French professors are hard core about grades. That is what I learned today. Even in the community college atmosphere of Paris 8, the professors are hard graders and really rude about how they deliver the grades to the students.
Here's the story: We get to class and he says he finished grading the papers on the train to Bretagne. Then, he starts telling the entire class that we're all stupid, that our essays were middle school level, that there were tons of French mistakes, and that methodology-wise, it was just all wrong. He spent an hour and a half going over the documents that we had to choose from and telling us all the details we could have noticed but didn't. He even gave us an example of a dissertation he wrote based on one of the documents. The grades, he said, ranged from 0 to 14 (out of 20) and that he was going to treat us like real historians so that we'd learn the most. Then, he noticed that he had just spent an hour and a half yelling at us (and putting up with all the whiny students...I swear, it may just be a French thing, but these students can get annoying!), so he decided to give us a break. But, he didn't hand back our papers.
During the break, I was talking to some of the other students about how I was scared about the "French mistakes" comment because it's not my first language and the professor overheard and said that he was very impressed with my French in the paper. Then, the other students started complaining about how it's often the case that foreigners make fewer French mistakes than they do. I told them that the French department at Hopkins is pretty intense and that last year my teacher was an ENS student and we had to write two ten page papers. They were all very impressed.
Anyway, after the break, the professor decided it was finally time to hand back our dissertations. Guess how they do that in France: he read each grade out loud, then read the name of the student, then gave it to each student. He decided to hand them back in grade order from the lowest grades to the highest ones. The first two people (both got 0's) weren't even there. Lucky them. Anyway, I was just hoping I had a 9/20 at this point. You see, CUPA considers a 9 a C-, 10 a C, and you can keep going from there. 17 (the grade I got on my writing workshop story) is an A+, so I suppose they just assume we're not capable of getting 18's (I know already that no one is capable of getting a 19 or a 20). Anyway, he gets to 9 and still hasn't read my name. Then, he says: "Anyone who got a 10 or higher should be very pleased" and I was suddenly relieved. He kept listing grade after grade, then eventually got to mine at the very end! Yup, I got the highest grade in the class - a 14! He made a big point of telling all the French students that the one American in the class did so well and that I study math (he's apparently forgotten that I study writing too). He even read my first sentence out loud: "The reign of the 'sun king' shines with the fire of war."
This is what he wrote on the paper (translated): "It's really very good! Despite a vocabulary that is, at times, a little poorly mastered, you understood the material and everything that you wrote was always interesting. I admire your mastery of the language even if you wrote a few words poorly."
In the end, I suppose Paris 8 is no Hopkins. I didn't study too much and I feel like I still am not a historian, so I probably didn't deserve that grade. My 14 is, according to CUPA, the equivalent of a B+, which is the same grade I got in the one and only Hopkins history class I will ever take, but that class was a ton of work. We read source documents too, but we read the entire source documents (basically 6 or 7 full length books) and had 3 long essays, 2 quizzes, and a test. Plus, the middle ages was a longer time period than the reign of Louis XIV. Maybe, this is what CUPA meant by the professor expects more of us - maybe M. Cornette expects us to be reading tons of other source documents in our free time. But, since he specifies very clearly everything we have to read in the textbooks he wrote and never tells us that we might consider reading something else outside of class, I'd doubt it. But aside from all that, there's just one more problem about this French system: why don't they curve? At Hopkins, if the highest score were a 70%, that would probably be curved to an A. I'd be okay with a curve in this class!