by Alexandra in WMass
Thu Dec 8th, 2005 at 06:29:13 PM EST
At the last minute, France's interior minister, Nicolas Sarkozy, postponed his trip to the French Caribbean Antilles islands because of local protests about a new French law that request "school programs recognize, in particular, the positive character of the French overseas presence s, notably in North Africa" ("Les programmes scolaires reconnaissent en particulier le rôle positif de la présence française outre-mer, notamment en Afrique du Nord"). The minister's own inflammatory statements during the violence in the country's poor suburbs a few weeks ago (he promised to "get rid of the scum") were also on the minds of demonstrators.
Read more to hear from the demonstrators, find out how this law passed, what is taught in French schools today and voice your opinion on how to teach colonial history to 14 year olds and share what you learned in secondary school....
THE CURRENT PROSTESTS:
On December 7th, the day Sarkozy was due to land in Martinique, according to local television news, between 800 -1000 people took to the streets in Fort-de-France chanting "loi de la honte" (which would translate more or less to "the shameful law") and asking for it's repeal. Demonstrators explained:
I'm demonstrating for the repeal of this villainous law and this constant provocation directed at blacks
Je manifeste pour l'abrogation de cette loi scélérate et cette provocation continuelle vis a vis de noirs
This law which is an insult to all of those colonized
Cette loi qui est une injure a l'ensemble des peuples colonisés
Paul Ejime, a staff writer for the PanAfrican news agency Panapress, wrote about the new law and wonders:
The intension of the authors of the dubious legislation is unclear, but perhaps they would want the world to believe that Europe's struggle for and eventual partitioning of Africa at the Berlin conference in 1884, was a charitable gesture to "liberate" natives of the colonies.
It is also even possible, critics say, to "spin" the very well-documented inhuman slave trade, for instance, to show that millions of Africans uprooted from their countries to sugar cane plantations in the Americas and the Caribbean were done a great favour by the European slave merchants?
This would be in spite of overwhelming evidence showing that the African slaves were taken against their will, some in shackles and even with their mouths padlocked.
Luckily, no textbooks will erase the paraphernalia of slavery in places like Badagry in Nigeria and Goree island in Senegal, which are living testimonies to the evils of man's inhumanity to man.
THE TEXT OF THE LAW AND HOW IT CAME TO BE:
I will quote from Paul Ejime's article again since he sums up quite nicely the context in which the law was passed:
On 29 November, the lower house of the French parliament voted by183-94 to uphold a law that puts a so-called positive spin on the country's chequered colonial past, ignoring complaints from historians and the former French territory of Algeria.
Legislators from the governing conservative UMP party had already passed the law in February when only a handful of deputies were present and it only came under full public scrutiny in recent months with a petition by history teachers.
Under the law, school textbooks are to address France's "positive role" in its former colonies and requires that "school programmes recognize in particular the positive character of the French overseas presence, notably in North Africa."
The law has embarrassed conservative Chirac and could delay the signing of a friendship Treaty between France and Algeria, a North African country, held up as France's one-time colonial jewel that won independence in 1962 after a brutal eight-year conflict, which France only recently admitted as a war. [...]
Algerian President Abdelaziz Bouteflika has equated the law with "mental blindness," saying it smacks of revisionism while the Algerian Parliament has called it a "grave precedent."
Defending the piece of legislation, French Education Minister Gilles de Robien has said that textbooks would not be changed, but Socialists in the European country consider the law offensive to former colonies and French citizens with roots in areas whose history would be affected.
The original February 23rd, 2005 law is aimed at expressing the nation's gratitude and acknowledgement of the contributions of French repatriated from the former colonies. The law also clarifies the modalities under which cash benefits are given to individuals from the former colonies, such as Harkis, who served as auxiliaries' in the French army.
The first article of the law read as follows:
The nation expresses it's gratitude to the women and men who participated in the works accomplished by France in the former French departments in Algeria, Morocco, Tunisia, and Indochina as well as the territories previously under French sovereignty.
The article that was targeted for repeal is article 4 (click here to get the French version of the repeal legislation that did not pass):
The university research programs give to the history of the French overseas presence, notably in North Africa, the place that it deserve
School programs recognize, in particular, the positive character of the French overseas presence, notably in North Africa, and give the history and the sacrifices of the French army fighters from those territories the prominence they deserve.
The cooperation that allows for the connecting of the oral and written sources available in France and abroad is encouraged.
HISTORY CLASSES FOR 14 YEAR OLDS:
The French national secondary school curriculum addresses issues related to colonization mainly in 3eme when most students are 14. An article in L'Express this past September point out
If the war in Algeria, decolonization and independence are taught "with their complexities" since the 1980s, the history of the slave trade is poorly represented, except in the French Caribbean Antilles islands. Even though the Taubira law expected "school programs to give [it] the important place it deserves". We are still waiting for the implementation rules to take effect. Often, the mention of this particular period relies on the good will of the instructors, their knowledge of the subject and the disparity of the textbooks available.
A review of the French secondary history curriculum reveals that teachers are expected to spend 7 to 8 hours with 3eme students (14 year olds) on the events from the cold war to today, which includes: east-west relations, decolonization and the collapse of the communist block. In it's examples on how to approach this curriculum the ministry of education advises:
a detailed chronological study of decolonization is not possible. Two maps suffice to represent this global phenomenon, before focusing on the study of two particularly significant examples of end of the two great colonial empires:
- The decolonization of India, as an example of the modalities of the British disengagement and it's post colonial consequences
- The decolonization of French Africa that shows how France broke from it's colonial past, progressively and without bloody conflict in Black Africa, but with difficulty in Algeria where the confrontation was accompanied by a national trauma.
Teachers are also expected to spend between 5 and 7 hours with students in the previous grades to review "Europe exploring the world" and "The carving up of the world". In Metropolitan France students cover, among other themes, the creation of the first colonial empires and compare the colonial maps of 1815 and 1914. In contrast students in the same grades in the DOM-TOM (French Overseas Departments and Territories) have a slightly different curriculum set forth by the ministry of education in recognition of the specificities of these regions. In Guadeloupe, French Guyana and Martinique students study the sugar and slave trade in the 17th and 18th century and under the theme of "Europe and it's expansion in the 19th century" they, along with students in the Reunion, focus on "the colonial social structure and economy with an emphasis on slavery and it's abolition".
Why are these topics not included as much in what Metropolitan France (the hexagon) students learn? Would it not help to integrate that history into the "culture generale" of all French 14 year olds?
QUESTIONS FOR YOU:
What do you think? What did you learn about colonial history when you where in secondary school?