Thursday, March 17, 2011


The numbers make what everyone knows already stand out with stark clarity:

En préambule, le rapport collectionne quelques faits têtus. Par exemple, le quartier des Bosquets à Montfermeil compte 44 % de jeunes de moins de 20 ans. En moyenne, ces quartiers connaissent un taux de chômage de plus de 40 % et 29 % de leurs habitants vivent en dessous du seuil de pauvreté. À Clichy-sous-Bois, selon la démographe Michèle Tribalat, citée par Fabienne Keller, la proportion des jeunes de moins de 18 ans d'origine étrangère (1) est passée de 22 % en 1968 à 76 % en 2005.

The UMP deputy Fabienne Keller deserves credit for recognizing that there is a problem implicit in these numbers, a problem that too many on her side of the political divide, and on the other side as well, do not always recognize: the schools are hampered in their mission of socialization and assimilation by the lack of common historical and cultural references.  Keller proposes to remedy this by changing textbooks to reflect what she believes is the "common history" of the children of immigrants and Français de souche. There is a precedent: a Franco-German history to which both French and German historians contributed. Benjamin Stora, a historian of the war in Algeria, doubts that this can be done for France and Africa, however, because the views of historians on either side of the Mediterranean are far from converging in the ways that the views of European historians have converged about the European past:

"Un récit unique, non, ça, vraiment, je ne vois pas, déclare Benjamin Stora. Les conceptions sont trop diamétralement divergentes, et à ma connaissance, les intellectuels africains ne sont pas prêts au compromis. Ils ont une vision totalement négative de la colonisation, et la tendance est au ressourcement identitaire contre l'ancienne puissance coloniale. Évidemment, je comprends cette proposition et je la préfère au discours de repli sur l'histoire nationale et au refus des étrangers. Mais elle me paraît irréaliste."
An interesting debate: à suivre.


Paul said...

I am tired of people who use the term "Ghetto" to describe the situation. They should read the book "Fractures francaises" written by Christophe Guilluy. He shows that first all the state investissment in these districts is far higher than other places in country side with equivalent poverty. Secondly, these places can not be described as ghettos as population flows are the highest in the country.

We know that "L'histoire n'est que la géographie dans le temps", and France and Africa do have different geographies and thus different histories.

Finally, it has always seemed to me contradictory to fight against discriminations and at the same time ask for a different treatment in state schools because of your origin.

Anonymous said...

I don't think the common history textbook is likely to happen, since it's only THIS YEAR that the national curriculum in history actually acknowledges the existence of African empires and civilizations before Europeans arrived to "civilize" the land. It's now part of the 7th grade history curriculum which covers roughly the 8th to the 18th century. The move was met with sporadic opposition, too - even though it made sense from a basic "balance of coverage" point of view.
However, such a common textbook could precisely be designed at the 7th grade level, since it takes place before colonization and is thus unlikely to elicit
- colonization used to be part of the 11th grade curriculum and decolonization part of the 12th grade curriculum, although with the curriculum changes I don't know if it'll be retained. In fact, the salient difference between the 10th grade curriculum pre-2010 and the current one is that "the Mediterranean, a cultural crossroads" was changed to "Christian Europe" - not making me hopeful regarding the colonization/decolonization debate in the new combined 11th/12th grade history class.
Another reason to make it a 7th grade curriculum project: 60% never take the 12th grade class on decolonization whereas all students enroll in 7th grade history. Fabienne Keller wisely focuses on the "collège", not the lycée, for her idea. Not that it'll be done, mind you.

FrédéricLN said...

The history textbooks are much better on these topics that they were in my old time, thirty years ago ("Gallieni pacifie Madagascar").

But I wonder whether the point is textbooks. The comparison with France/Germany is not that relevant: French and Germans are different people, they don't live together, they may see the other one on TV… at best. Pupils of Argenteuil with an arab first name, or pupils with a "traditional French" first name, are neighbours, they know each other since nursing, they don't discover each other in textbooks. Yet they organize fights on playgrounds, "Arabs" against "Turkish" and "Turkish" against "French"… Is that deeper than a rivalry between sport clubs? I don'k know. I would bet it's not.