Learning through Personal Growth: On several occasions I met with April, the wife of my proprietor, at a café for some conversation and coffee. She is American, but has been living in France for 14 years, married a French man and has a daughter with her husband. Having worked in France for 14 years and having a growing daughter in France, she had some interesting things to say about the French education system, and learning in general. She and her husband were moving apartments in Paris, to an apartment closer to the school where their daughter attended. They had put her in a school in this area of Paris with the knowledge they would want to move to a larger apartment soon. Now that they had an older daughter (she was an old toddler, by this point, about 5) April was concerned about her daughter having her own space, and some semblance of privacy, and being able to lead her own life. This was very important to April, and indeed is an important value in France. The autonomy of children is of a different caliber in France, and as such, as a five year old, her daughter would begin to need things like a room away from the dining room where her parents might entertain guests, so she could sleep. She might need a door, which could be left open or closed at her daughter’s desire. When I was in high school, living in a very small house where my parents did not have the ability or means to give me my own room as the oldest of three, my mother decided to give up her work area so that I might have a desk and a computer; this became my domain until I went to college. But this autonomy and domain that was given to me was not afforded to me until much older than is typical in France, where April said she had recognized very young children were treated not as cogs in a system, or even members of a family, but downright entities of their own being. There were things she both liked and disliked about this. It fed into her American belief, she said, that every person is an individual and deserves treatment as such. But it was of a different variety, and oftentimes she had noticed French children were unkind to each other, each of them believing life should go their way. (This she had noticed in dealing with her daughter going to school with other French children.) French children learned, she said, that they were their own person, very early in life, not in the way that they were individuals with spirits and wills all their own, but that they were entities with the right to have what they wanted.
Values of Learning: She mentioned this again when talking about how this translated to the work place. The French were not good at working in groups, she said. Whereas in America, children are forced to do group projects and learn how to work with other people, how to split up that work, and how to keep each other on the ball, in France the education system is so individualized—and is a series of test-taking—that they often never learn how to work with other people on projects, and when it is asked of them at work, they go about it in odd and inefficient ways. I found it interesting that someone was making the assessment, basically, that though the French education system is efficient, sometimes that doesn’t the most efficient student create. The American school system, railed on constantly, is more then inefficient, but, she said, often makes for very efficient workers. Trial by fire, she assessed. Americans learn how to get through all the crap of American school system and float or sink; they become efficient, or they don’t become anything. The French learn facts through their school system but they oftentimes don’t learn much else. I thought this shed, whether entirely true or not, a very interesting light on values of French education and values of American education. Indeed, for better or for worse, neither has changed in a long while, and that reveals what each culture values in the end.
Formal Education: I spoke to Naomi today. She’s been in France for eight months, doing her International Relations study-abroad year. She was in Toulouse for 6 months, and now will be in Paris for 6 months. Her mother is Swiss, so she has been speaking French in the home since she was a child, and knows the language well, like she knows English well. At University in the UK, which is usually a 3-year program, apart from the study abroad, they study one to two languages, and if their emphasis requires it, they go abroad in the country of their language study for a year. She’s also been to Spain for six months, to learn Spanish, which was her other language. The way she explained it is less as a requirement, and more as a step. You do your first year and university, and if you pass (40% or higher), you do your year abroad, and if you do that, then you go on to your last two years and university which determine how well you do. The first two years are not factored in, but are just marked as ‘done’ more or less. Because she grew up in Africa as the daughter of missionaries she grew up with a lot of Americans, speaking French in the home and English at the mission school. When she was 16 and all the Americans were preparing to take SATs, her parents decided it was time to move to England so she could take the correct tests and go to University. They now live in Northampton, which is not terribly “home” to Naomi, but she enjoyed her first year at University and did well in Spain and is doing well here, but is excited to go back to the UK and go to “Uni” as she calls it—University.
Spiritual Learning: Another interesting aspect of education for Naomi, however, is that of a religious education. Growing up as the daughter of missionaries, she believes very strongly in a relationship with God, rather than blank beliefs in him which require attendance to church but no particular life-style choice. She identifies very strongly as a Christian and sees that as being a very good and righteous thing. She questions and doubts, but not God. She roots her spiritual knowledge in the Bible, and in her experiences with God, with others, and with her family. She believes God is good, and merciful, and doesn’t believe in church authority the way Latter-day Saints do. When I speak with her, I connect with her on levels of identifying myself as a Christian, and even by identifying as a Protestant, on most counts, though we usually abstain from identifying ourselves as Protestant—because it implies reformation—our history most closely relates to that of a Protestant, and is something she better understands. She’s open to talking about religious beliefs, even ones we disagree on, and she gives them thought. I try to ask her, too, what she believes, and we find we agree on most things. I think that she considers part of her knowledge and education to be spiritual is rare in people our age, but shows a multi-faceted understanding of where knowledge is found, and how it can be used.
Learning by Living: Thibaut is French, and went to lycée (high school) which finishes around 18, then went to University. He was involved in Amnesty International at University, and is about 25/26. He seems to have gone to school because it gives him something to do, and though he said he was interested in making the world better, getting rid of guns, stopping war, I couldn’t decipher if he had a passion for education, though he had done University, a masters, and was about to do a second masters. It is cheaper to go to school in France because much of it is subsidized, very much like BYU for church-members; French universities for the French. Thibaut was particularly adamant about travelling being the crux of his education. He’s lived all over the world for months at a time. He talks about them as vacations, but its apparent that the people he met, talked with, and partied with in the cities and countries he visited has shaped what he thinks of the world, and has shaped why he wishes for peace. He thinks everyone is different, but in thinking that believes that everyone is more alike that we give them credit for, and therefore war is ridiculous to him.
Living by Loving/Spiritual Love vs. “Just Benefit”: Being French, he believes strongly in love, affection, and in some ways this manifests itself in terms of learning. He said his mantra is “Just Benefit.” Of course this is the opposite in many ways of a religious or spiritual mindset, but in ways where Naomi and I agree that spiritual knowledge can be a large portion of where our learning and reasoning centers are housed, the idea of “Just Benefit” implies that one need not overthink anything, but go with the flow, and love others, and let things happen. There is no reasonable argument against this. It is a sound and reasonable mantra to live by when one lacks a sense of spiritual learning, and I think in the place of spiritual learning, it serves many people well. In many ways, he taps into human learning sans religious institution, and that reveals basics of human nature that are God-given, which he understands and many religious people do not. He believes showing love equates to treating people well; this is of course true, when coupled with respect and intent to understand. Unfortunately the former is usually held only by non-religious, and forgotten by those who value the spirit, while the latter is one that is forgotten by the non-religious, and with which the religious still struggle.