Saturday, February 16, 2008

how to teach about the holocaust

french president nicolas sarkozy courted controversy again this week when he announced that next autumn all french fifth-graders will be required to study the life of one of the 11k french children murdered in the shoah. before one even gets into whether this is an appropriate subject for a 10-year-old, it should first be noted that he appears to have announced this without much, if any, consultation with pretty much anyone who would be involved in the implementation of the idea.

it is currently the policy in france to have a strict separation between church and state. sarkozy is very public about his religious convictions, and has been criticised before about his refusal to separate his personal perspectives from his presidential position.

meanwhile, jews in the community are split in their response. serge klarsfeld, famous nazi-hunter and documentarian of french holocaust victims is reported by the ny times as saying:

"“This is the crowning glory of long and arduous work ... to those who say it’s too difficult for young children — that’s not true. What they see on television or in a horror film is much worse. This is not a morbid mission.”"

on the other hand, simone veil, a famous french survivor, believes:

"“It is unimaginable, unbearable, tragic and above all, unjust ... You cannot inflict this on little ones of 10 years old! You cannot ask a child to identify with a dead child. The weight of this memory is much too heavy to bear.”"

the whole article is here.

as for my opinion on the matter - the only definitive thing i can say is that i have not yet done enough work on my internalised francophobia to be able to come to any objective conclusions :-)

less facetiously, i really have no idea what is best, and this particular situation seems to be some apples and oranges mixed up together. on the one hand, there is an issue of when and how to teach this aspect of french history. on the other, there is president sarkozy and his political situation, i.e., his actions as president and the response of his opponents and the people that he serves.

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