Thursday, February 4, 2010

A Moral Education

Our dear, wonderful students are here!!! And already our heads are swimming with several different conversations, theses, controversies. We're so excited to talk to them about their experiences in Paris - I realize with a start (because every memory is still so vivid) that it's been 20 years since I was a student in Paris. 20 years! And what a difference those 20 years make: the conversations that Hallie and Matt are having in their classes, with their French friends, that they see on newspaper headlines are so intensely different. I only knew Islam by its art, not its people. I knew a very different France. But France has always changed, always reinvented itself - even in this period around 1500 that I'm studying, there are entirely new ways of understanding what France is, and what it means to be French, especially on the grounds of the moral education of the "citoyen" - the subject, the citizen.

What I admire so much and hold so dear in my understand of France are its high civic principles (Liberté, Égalité, Fraternité, for example) and its fervent pursuit of human dignity (thank you, the Enlightenment) through rational thought and civic moral education. Hallie and Matt were using the word "laïcité" a great deal tonight - not one I'm familiar with as common parlance, but indeed it is! (Basically means secularism - one of the values that is being increasingly held dear). Again, it's "Fraternité" - brotherhood, yes, but with what degree of difference? And it's understood that brotherhood is best achieved within a secular culture (too many wars of religion on French soil, perhaps). The 1500s was a revolutionary time in moral education partly because of Aristotle's idea that virtue could be learned, that it wasn't just a God-given gift. Can being French be learned? The principled argument says yes: understand, respect, uphold the civic values - love the language and the literature - eat the food - and you can learn to be French, you can assimilate. Another tactic says no - you either are or aren't French (and it's a more ethnic understanding). I know that colonialism is tricky (!!!) but if there's one thing I admire, it's the belief (perhaps now seen as naïve by some, otherwise held dear by others) that a civil society could increase human dignity. That rational thought, and participating in a greater civic good, and being educated made you a better person. But then the definitions of rational thought started to complicate things... An exciting week-end of conversation and turning things over await - and this wonderful house and town are just the places to do it!

In the meantime, here is Iris wearing one of the shirts I bought the girls yesterday - I swear to you she looks more French every day to me. Iris strikes me as one who would be drawn to higher civic principles (she loves a system, any system: physical, linguistic, moral) - Oliver I see as more drawn to the idea that the greatest principle is the individual, not the civil society. I'll have to ask them someday - once these terms and silly/not-so-silly things grown-ups talk about make sense to them. Actually, we can ask them some pretty amazing questions, if we just put them in kid terms (usually involves the distribution of candy!).

Eleanor, also sporting her new shirt, remains a little punk (this picture apparently interfered with her "Daddy snuggle time" so I got the punk smile). My little free spirit - she and Iris had a "spectacle" at school this morning - a whole play with audience interaction and now we have the book and a CD! Oliver went into school dragging his feet (that happens in the States, too), but then came out bouncing saying "Today was awesome!" Always wait until the end of day before deciding what kind of a day it was, eh? Well, off to bed to read this evening's installment of The Three Musketeers - d'Artagnan's only been in Paris for one morning, and already he has three duels lined up!

1 comment:

  1. Greetings to Hallie and Matt. They are missed around here. Hmm. The France you describe and the France they live in are two very different places, I guess. Cheira would have a lot to say about that. I'd love to be a fly on the wall to eavesdrop on your conversations.