And here is how Eleanor spent at least part of her day on Strike Day - with a caramel sucker, walking about town running errands with her parents. Out of solidarity with the striking teachers, I took this picture in front of the French flag in front of the Mairie. The protests today were throughout France, and an estimated 100,000 people marched. They were educators and, as I understood it, people from the nursing profession - all in all, three unions were represented and about 30% of all teachers were on strike. Here's the coverage from Le Monde (the web site has many photographs as well).
Different numbers float around, none of them good - last year, 13,500 teaching positions were eliminated; 11,200 in 2008; and 16,000 more are projected for 2010. This reduction in education is a national trend and a national crisis. For our little family, this strike comes on the heels of news we've received from friends back home in Indiana that one of the possible solutions to the budget crisis there is to close one of the two elementary schools in town. Here's our local coverage (complete with interesting reader-responses).
Clearly, the "children are our future" argument doesn't work with whoever is making these decisions. Too vague? Too distant? Education is problem-solving - and when children are robbed of education, they are robbed of key opportunities to solve problems: those left by the past generation, those of their own, and those to anticipate. I wish that I could appeal to the decision-makers in Indiana on the grounds of the pleasure of learning, the thrill of discovery, and how that does everything from improve individual emotional states (if you've seen a kid ever "get" something, you know the thrill I'm talking about) to increase national security (everyone is more invested in the country, the culture where they learn). But pleasure and well-ness have little place in political discourse. I'm honestly puzzled as to why the problem-solving argument wouldn't work - give children exposure to that process of discovery and learning and they'll keep doing it and (yes!) the world will be a better place. And I would even argue that it doesn't take the fanciest equipment and the costliest facilities to do this - but it does take a profound commitment in people: in training, sustaining, developing, and valuing the teachers. The "après-moi le déluge" mentality of education budget-cuts (never mind that our children have little intellectual curiosity and interest in solving problems, that'll be their problem later, not ours) is predictably terrible.
Rrrrrrkkkkkk. That's me putting the soap box away. I could go on (oh, yes), but in the meantime, I'll be following developments here in France and, virtually, in Indiana. Strange parallel universes. What I would call the social conscience in France is just astounding: first of all, people are out in the streets protesting (the kids were very impressed by this and asked a lot of questions about this idea of "solidarity" - is this "fraternité" again?); and then, in an unrelated story, I read that the CEO of the national electricity (I think) company will be giving up the salary he held for a second position. Pretty much unheard of in American news. But really, one soap box is enough. Vive la France and its social conscience! Oliver and Iris were impressed by the commitment that their teachers felt to go protest; Eleanor was just grumpy about having to have lunch with us.
Mac and I presented our usual delightful fare of baguette, cheese, paté, and soup and though she loved the soup (pumpkin and chestnuts - yum!) she declared: "Good - but not good enough." !!! Who speaks like that at three and a half??? Someone who would have otherwise had celery remoulade, beuf bourguinon, a cheese plate, and chocolate mousse for lunch, I guess (it's Oliver who gives us the full report - Iris eats everything, and that's enough for her). Oh please, France, don't push the cantine chefs to go on strike!
The day ended with a wonderful surprise for the kids: a dear friend sent us an Asterix and a Tintin - as you can see, Oliver and Iris were instantly engrossed. The images help a lot, but I could hear them yelping when a French word clicked into comprehension. Asterix is filled with puns (the dog's name in French is Idéefixe, in English Dogmatix) so we'll have fun translating those! Tomorrow, everyone goes to school, and Mac and I will be left with our baguettes and our thoughts of schools and solidarity.
3 days ago