in yesterday's issue of Le Monde there was a long article on pupils and violence
in our highschools in France. It was very much along the lines of what I was
saying to you last week ! Although I think my analysis was more relevant to
what's going on that what the article said.
The article said, to summarize, that the pupils are violent because they are
bored, and they are bored because 1) the teachings and the teachers make little
sense to them, and 2) because they belong to the zapping generation (i.e. those
kids raised in front of TV and that are used to changing channels as soon as
This is a debate in France : why are the kids violent ? and what to do ? The
teachers associations and thinking groups and unions are tackling the question.
As a consequence there is much politics involved in the question as well, since,
as I said, they are rather protective and conservative bunches. Our minister of
education, in the government, an ex-philosophy teacher, who is somewhat of a
right wing demagogue, said : "oh but I was bored to death when I was at school ;
of course since then things have changed tremendously..." (yes and of course
kids are no longer bored, and teachers are a constituency to preserve... :-) one
should like to add...)
This leads to my current remarks : first of all as I said kids are indeed
violent because they cannot relate to what they are taught. But I strongly think
this is not because "they are bored", I think that's because they see that the
teachers don't know what they are talking about : the life, the future, even
history in its relevant aspects and interpretations. And they see strongly that
they are not models.
It is true that they are less subservient, the pupils, than they used to be.
More incivilities. More lack of respect. Girls reading magazines in class, or
working on face make up. Boys or girls listening to walkmans, playing with SMS,
These new incivilities are not necessarily a bad sign. Rather a sign of vigor
from our kids.
As regards their said incapacity to concentrate for long, I again think this is
only related to the lack of interest of what they are taught (interest in the
sense of relevancy) : my kids, who are representative of kids, can play for
HOURS at the same game when they like the game. And they can concentrate for at
least the usual 45 minutes on any subject, as long as the subject begins to
interest them (cf. my visit of the port of Toulon while on the Riviera - see
below-, and of the Chateau of Blois ealier).
To teach kids one must use and rely on their interests : one must lead them
gently to the corpus of facts and knowledge and past thinking that will provide
them with answers to their questions. One must give them the opportunity to make
their own mind.
Toulon : one of my twins was asking me the day before, while taking a jaunt on
the Les Lecques harbour (Les Lecques is my Riviera spot, where I grew up), "Dad,
are these masts as high as the aircraft carrier Charles de Gaulle (our new
nuclear powered aircraft carrier) ?" I said I thought the aircraft carrier was
higher. But the next morning I told them : let's go to Toulon (15 minutes by
car) and check the Charles de Gaulle, in the military port.
They mildly said : "you sure dad ? why not rather play soccer on the beach in
Les Lecques ?" I said : let's go to Toulon kids.
There we took a tour of the port on a 50 passenger tourist boat. An hour long
tour, commented. The kids LOVED it (and me too) ! We saw nuclear submarines,
fregates (old ones and the stealth ones), the Charles de Gaulle, and older
aircraft carrier similar to the one we recently sold to Brazil, a destroyer I
piloted 30 years ago. Then we saw the civilian port. Then the old Vauban fort
from where Bonaparte ousted the English around 1794, and began his rise...
Theophile asked me : "so how high is the Charles de Gaulle ?" We purchased a
book on military vessels with plenty of pictures and explanations : we learned
that the Charles de Gaulle is 261 meters long. There were pictures and specs of
the Entreprise and the Eisenhower and many more too. Explanations of
Mers-el-Kebir. We discussed WWII, the French, Churchil, De Gaulle, the interior
resistance etc. We also talked about the militaro-industrial complex. We also
discussed why in ports there are so many sex shop and bordellos (in any good
story there must be stuff addressing each of the three brains : reflexion,
emotion, and pulsion :-)).
All that made sense to them, which would have NEVER made sense in a "boring"
Then we purchased a large picture of the Charles de Gaulle, where it was 35 cm
long and 3 cm high (from the water line to the landing level). I told Theophile
to make his calculations out of these data. He asked me : "can you gimme your
calculator dad" (he's eight years old !) I lent him my "Hong Kong calculator",
which I bought in HK in the summer of 1983, it is a small very flat solar
powered hand held calculator made of shiny metal, that works even in cloudy
weather or slightly lit rooms (I like this calculator ; when I use it in my
classes my pupils know that they cannot disturb me, and we all laugh).
And after a few seconds Theophile told his brothers and me : "the Charles de
Gaulle is 22.371 meters high".
I told him : "great". And that was it. The last thing I wanted to tell him or
show him was that it was a fantastic calculation for an eight year old kid,
because that would have disturbed him for months and retarded his maturity.
Understand me well : I don't want to make any of my kids whizz kids. I just want
to accompany their natural development. (All too often education is a
So, to go back, to pupils "boredom" and violence, in my opinion today's kids are
as healthy as any past generation and in fact probably healthier.
Fulfledged teachers, with values, who know what they want, who understand the
world, who understand education and kids can do marvels with today's kids.