Sunday, October 26, 2008

Election wrap up

For the most part my elections lessons were a total success. I had two lessons, because I'm lazy: one for the older kids (CM) and one for the younger guys (CE1). For the little guys we did what I had always been planning on. We talked about the very, very basics of the election (like just the fact that there is an election taking place and who is running), and then I taught them about some American symbols (Statue of Liberty, Liberty Bell, the flag, the bald eagle, and Uncle Sam) and then we did a coloriage magique (since we've learned colors and numbers through 12 so far this year).

In the older classes I ended up talking about who was running, the Republican and Democratic parties and what their beliefs are, and then I quickly explained the electoral college and we colored in the map and counted votes. Surprise surprise, the monster class of CM1/CM2 was enthralled! They actually seemed interested and shut their mouths for a few minutes. It was our best class so far this year (probably because there was very little English involved). I mean really, this was probably the most boring class ever because I just stood up there and talked at them for most of it, and yet somehow it worked. The most interesting part was when I asked them why someone wouldn't want to vote Democratic and a little girl said "because Obama is black and so they might think he isn't an American." This girl is of Moroccan descent, and non-whites have a hard time integrating into French culture, regardless of if they were born in France or not, so I wonder if she feels that way about herself or if she heard it from her parents. I briefly addressed the issue, but I think we'll save the long discussion on mulitculturalism for Martin Luther King Day.

I also did this lesson with my CE2/CM1 class but that wasn't a good idea, it was too much for them. Should have created a third lesson.

I did this with my superstar class of always interested and curious CM2 at V School and it was really good, the kids had lots of background knowledge on the issues at stake so we had a good discussion. With them the interesting/disturbing part was about World War II, actually. Talking about the economic crisis had brought up the Great Depression, and a boy asked why WWII had been fought against the Germans. I asked the class if anyone knew, and another kid said because the Germans wanted to retake land (I assume she meant Alsace-Lorraine). So I told them that it was actually a lot more than that, that Hitler wanted to be the leader of the whole world, and of course there were the internment camps as well. Blank looks. Haven't you kids heard of the death camps that he set up? No, more blank looks. These kids had never heard of the Holocaust. I was stunned and actually quite upset, and I ended up giving them a very, very short (and probably traumatizing) lesson on the Holocaust. I'm still really upset that they didn't know about it. I know that a good portion of that comes from the fact that I'm Jewish, but really, by CM2 (fifth grade in the States), shouldn't these kids have been taught something about the Holocaust? I can only hope that it's coming this year. I asked D and a teacher at another school what the CM2 should know about the Holocause. D said that kids today are horrible (I hear that from a lot of French, btw) and that they either learned and didn't retain it or they just haven't been taught yet. The other teacher faulted the education system, that there is so much to learn and not enough time. Either way, it's shameful. They don't have to know the details about zyklon b but they should at least know that this horrible mass killing, this genocide of 12 million people in an extremely organized, systematic manner took place at one point in history and that we must always be vigilant that it never happens again. I think I'm going to hunt down The Diary of Anne Frank and Number the Stars or maybe The Devil's Arithmetic in French and make these kids read them.

Am I overreacting? I just feel like in this region, which is chock-full of francais de souche who have little contact with anyone different (V School is all white, except for maybe one kid, and in a pretty wealthy village that contains six chateaux) the teachers should be especially vigilant about teaching tolerance and awareness of how wrong prejudice is. I feel another MLK Day lesson idea coming....

10 comments:

Eileen said...

I do think it's odd, or at least different from the U.S.... I think I got most of my Holocaust education in late elementary school/junior high--4th to 7th grade I guess. But I seem to remember learning about it a lot through fiction or popular nonfiction (e.g. Anne Frank) rather than in history. I think that's most of how we learned about U.S. racism too. But then I was a kid who liked to read and I did go to a private school.

But then, the U.S. is the country with the biggest Jewish population outside of Israel so maybe it is obviously more important to us. At the same time I don't think that makes much since because the Holocaust actually happened in Europe....

On the other hand I think it might be early for them to have a good grasp of what led to World War II and what Hitler's big ideas were. I THINK I did that in junior high. It's hard to remember.

Anyway it puts an interesting spin on that weird proposal of Sarko's awhile ago to match every little French kid with a kid from the past affected by the Holocaust. Do you remember that? And then someone mocked it by suggesting matching every little French kid with a kid affected by Sarko's immigration ideas.

Zhu said...

I'm surprised the kids haven't heard of the Holocaust... When I was at school in France, not that long ago, we had a lot of lessons about it. We had camps survivors who came to talk about it etc. And I can't remember exactly when it started (i.e which grade) but I'm sure it was in the école primaire.

That said, WW2 history is a very sad and traumatic part of our past. It is important to talk about it but meanwhile, they are kids... starting with Le Journal d'Anne Franck etc. may be the les traumatic way to start on the subject. History is important but I must admit that as a French kid, I felt like a lot of horrors were being thrown in our face: slavery (le commerce triangulaire... I'm from Nantes, the infamous harbor where the slaves were shipped), the war in Algeria, Vichy etc. Part of our history but some concepts are hard to grasp when you're young.

David said...

Hi,
Your kids behaved and listened to your "boring" class because this is the way classes are when they're taught by French teachers, this is what they're used to.

About the Holocaust, from what I remember, I was taught about it in CM2 (my memories are quite blurred though, I was in CM2 in 1982) but I had a vague idea of what it was before that (but I've been a history buff for as long as I can remember).
Nowadays I don't know when it's taught, but I'm pretty much sure before that is a bit early. I'm pretty much sure it's still being taught in CM2 though, as there was this "Guy Môquet scandal" with Sarkozy last year.

Rose said...

I didn't know about the Holocaust or WWII until sixth grade either, when I read number the stars. New York State social studies curriculum in elementary school is focused on NYS history, basic geography, and some US history.

It's astounding what children don't know that we, as educated adults, take for granted.

au soleil levant said...

Thanks for all the comments guys. I guess you're right, before CM2 is a little early for school kids to be learning about the Holocaust in the classroom. I guess my surprise came from more of what Eileen said, like "pop culture" Holocaust knowledge. I just find it hard to believe that none of them ever heard anyone say anything or saw something on TV or read about anything that would have taught them about it or caused them to ask a question. And I know that last year this class (or the school, not sure which) did a whole thing on Martin Luther King and racism in America.

There are a lot of ugly historical things to learn about, but it's necessary. I'll let you know if I end up forcing Anne Frank on my kids.

David said...

Just try to remember how it's like for you...
When you're in primary school, you hear about all of those things, but it's kinda blurred.
As a French kid in the late 70's (so just 30 years after the events, not 60 years like today) I knew there had been two major wars with Germany (I heard about the 1870 war much later), that the Germans were the bad guys and killed a bunch of people some of them in some camps...
What were these camps and why some people were sent there to be killed was very blurred to me. I'm not even sure I knew what was Judaism at that time.

It all came clearer and clearer little by little as I learned more about it and also as I gained the necessary maturity to understand the whole thing.

And I assume that it's the same for pretty much anybody, including these kids.

Rochelle said...

I think it's okay that they know there was a world war with Germany (and Japan etc) but I think at that age, details of the Holocaust are way too early to learn. First year of college is more appropriate. It's traumatic information and it's important to learn and know about it and pay tribute to it but they don't have the emotional maturity or understanding to be able to process that kind of information yet. Or maybe I'm under estimating children?

David said...

First year of college!!!!????

You're kidding, right?

Rochelle said...

College as in 11 onwards. Not as in university.

au soleil levant said...

Thanks David and Rochelle, I appreciate both of your viewpoints. I'm sure the powers that be who develop the educational curriculum have the same debate! It's an important topic that needs to be dealt with delicately.

On that note, I found this week when doing touristy stuff in Soissons with my friend visiting from the States that the renovations at this little part of an abbey that's left in centre ville were to make a memorial of the people killed in Nazi camps. So when the kids finally do learn about the Holocaust, they can go visit it.