The inscription is visible from the street: “Decree of the Convention, 9 Brumaire, Year III”: if Ecole normale supérieure did not move to the rue d’Ulm until 1808, it was founded during the Revolution, on October 30, 1794, under the name Ecole normale or Ecole normale de l’an III. Its goal was to provide a superior education to the best teachers in the Republic. For some, after 4 years of revolution, the people had only too clearly showed their inability to behave rationally: the new regime could only establish itself through a government that included the best and brightest, who would make the right decisions based on their knowledge. Therefore, it was necessary to educate an elite capable of governing the country.
In his speech from October 30, 1794, the deputy Joseph Lakanal stated that “for the first time on Earth, (…) men of genius are going to be the first schoolteachers of a population”: once educated, the first “normaliens” were called on to educate in their own turn teachers from all the French departments. On January 21, 1795, Lakanal inaugurated Ecole normale’s first session in front of 1,500 students. Most of them came from a well-to-do milieu. Among the professors were some of the most famous scholars from that time, who also happened to be teachers and researchers, like the historian Volney, the chemist Berthollet and the mathematician Monge... The education was supposed to be modern: students could debate after conferences or participate in work groups. Judged as too elitist, the School was closed only a few months after it opened, before reopening under the Empire.