Tuesday, July 15, 2014

And so, oui

The 16th document of the 18 to be provided for a long-stay visa to France is proof of applicant children's enrollment in a French school. Like all of the documents needed, this one is presented as non-negotiable and absolute - a tone struck especially clearly with the FAQs, to which every single answer is no (as though all questions were simply attempts shirk obligations). And so I've been anxious about our submission of our local principals' letters detailing the kids' long-distance education plan while we live in Paris from August to December. By all internet accounts, French culture (and certainly the French educational system) looks down on what they call "l'école en famille" (family schooling), what we call here "home schooling." It is seen as a breach of the social contract that is education (we could go all the way back to Rousseau if we wanted to) and into which the French government and thus society has invested so much. And I profoundly admire that social contract, I marvel at its reach and federalism (the entire country shares textbooks and curricula - the much-debated Common Core of the United States is a mere dance step in the complex ballet of the French academic system - grade levels? non, non, non: CP, CE1, CE2 and then change it all around, but every French kid that makes it that far will know all of the intricacies of what it means). But since school doesn't begin until almost mid-September, and since there will be two weeks of vacation and strikes and travel, I don't see the kids having enough time to gain traction with the French language. I do (but don't want to) see them, with their little legs dangling beneath their desk arranged in a neat row of like desks, while Paris teems and calls and thrives outside. Let's be clear: I am ambivalent about this. I worry about the lack of socializing and friendship (knowing we'll rely more heavily on expat communities at first because they're friendlier in a short amount of time), and, well, I worry about turning my back on Another Great Social Program that France has poured its energies into. At the same time, I see this as the opportunity of a lifetime: to let my knowledge of the city (earned and treasured in a 1989-90 study year, a 1993-4 dissertation research year, and then all of the wonderful brief visits) be guided by my children's curiosity. To show them every last thing I ever marveled at. To share this city absolutely with them and find out what seizes their imagination. To go off the pedagogical grid (as far as the Swiss Virgo inside will let me) and teach and learn tremendously differently. All this to say, there was a lot at stake in not supplying the requested documentation of number 16.

Airplanes in chapel! (Arts et Métiers)
And then the French government said "yes" - or, uh, "oui" of course. Unflummoxed by the strange request, no doubt chalking up our misguided freedom to our being foreigners, the French government has granted all of us visas and we are good to go. We leave in two weeks and the summer's academic work will continue right up until the last minute. It's a heady time (revisions, book review, a collaborative project proposal, a deep desire to get a new article started), but now most of my afternoons working around the house frame insistent daydreaming about all that we might do together. Certainly we'll all work at home in the mornings, and then Mac and I will split the day (or the week, depending on how things go) to work in the Bibliothèque Nationale or any number of super specialized libraries. After lunch, out we'll go into Paris, France. When we read Le Petit Prince (bilingually!), can we also read Wind, Sand and Stars? Can we go to the Musée des Arts et Métiers and look at the planes hanging from the chapel vaulting? the engines ensconced in individual chapels? Yes! Yes, I do believe we can! Will there be invitations to consider what Rembrandt's Bathsheba is thinking? Oh yes. Will we ask about Benjamin Franklin's endeavors in Paris, France? Well, most of them. Do I mourn the departure of two of Paris's cooler museums, le Musée National du Sport (to Nice) and le Musée des Arts et Traditions Populaires (where I used to go listen to recordings of breton and other dialects made by Claude Lévi-Strauss students and played back in stilled and strange dioramas) (to Marseille)? Very much. But there will be other and new places - and the serendipity of exhibitions and happenings and the sequential thinking skills and thrills it takes just to use the Metro.

Room of Endangered or Extinct Species
So I'll be posting out here about this aspect of the experience. About home-schooling in Paris, France; Paris-schooling?; about the resources and challenges of it (my never having done it, my now studiously approaching mathematics which I used to love and kind of can't wait to see operative again, my only pedagogy really being curiosity); and about some of these crazy ideas for shared endeavors (that we'd all read the same book, all study the history of the same park, each find an animal to champion in the Salle des Espèces Menacées et des Espèces Disparues - Room of Endangered or Extinct Species). This absolutely lucky, unprecedented, unique, suspended five months that will have nothing and everything to do with our lives in Indiana.


  1. Sounds like an AMAZING opportunity for the whole family Anne--I can't wait to read about it here!

  2. That Room of Endangered or Extinct Species has been on my mind since you told me about it at Contact Ecologies. I eagerly await more!