A Revolution in Their Minds: The Jesuit Expulsion and Its Impact on Education Before the French Revolution
The French Revolution is widely considered the birth of Western modernity, with their core values of “liberty, equality, and fraternity,” at the heart of current debates. Often neglected by policy-makers, history allows us to directly engage with human nature and forecast how actions taken today may impact the future. “Those who fail to learn from history are condemned to repeat it” has become a platitude oft repeated, rarely acted on. It is vital that historians are part of the solution, perhaps in no area more than education.
In 1762, the Jesuit order was expelled from France. At the time, they owned and taught in 110 secondary schools, roughly 30% of France’s total. These schools were ordered to be surrendered to the government, who took over operation. I term this arrangement, in place from 1762 through the outbreak of Revolution in 1789, the “interim” school system.
This interim system is significant because the core leadership of the French Revolution was the first to be educated within it. During the Revolution’s most radical phase, 46% of political leaders were under the age of 40 and therefore started, or were in the middle of, secondary school when those schools changed hands.
Historians have typically treated the interim school system as an afterthought, and in glossing over it tend to emphasize its continuity with the Jesuit system rather than critically analyzing its differences. My research focuses solely on those differences—specifically in their curriculum and their teachers—and their practical impact on the young Revolutionaries. I argue that before the socio-political Revolution, there was first an educational “Revolution in their minds.”