Thursday, May 22, 2008

We're all the same, only ... not so different

It is so weird for me that school life in the two small villages where I work (4200 and 1600 citizens respectively) revolves around a life style that went extinct 40ish years ago in the US, and that is built around everyone being exactly the same and living the same way.

Most of my observations revolve around lunch time rituals. For example: the two hour lunch break at primary schools. I don't want to talk about the cultural history of this, but just the fact that it's bizarre that the school day is based on the fact that one parent available to come pick up the kids, take them home for a gourmet meal, and then bring them back. It's uncommon for kids to stay at school for lunch, most of them go home, usually with Mom, but sometimes Dad or Grandparent.

And why is there a parent available during lunch? Either because they don't work, or because they get that long of a break too. I can't think of a single kid I grew up with who had a parent who didn't work. I mean, I do come from an extremely progressive university town (GO BLUE!) but I really think it's out of the ordinary for a parent to stay at home. I don't think you can afford it! Then again, France is about 20-35 years behind the US (at least) when it comes to women's rights and when women entered the workforce in large numbers. Women in France didn't get the right to vote until after World War II.

And what about the kids who stay at school for lunch? They don't bring bag lunches, and I don't even know if they are allowed to. What are their meal choices? Always meat, one dish and no alternative. What do the kids who keep hallal or kosher do? Oh that's right, those people don't live here. Or so they think.... the Muslim population in this area is large and growing and I feel like (or maybe I just hope) the day when equal meal rights will be demanded is growing closer.

And what about Saturday morning school? This forces all observant Jews out of the public school system (I'd mention Seven Day Adventists but I don't think they exist in France).

This week at one of my schools (with Napoleon Complex Directeur - seriously, I think part of his problem is that he's only about 5 feet tall) they are having a book sale. Remember getting those Scholastic and whoever else book catalogs every month and how it was the best thing ever but your parents never bought you as many books as you wanted? Okay, maybe those last two parts are only true for me. Well here they have a travelling library that sets up in each town once a year (I think only once at least, because this is the only time I've seen it) and parents can come after school between 4:30 and 5 to look at the books and pick some to buy. Again, this is predicated on having a parent who is around before 5 PM to get to the school, look at the books, and write the check. What about the kids whose parents both work? Are they just bookless and illiterate? Actually, my departement, Aisne, has the highest illiteracy rate for under 18s in France at a whopping 9%, and maybe this is why. Maybe we're the only ones who have silly systems like this.

(skip to page 13 of the link above for a run down of under 18 illiteracy by academie, region, and departement. Picardie/Aisne has the highest rates all around, and only two departements beat ours: Seine St Denis and Ome)

Back from the illiteracy tangent....

I guess I just find it kind of shocking to be in an environment that is predicated upon everyone living the same way and being the same, since I come from such a wildly different environment. No wonder immigrants have a hard time integrating into French culture: it just isn't set up for people to be different. At least not in the small towns. I'd be interested to hear other input.


Anonymous said...

Oh my god I remember that catalogue too! I had totally forgotten about it till you mentioned it. I loved it, reading about all the potential books I could read!
I agree with you about the lunch break thing and I find it really weird how it forces one parent to stay home (and to give up a day of the weekend to take them to school again on saturdays). My only conclusion otherwise is that there aren't enough jobs in France and a lot of women have babies because of this..

Au Soleil Levant said...

Oooh, or maybe they're like the chomeurs who make more money on government handouts not working than they would if they got a job?

Rose said...

AH I loved the book fairs!! And the catalogues!! I wanted like every single book in there...usually I got like maybe one and saved the titles of the rest for birthday presents. Seriously, I think about 75% of the birthday presents I gave my friends were books with a bookmark. I probably could have had a discount card at Waldenbooks.

I agree with the observation about French culture. I would also argue that American culture doesn't necessarily allow for lots of wiggle room either. There's a rythym to life in France: either conform or your life will be very difficult. I've also seen similar difficulties for the exchange students at my university in New York. They could not understand how we went out Wednesday - Saturday nights (come on, small state school, D3) when there was "sooo much homework." Many of them ended up disappointed with their experience because they couldn't enjoy American college culture as they wanted due to the workload.

I think the two hour lunch break and the multiple récré business are complete wastes of time, but you can't force every student to stay and buy the lunch. It costs €2.34 in my town! For très pauvre, I might add. For some of my students, they don't necessarily go home but maybe to their grandparents. And I bet that if they can't afford the cantine lunch, what they're being fed at home isn't any better.

Counting down the days!!!

Au Soleil Levant said...

Oh yeah, I was the same way, total book nerd. Books were so readily available back then, now they all seem so expensive! Although I'm sure that's what my parents thought back then and why they didn't buy me all the books I wanted!

That's really interesting about the exchange students at your school. I know people from my school who studied abroad were thrilled that the workload was so low and they could go out all the time!

My biggest problem with the lunch thing is that they can't just bring bag lunches. Wouldn't that solve the whole problem, if you chould just bring whatever you personally wanted to eat in a bag? They must have a free lunch program for kids who can't afford lunch, right?