Every day, one can find stories that (however tangentially) come to grips with the profound identity crisis the West is going through.
In even the most liberal of Overton Windows (e.g., the NYT), something appears to be breaking through.
Enter “Joan of Arc’s Shaky Pedestal: France Battles Over Its Identity at School” in the NYT.
Changes to how Joan of Arc and other touchstone historical figures are taught in elementary school, as well as changes to how French, Latin and Greek are introduced, have sparked fierce arguments between right-leaning politicians and intellectuals, who believe schools should foster national pride, and the Socialist education minister Najat Vallaud-Belkacem and her defenders, who argue that the curriculum should reflect changes in society.
In a recent campaign speech and newspaper column, a former prime minister running in primaries for the right-wing Republican party, François Fillon, said France “shouldn’t have to apologize” for its history. And last week, former president Nicolas Sarkozy, also a candidate in the right-wing party primaries, upped the ante. “Once you become French, your ancestors are the Gauls,” he said, adding that students should be taught, “‘I love France, I learned the history of France, I see myself as French.’”
This increasing politicization of education is happening at a time of intense debate over immigration, multiculturalism and national identity…
Wait, who is this Fillon guy, obviously a fringe, Alt-Right, outsider member of the “right-wing Republican party”, right?
Mr. Fillon, who was prime minister from 2007 until 2012 under Mr. Sarkozy, said that if elected, he would insist the Education Ministry mandate a “national narrative.” His remarks were seen as a rebuke to decades of changes to textbooks that have come to cast France’s colonial exploits, particularly in North Africa, in a negative light.
Oh. Wait, that can’t be right…
The NYT makes passing reference, no doubt after much consternation, to the emergent ‘Alt-Left’ in France, a phenomenon spearheaded — quite expectedly and naturally — by liberal Jews, the latter of whom dominate liberal intelligentsia across the Western world:
Those changes came amid a debate over what it means to be French. “So many people have a French identity card, but the question of what is France and how to transmit the knowledge or the love of France, that’s what the attacks introduced into the debate,” said Alain Finkielkraut, a public intellectual whose 2013 book, “The Unhappy Identity,” about the strains of a multicultural society, lamented what he sees as a decline in school standards.
Ouch. That is contrary-wise to the established, ‘conventional wisdom’, liberal order.
As is this piece today in USA Today (“French Jews feel they can give their children a better future in Israel“.)
PARIS — Yael Haccoun and her family are Orthodox Jews from the working-class Paris suburb of Sarcelles, but they flew to Israel in late September to start a new life and escape the anti-Semitism around them.
“French people think that it’s natural when Jews are targeted” in terror attacks, said Haccoun, 33, as she waited with her husband and their three children here at the airport. “The fact that the army must protect Jewish schools and synagogues isn’t normal.”
She said her family watched in horror in July 2014 as a demonstration protesting Israel’s war with Hamas turned into an anti-Semitic rampage. Dozens of young men chanting “God is great” in Arabic and “death to the Jews” attacked Jewish-owned businesses with clubs and fire bombs.
The number of French Jews immigrating to Israel rose from 1,900 in 2011 to nearly 8,000 last year, said Jacques Canet, president of La Victoire, the great synagogue of Paris. He said the country’s 500,000 to 600,000 French Jews — the third largest Jewish population in the world — “feel threatened.”
“Increasingly, Jews in Paris, Marseilles, Toulouse, Sarcelles feel they can’t safely wear a kippah (yarmulke, or skull cap) outside their homes or send their children to public schools, where Muslim children bully Jewish children,” Canet said.
A poll by the French Institute of Public Opinion in January showed 43% of France’s Jewish Community are considering a move to Israel, and 51% said they have “been threatened” because they are Jewish.
Wait… that’s not supposed to happen in the vibrant, multicultural, progressive West of today, with its endless permutations of a ‘Celebrate Diversity’ ethos.
In any event, it’s time for the NYT writer in the aforementioned piece to meditate on, and think-really-hard about, this conundrum:
Ever since the French Revolution — and certainly since the French state wrested control of schools from the Roman Catholic Church in the early 20th century — education has been the government’s main method of instilling certain values of citizenship. But what kind of citizens?
“Should history be civic history? Or a way of teaching curiosity and otherness? That’s a big issue,” said Patricia Legris, a professor of contemporary history at the University of Rennes. As for the kind of citizen: “Should it be a national citizen? Or a European citizen? A world citizen?”
No answer, of course, just the rhetorical question.
To come to any conclusions is not the role of journalism, you simpleton. (“Trump is Hitler!”).
In “The Phantom School,” published this month, the right-wing intellectual Robert Redeker argues that French youth are out of sync with French values because schools have gone downhill. “Many are of North African origin and they are in dissonance, they are like a separate people,” said Mr. Redeker, who has lived under police protection since 2006, when he wrote an opinion piece in Le Figaro calling Islam a violent religion.
“They have a hatred of the country into which they were born,” Mr. Redeker continued. “But rather than teaching love and respect for this country and its language and its history, the school since the start of the ’90s has taught them that ultimately we are mean, slave owners, colonialists, almost murderers.”
I’m not sure what to make of the piece’s final paragraphs, which express a sentiment of professor Mark Lilla.
Are liberals (or what in cosmopolitan Jewish circles passes for a ‘conservative’ thinker) like Lilla finally starting to grasp something?
Whether curriculums can help solve France’s woes is another question. “A kind of magical thinking goes on around them,” said Mark Lilla, a professor of humanities at Columbia who has written extensively on contemporary French politics. “The presumption is that if we add 15 more minutes of this or that, we’ve done something to fight the man or to fight the barbarians that are at the gate.”
“In a sense it’s testimony to their faith in the life of the mind,” Professor Lilla added, “but it’s also a way of avoiding hard political choices.”
Lilla is correct in juxtaposing the ‘parlor room’ exchange of ideas with… action, or to borrow a Marxist term, praxis.
Hard choices, indeed.