Homework is lame. Just ask any kid: Would you rather be glued to a desk doing long division or playing video games with your friends?
But even kids, who love to whine to their parents about fairness, wouldn’t go so far as to say homework is unfair. Leave it to an adult to do that. Not just any adult—the president of France, François Hollande.
While discussing his education reform plans at Paris’s Sorbonne University last week, Hollande explained that he wants to ban homework , because it gives kids who get help from their parents a leg up on those who come from families where the parents are either absent or can’t help.
Homework, in other words, is unfair because some have more opportunity than others to benefit from it. All kids in a class, mind you, get the same homework, are expected to hand it in at the same time, and are graded according to the same scale. That may be just, but for liberals, it’s still not fair that some get parental help while others don’t.
Hollande’s silly proposal, however popular it may be with kids and liberal ideologues, perfectly illustrates how the left has been trying to redefine “equality of opportunity” to mean sameness of opportunity.
Whereas equality of opportunity means the absence of legal or artificial impediments to getting ahead in life, sameness of opportunity demands that all should have exactly the same opportunities in life.
Sameness of opportunity demands that the disadvantaged be given more opportunities (usually through government programs) and that the privileged or naturally gifted be denied certain opportunities (e.g., kids should not benefit from their parents’ help).
After all, as Hollande reminds us, opportunities are not bestowed equally upon all. Some are born into families where both parents are home in the evening to help with homework; others grow up with only one parent, and others still have parents who are too busy for homework. (Or, a novel thought: Some parents may allow their kids to do their own homework.)
What was once thought to be a part of life is now seen as an injustice that ought to be remedied through heavy-handed government intervention.
In fact, the more you think about all the ways in which we are different and how many opportunities grow out of the vagaries of life, the idea that all should have the same opportunities sounds ludicrous.
Is it really fair that the smart and hard-working kids who get good grades have better opportunities to get into college than the below-average and lazy kids? Should we devise ways to deny them the use of their natural talents and aptitudes, seeing how unequally distributed they are among the population?
And what about the kids who speak French at home? Is it fair that they have an edge over the children of immigrants? Should the government ban the use of foreign languages in the household? Or maybe just take over the education of these kids to ensure they don’t fall behind?
The call for sameness of opportunity is really a totalitarian mandate to bring everyone down to the same level. Rather than chase these egalitarian pipe dreams, let’s focus instead on how to expand opportunity for all.
And sorry kids, that means keeping homework.
If he manages to push his latest proposals through, French President François Hollande may find himself with a few more young supporters on his side.
Last week, Hollande reaffirmed his pledge to make education one of his main domestic priorities by outlining key strategic changes to revitalize France’s school system. It’s a sweeping package of changes meant to reform a system critics claim is outdated and inefficient, but for headline writers it boils down to one concept: the French President wants to outlaw homework. “Work should be done at school, rather than at home,” Hollande emphasized on Wednesday.
(MORE:French President Hollande Embarks on His Own Mission Impossible)
He also proposes reducing the average amount of time a student spends in class in each day, while stretching the school week from four days to four and a half. It’s a bid to bring the country more in line with international standards and to acknowledge some of the current system’s shortcomings. Even the homework isn’t just an empty populist gesture — it’s meant to reflect the fact that many of the lowest-performing students lack a positive support environment at home.
According to the Associated Press, French students endure some of the longest school days within developed nations:
Despite long summer breaks and the four-day school week, French elementary school students actually spend more hours per year in school than average – 847, compared with 774 among countries in OECD, a club of wealthy nations. But the time is compressed into fewer days each year. The French school day begins around 8:30 [a.m.] and ends at 4:30 p.m., even for the youngest, despite studies showing the ability of young children to learn deteriorates as the day goes on.
However, Hollande’s proposal faces a few challenges of its own: parents would have to learn how to adjust to the new school schedule and how best to care for their child during their suddenly free afternoons. Extracurricular activities would potentially fill a gap, but would increase pressure on already strained educational and state budgets.
(MORE:France Needs $43 Billion to Meet Debt Targets — but Rejects Austérité)
“It’s completely unrealistic,” Valérie Marty, the president of France’s national parents’ organization, told the Associated Press. “They have to figure out who will take care of the children after school, who will finance it.”
Some of Hollande’s other suggestions: shortening students’ summer vacation, increasing the number of teachers by as many as 60,000 and targeting disadvantaged areas to bolster France’s school system. Given the additional pressure the President faces in reforming the domestic budget, it’s a tough act to pull off.
Hollande, who is currently in his first term after succeeding Nicolas Sarkozy in May, had vowed to make education a cornerstone of his presidency.
Ho is a contributor at TIME and the editor of Map Happy. Find her on Twitter at @ericamho and Google+. You can also continue the discussion on TIME’s Facebook page and on Twitter at @TIME.