Well everyone, here we go with a new calendar year. I believe it is close to a year since I last blogged. Just needed time away. As Pink Floyd so eloquently said: “Thought I’d something more to say”, and I felt it was all drying up a bit.
Much has transpired in the year. It was a great year in many ways and in some not so good. I travelled abroad twice in 2015! Once with students on a trip to Italy, Southern France and Paris. Oh, Paris. A bit more on that later… What a trip. I know that a few of my travelers will become travelers themselves. That is what it is all about for me. Showing kids that there is more to the world, than what we personally have in our own lives. Paris. We were there a few scant months after Charlie Hebdo. We twice were delayed in the Metro due to various issues. An eye opener. Little did we know, Charlie Hebdo would become a footnote to Paris in late 2015. More on that a bit later, as well.
I also travelled personally, with my wife and kids, to England and France. I visited London, Winchester, Cambridge, Ely, Stratford-Upon-Avon and Wellyn Garden City. A combination of family and personal interests. Several bucket list items ticked off, several more created! I also visited France, again, only this time to visit the families who hosted our two teens when they did their exchanges in France. One family in Orleans, in the Loire Valley, the playground of the French monarchy, long before Robospierre and his ilk put that concept to bed once and for all, in France at least. The Russians took a few more generations to accomplish the same task. From Orleans, I travelled to the south-west of France, the old territory of Languedoc, the land of Cathars and the Catalan, cross-border movement that is as Spanish as it is French. A brilliant part of the world, an interesting area, one that has to be visited again and again.
Whilst on my travels, I was re-acquainted with people I had met briefly before, and met many other great French citizens, establishing life-long relationships that will only continue to grow. I now know people in Western France (Brittany), Paris and Orleans, the middle of France (near the infamous Vichy capital), as well as the south, from Toulouse. All very interesting, yet different people within the same culture.
We learned a different way of life, especially on the shores of the Mediterranean, but in France in general. Just a different way to look at the world. More relaxed, more interested in the moment and each other, than the world we have created for ourselves in North America. Despite the fact that I still have strong ties to Eastern Europe and Slavic culture, I have to admit, I fell in love with life in Western Europe. Yes, I know, I was on holiday and it is different, but there are some ways of life that they take for granted, that we need to learn from. The first is their approach to health and fitness. We in North America, have dropped the ball on this one big time, myself especially! We do not move enough. French people eat great food and drink fantastic wine, , but less of it. Not less often, perhaps more often, but less volume. Oh, and they move more. However, this is more of an issue for me personally, not really the gist of what I am getting to in this message, although the food is part of it.
In distilling this down to something related to education, instead of just recounting my trips abroad, to the boredom of probably every reader, I feel there is a lesson for how we approach life, and how and what we teach our kids.
As I said earlier, Charlie Hebdo, followed by the Paris attacks, certainly shook the core of Western Europe. It was awful. I realize there are socio-economic factors that can be pointed to. I also realize that France has not done a great job integrating immigrants/refugees, and this can be seen in the next generation. However, it was still horrific. The lesson I want to point to though, is the reaction of the French people I knew. Yes, there was fear, yes there was certainly anger and frustration, but there was also a very strong belief in not letting the horror and terrorism stop the French from what they believe in. The very fabric of French culture was under attack, and while the short term goal of the attackers was to kill and maim, the long term goal is to destabilize this culture and encourage people to shun it and live a different way. To a person, once a few days had gone by, everyone I knew, was mourning the deaths, but defiantly expressing their desire to continue to live their lives their way, and not to be deterred in pursuit of their own happiness.
One of the most iconic photos I saw, expressing this belief, was a simple photo of a glass of red wine, some bread, cheese and dried sausage. I do not remember the precise quote, it does not matter. What it was expressing was the French were going to continue to live their lives the way they want to. They are committed to their culture and will defend it. It is a passion that is well developed in their culture. The reasons for this passion are complex, involve hundreds of years of history and cannot be compared to a relatively young culture like Canada, however there are lessons in it. Of course, as a bit of a side note, connected to an earlier point, the amount of wine, meat, cheese and bread was far less than one would expect on a North American table, but that is a topic to be explored at a later time.
So, for the connection to education today, and for the year of 2016, I ask myself: “Are we teaching our students, and our children, for those of us who are parents, to be passionate about important things in life? ” What are we teaching them to be passionate about? Are we teaching passion? Are we teaching a love of our way of life, and how to preserve it? Are we highlighting the dangers of extremism, regardless of the variety? Extremism does not only come in the religious form, it comes in many different guises. Are we leaving our kids with a passion to live a good life, to live a life that we enjoy, but one that has to be respected and never taken for granted? Or are we joining them in the pursuit of learning what colour of dress a Kardashian wore? Western Europeans are all about fashion too, even more so than most North Americans, but somehow, it is the fashion itself they are interested in more than not, not the celebrity wearing it. I am not sure this last point makes sense, but that is what blogging is about!
I am not so sure we are teaching passion for our lifestyle, our freedoms, for our culture, or for parts of it worth saving, at least not all the time. Perhaps this is something we have to consider, as we weave our way through 2016 and navigate who knows what in our volatile world. I believe it is our job in our school system to start asking these questions of ourselves. If and when our culture is under attack from extremism, what image will represent our culture and our commitment to passionately protect it? Hopefully we have an answer when the time comes.