the branches of service whose officers the school supplies. This is especially true of the artillery, which is generally the last choice of the graduates, and which is, therefore, recruited from the lower part of the list. Complaints have been made by military officers that the scientific corps of the Army get only the fag. ends of classes (queues de promotion), whose position indicates either a ant of ability or of effort, or both. Of course, among these students there is little or no competition. The only remedy for this defect would be to graduate a larger number than the vacancies require, but this does not seem to be a part of the policy of the school.

The principal advantages derived by the Navy from the Polytechnic School consist in the high preparatory training given to the officers of the three corps of constructors, hydrographers, and marine artillery. All of these are closely connected with the Navy proper, the hydrographers being occupied with the coast survey and the preparation of charts, the artillery with the manufacture of naval ordnance and with sea coast fortification, and the constructors with the design and construction of ships and engines. The value of the training for these officers cannot be overestimated, especially in the case of the constructors, as the graduates that select this corps are usually among the higher men of their class. With regard to the other corps, the line officers and com* The School of Application for the artillery and engineers, now at Fontainebleau.

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