For class today, I gave this presentation on a few obvious differences between American and French schools. Click the link if you’d like to follow the slides as I tell you the story of how it went.
Me: This is the school I attended when I was your age.
Students: It’s so big!
Me: Most American children can’t walk to school, so we ride special school buses that look like this. [Expects another “It’s so big” reaction.]
Student, accustomed to public buses: Do you need a bus pass to get on?
As I recited the Pledge of Allegiance for my students, it occurred to me how utterly creepy it is. In high school, I got all up in arms about the unnecessary Red Scare era addition of the words “under God.” Yesterday was the first time I realized the sheer futile irony of adding the words “under God,” because really, the whole ritual demands the blind obedience of every Communist regime.
In France, there is an ongoing debate over whether their national anthem is too violent to teach to children. No joke: I had to learn it for French II, but I’ve met young adults in France who don’t know it, which I find strange for a nation so obsessed with its patrimony.
I challenge you to find a single American who can’t recite “I pledge allegiance to the flag of the United States of America…”—in their sleep, even! It’s terrifyingly nationalist!
Unfortunate discussion of why Americans don’t start school at age 3, as French kids do. The French have us beat, hands down, where preschool is concerned.
Me: In the U.S., you would have to go to school on Wednesdays!
Class: QUOI? NON! QUEL HORREUR!
To which I think: Wow, these kids are exactly their parents, making a huge stink over working extra hours. How very French they already are!
Me: In the U.S., you only get a 30-minute break for lunch.
Me: 30 minutes.
Official teacher: Yes, class. You have the morning part of the day. Then you have 30 minutes to eat lunch. Then you have the afternoon part of the day.
Class: Ce n’est pas possible! Il faut plus de 30 minutes pour manger!
Me: No, you really don’t need an hour and 45 minutes to eat like you have here. And the cool part is, if you only take 30 minutes, you get to leave school at 3:30 in the afternoon!
Class: Ohhh! More TV time!
I’m not kidding about this. My students could not comprehend the concept of a short lunch break.
My students think American kids are soooo lucky because they “get” to eat pizza and burgers almost every day. Kids will be kids.
Class: Why do you study English? Don’t you already speak it?
Me: Why do you study French?
My students were blown away by the idea that grades could be a percentage instead of an arbitrary 1-20.
And then I tried to teach them a rap from Sesame Street. They don’t have Sesame Street, so they don’t know that it would be super un-cool of them to like it if there were in America.
I’m off my next adventure tomorrow. Stay tuned for updates from Vienna!