Soon after the Great War, the Provence village of Salezes gets a new boys' teacher: Mr. Pascal, a war hero with a diploma from a teachers' college. He rejects old methods: boys' sitting still with arms folded memorizing facts. He uses modern methods: he becomes their guide. The boys build a water-powered electric generator, interview their parents about shoe-making and cooking, draw, write poetry, and, after Pascal brings a box of type, put their own magazine together, printed on the backs of old ballots. Their new interest in critical thinking stirs opposition from the mayor and others. The teacher offers a deal: if even one student fails the national exam, he'll resign. All eyes are on Albert, an older youth who has failed three times.