Julian Sanchez is less than impressed by yet another paean to the brilliance of the French youth.

Here’s one you’ve probably heard—and groaned at—before: You know how you can tell Parisians are the most worldly, sophisticated people in the world? Even the children there speak French!

It’s a dumb joke, but I think it also goes a ways toward explaining why Dana Goldstein thinks the essay prompts on France’s college entrance exams cover “complex, intellectual topics” that their U.S. counterparts would never be expected to attempt. Like Michael Moynihan, I’m not quite as impressed. First, the prompts are pretty vague and, like the ones I remember seeing on similar tests as a teenager, offer a fair amount of latitude: They’re the kind of  questions that give a middling student the opportunity to produce a competent response, and a stellar student room to show off.

He goes on to dissect the highfalutin test translations that breed this attitude, serving up a rephrased exam that is hilariously unimpressive. Kudos to Sanchez. Of course, anyone who has actually had firsthand experiences with France’s next generation probably didn’t even need that much proof.

The summer after high school, I spent six weeks teaching English at a summer camp in the Loire Valley for French teens, mostly between 12 and 16. At that tender age, the body tends to heal faster; if I had to duplicate it, I’d probably be scarred for life. We spent half the day in the classroom and half the day in normal summer activities. I spent the entire day wondering what the hell was wrong with the French.

It was an all-male crew, and on the whole, they were good-natured, fun-loving characters, and I think back on that summer fondly. Fondly, that is, until I remember the repeated fire alarms going off at 3am, as the youth decided to revolt and have water battles, indoors, in the middle of the night. Or the absence of anything resembling respect for authority, most notable in the violence I suffered on the soccer field. Or the fact that the several dozen teens had the collective maturity of a Miley Cyrus fan snorting crushed NoDoz. That’s as a group, mind you.

Coming back from a run late one night, I heard a rustling in the dining room. I flicked on the lights and found two of the oldest campers curiously huddled in a dark corner. Braced for a confrontation, I stalked back to see what form of methamphetamine the clowns were furtively freebasing. I loomed over the 18 year olds, one of whom needed to shave, and demanded they fess up, in my best wrath of God voice. They mournfully produced two juice boxes and a tube of cookies. The juice boxes, it should be noted, came from a fridge recently packed with beer and wine, the preferred tonic for the counselor angst.

Obviously, I can’t claim the fifty odd fellows at the camp were the best the Gauls could produce. However, the camp’s organizers, native French themselves, assured me the boys came from good middle to upper-class stock, all attended quality schools, and, in fact, didn’t include a fair number of students who didn’t make the grade. They were almost all from Paris and betrayed no symptoms of exposure to lead-based paint, despite their often incomprehensible behavior. And in spite of their wretched classroom behavior, they exhibited an astonishing amount of concern over their final grades (the one fellow I failed was inconsolable).

Are their brilliant French students, more than capable of essaying thoughtfully in response to challenging questions? Of course. And far be it from me to suggest that French students are just as incompetent as their American counterparts (the misanthrope in me will only so far). Still, as Sanchez notes, these test questions “look an awful lot like the essay prompts on comparable American tests: Allowing the brightest students to spread their wings, but also capable of acceptable if rather more workmanlike answers.”