President Nicolas Sarkozy dropped an intellectual bombshell this week, surprising the nation and touching off waves of protest with his revision of the school curriculum: beginning next fall, he said, every fifth grader will have to learn the life story of one of the 11,000 French children killed by the Nazis in the Holocaust.The NYT has collected a range of responses from various French figures, to demonstrate the extent of the furor.
I especially liked the response whereby "requiring students to identify with a specific victim would traumatize them". Recounting the facts of history can do that, you know, which is a fine reason to protect children into total ignorance of any unpleasant parts of it and thus to ensure that their future will be full of its own horrors.
Simone Veil's response, on the other hand, seems to me misguided from the opposite direction:“You cannot inflict this on little ones of 10 years old! You cannot ask a child to identify with a dead child. The weight of this memory is much too heavy to bear.” I have met Ms. Veil on a number of occasions, and can tell that she's a very impressive person. She's also a Holocaust survivor, and it seems to me she's afraid the impressionable French children will be damaged by having her memories foisted upon them. This, however, won't happen. The closest they'll come - in the unlikely case Sarozy's plan happens - is that they'll encounter the faintest echo of her memories, no more. Which will not stunt their emotional growth, though it might contribute a tad to their appreciation of what history is about and why it matters.
The idea that the plan will cause resentment among the Arabs in France goes both ways. On the one hand, they will have a legitimate grievance if the only part of real and ugly history that is handed down to French children is the Holocaust. That would be wrong by any measure. On the other hand, if someone is trying to protect the poor Arabs from things they don't want to know - well, that's part of the problem, isn't it.
The idea, suggested further down, that Sarkozy's unacceptable audacity is in saying that there is value in religion, and furthermore that he's doing so as part of a neocon conspiracy - well, there really aren't any limits to silliness, are there.
Bottom line: if this is an intellectual bombshell in the country of Voltaire, we're in trouble.