Over a fine lunch served after the elder Frenchling came home from school (yes, they go to school on Saturday here) we had a long and illuminating talk about recent history. My daughter is preparing for her final exams in June (the "Bac") and today her history teacher used the class time (all 2.5 hours) to have the kids write an essay about Communism from 1947 to 1991. Listening to my daughter talk about how she answered the question, I became excruciatingly aware of two things:
- My elder was born in 1993. To her what she has learned in school on this topic is practically ancient history. I, on the other hand, was born in 1965 and I remember (and I was surprised to discover how vivid some of those memories were) many of the events she talked about: the Vietnam War, the Soviet invasion of Afghanistan, Gorbachev and Perestroika, Solidarity and the fall of the Berlin Wall.
- Her interpretation of these events is based on information and a perspective that has come from her teachers in the French public school system. Mine comes from what the American media (radio, television and print) was reporting at the time and what my teachers in the American public school system taught.
Alas, I have no solution to this and I am not even sure it's a problem. I just don't see a culturally neutral way to teach history. For one thing, history is taught in school by fallible human beings who have their own opinions about what is important and what it all means. (My Frenchling reports that her teachers are quite to the Left of the political spectrum. I remember mine as being fervent Free Market advocates.) For another, the public schools systems in both countries exist to create citizens - not world citizens but citizens of a specific country with a collective memory that we all agree should be transmitted to each generation. Finally, to be entirely pragmatic, in the few short years that our children are captives of the school system, there is simply not enough time to teach everything from every perspective. Choices are made and sometimes what is included is less significant than what isn't.
This bothers me less than you might think. I would not think of asking the French school system to include an American perspective in their curriculum any more than my husband would ask the American schools to include the French one if we were living in the States. What I would hope for in either case, above and beyond the facts and the perspective on those facts, is a bit of humility - an admission that this may not be the whole story. That other people in other places might look at the same facts very differently and come to very different conclusions. In addition, children should be actively encouraged to seek out these people and places and to take those perspectives seriously.
In my day, we called that "intellectual curiosity."