For more than a century, the lengthy school days of French children have been punctuated by a midweek day off, in recent decades for most children on Wednesdays, originally created for catechism studies.
The long hours and peculiar weekly rhythm have been criticized as counterproductive to learning and blamed for keeping women out of the full-time work force, as well as widening inequalities between rich and poor because of the demands they place on working parents. Yet the Wednesday break has remained a fulcrum of French family life.
With all that in mind, the government of President François Hollande recently issued a decree introducing a half day of school on Wednesdays for children 3 to 11 starting in September, while reducing the school day by 45 minutes the rest of the week. In a country with a broad consensus in favor of shortening a school day that typically runs from 8:30 a.m. to at least 4 p.m., and sometimes longer, Mr. Hollande’s government still did not expect the plan to be controversial. It has not worked out that way.