Rethinking Sarkozy’s senseless suggestion

Becquer Medak-Seguin

At months past the age of 6, a sweet yet reticent classmate of mine died in a car crash en route to visiting the zoo. Though I was saddened that I didn’t see her in school anymore, I did not comprehend her death. It was not until roughly nine years later that I truly understood what had happened.

Had I fully understood the meaning and ramifications of death at the time, or at anytime prior to when I did fully grasp the concept, I would have been traumatized. The physical effects of ceaseless crying and perpetually being sick to my stomach would have paled in comparison to the psychological effects of perplexity and sheer anger.

When I did finally come to terms with death, at, say, 15 years of age, I was still traumatized. I randomly encountered the girl’s parents soon after my insight and could not muster the chutzpah to even look them in the eye.

French President Nicolas Sarkozy made a slapdash announcement on Saturday essentially stating that he wants to make all French fifth graders: 10-year-olds: go through a traumatic experience akin to mine.

For lack of a better word, Mr. Sarkozy, your proposition is stupid.

I honestly could not think of a better way to ruin a child’s psyche.

Mr. Sarkozy’s plan, void of any knowledgeable consultation, would have every fifth grader learn the life story of a French child killed by the Nazis in the Holocaust.

In his eyes, “Nothing is more moving, for a child, than the story of a child his own age, who has the same games, the same joys and the same hopes as he, but who, in the dawn of the 1940s, had the bad fortune to be defined as a Jew.” As if reading the “Diary of Anne Frank” isn’t bad enough, Sarkozy wants to further test the maturity level of his primary school students instead of promoting curricula that would foster the creativity and ingenuity that will be required of them in the future.

Mr. Sarkozy believes that teaching children accounts of factual deaths is no different than teaching children that what they see everyday on television is fiction. What Mr. Sarkozy does not understand is that the violence 10-year-olds see on television is not comparable to a child’s death. It is far more difficult to understand fact than fiction.

Many fifth graders are too young to be able to comprehend abstract concepts such as death. They should be subject to learning about their country’s important wars, the consequences of them and so on, but they should not be subject to an intense study of the tragedy of a fellow French pupil. This is simply the wrong way to go about teaching a necessary topic.

The most appropriate way to go about teaching the Holocaust is in the same manner one goes about teaching science: gloss over the topic early on and as their maturity level increases, dive into the topic more specifically. In other words, Mr. Sarkozy is using this curriculum to develop the maturity of French pupils when it should be the maturity level of the pupils determining the curriculum.

Moreover, Mr. Sarkozy, who I can only assume has a good grasp of his own country’s history, should know better than to censure it. During the Holocaust, the Vichy regime in France collaborated with the Nazis in the extermination of over 75,000 Jews: many of whom are the children Sarkozy wants school-age French children to study. Though influenced heavily by German occupation, there is no denying that France was significantly anti-Semitic at the time.

With Sarkozy’s proposal, the focus of French World War II study at an early age would be on the Jewish innocent, skewing the limelight from the atrocities committed by the Vichy regime. It is unclear what the President’s intentions are, but it is clear what the results will be: less attention will be paid to the malevolent Vichy regime. So, is the President calling out a mistake in France’s past or trying to build up a feeling of nationalism not unlike that roused by Maréchal Pétain and Adolf Hitler’s 1940 train car handshake?

I say the latter.

His proposal on Saturday was sugar-coated by a remark he made regarding religion, a topic he has incessantly tried to intertwine with the state since he became president in May. He blamed the great amounts of violence of the last century on an “absence of God.”

With this new proposal and other motivated actions, such as being the first French president to address the annual dinner of France’s Jewish community, Sarkozy is trying to integrate the Jewish community into a national rally against a universally accepted evil: Nazism, in this case. Though it may be true that godlessness caused the wars of the last century, what matters is France’s long tradition of secular governance.

As evidenced by his speech in Saudi Arabia last month where he repeatedly brought up God, Mr. Sarkozy has invoked God in the vast majority of his speeches abroad to channel foreign compassion his way and reverse the perception, he believes, of France as being a finicky, secularist nation.

Mr. Sarkozy is using this new proposal to further his religious agenda. He believes in a doctrine he titles “positive secularism”: where the church is an asset to the state and the two need not be estranged.

In following this agenda, he is capsizing the French tradition of keeping religion primarily to one’s self. He believes that by opening up the public floodgates to religion, he can, in turn, establish a more unified France.

I am sure that this form of nationalism, if any, will fly with the French people.

If his goal is to divide France religiously, then he is on his way to achieving it. If this isn’t his goal, he should reconsider his proposal: and his positive secularist agenda, for that matter: and ask the people of France what they really want.