Reading and Watching-Television :
Changes in the Cultural Role of the School in the Age of Mass Education
What are the cultural effects of generalized access to upper secondary education, which became effective in France in the 1980s and 1990s ? Data on reading and television-watching suggest that reading is in decline, a decline concentrated among high school and higher education graduates, and that television occupies a greater place in the lives of generations who attended school in the 1980s and 1990s than in those of the preceding generations. These two developments result from a complex combination of the “net” and structural effects of mass education. Mass education has slowed the decline of reading and mitigated the increase in television-watching : the proportional weight in the population at large of categories most likely to read heavily and least likely to be intensive TV watchers –i.e., high school and higher education graduates– has grown, as reading and television-watching levels among the highest educated have gradually, over the generations, come to resemble those for the less educated. This combined development may be interpreted in two ways that are not necessarily mutually exclusive : 1) both the decline of reading and the increase in television-watching reflect a change in the cultural function of education, a change in turn due to changes in teaching methods and curriculum content reinforced by the sharp rise in influence of the mass media ; but 2) these changes also reflect morphological changes in the world of upper secondary and higher education students : with the generalizing of access to the baccalauréat [French high school-leaving degree], the proportion of “inheritors” has considerably fallen. The changes can therefore be read persuasively both as a sign that schooling in France has lost some of its cultural authority and that cultural gaps within the generations who experienced mass education have narrowed.