Tuesday, March 30, 2010

A rebel in her own mind

The French have an expression I love ... 
'Refaire le monde' 
Literally, 're-make the world' or 
Make the world what you'd like it to be.

It's a popular expression used to describe those moments whiled away in conversation with friends. It evokes images of wonderful dinner parties or lazy afternoons chatting away the hours, of dreams for the future and memories of the past. For the French, ' Refaire le Monde' pretty well stops there: having a lovely conversation that will be stuck on pause until you next see your friends for a good bout of reminiscing about the old days or vaguely pursuing the what ifs...  

photo found here

What I've always found peculiar about this phrase is that, inspite of the verb, in real life - it has nothing to do with any action other than the art of talking.  'Doing,' is not a verb for the people in France, it is a verb for the Government.

I came to France expecting a country of revolutionaries brandishing slogans like 'Joie de Vivre.' There is none of that; little joie de vivre, and certainly no revolution.  France drowns in its own traditions. While we have scrumptious cheeses, great wine, fabulous villages and 65 million essentially lovely and well  meaning individuals - we have a general apathy about the state of the world and our own country, and an inherent distrust (may I go so far as to say dislike) of any sort of change, that I find alarming.  This can be found anywhere you may say - Sure! However, in my personal experience, it is particularly entrenched here.

The part that touches me most at the moment is the education system. 

My nearly 11 year old will be starting college this September. I left the parents' information evening in tears. Not because my little girl is growing up - but because this system is just so, so SAD.

She will start school at 9am and finish at 5.30pm (with a bit more than an hour's lunchbreak in between), except for Wednesday where they finish at lunchtime so they can go to afterschool activities. Until they are 13/14 yr's old, in order to keep up with lessons, they are expected to do at least an hour's homework each evening, after which it grows to 2hrs per evening. She will have some 'free lessons' which she will spend in a room with god knows how many other kids (we live too far away from school for me to be able to pick her up for that lesson), and in which she will be admonished for whispering or looking out the window, rather than concentrating on the books in front of her. 

Can anyone explain to me, realistically when my child will be able to play, imagine, create or discover the pleasure of learning and discovery? Let alone getting to bed at a reasonable hour. 

Of course, there are longer school holidays here. Thank goodness for small mercies, with weeks so crammed full of books and lessons - I guess she'll need more holidays. To my mind, more holidays do not make up for a balanced schedule. 

Am I whinging? I think so. In fact, I'm distraught. Not only am I saddened and sickened by this education system, that so many people find normal, but I was also brought up not to whinge. ACTION! Which basically means, if you don't like something - do something about it. Armed with my 'positive planks' that's what I set out to do... but it's not enough...

I have just spent a few months finding out all I can about homeschooling my kids (thanks Camilla and Jeanneoli, amongst others). Yet I have also started my own business (after a good deal of struggle with prevailing attitudes) and need, for various reasons, to become financially independent. It seems pretty insurmountable, given my environment, to be able to teach 3 messmonsters full time and become financially independent simultaneously. Could this be the year to try? The French have finally brought out a system by which one can be self employed and only pay social security charges and taxes based on what one earns - rather than in advance (ie BEFORE YOU EARN IT!), like it was last year and those before. 

Anyone else out there done it??? Let me know - I'm in need of a bit of encouragement... 

Would I move them back to Australia/NZ for school? This very afternoon! I dream of them having drama clubs and sports to choose from and swim carnavals etc etc; various outlets for their energy that can orient them at least into other avenues when their self-esteem is flailing. Everything that the French school system doesn't offer. But there is the small matter of Mr (French) Beaker who forms an important part of the family equation... Moving a French person takes years - unless he is a yachtie! Mine only gets seasick.  Faith might be able to move mountains, but she never tried to uproot a French person.

Anytime anyone lifts a finger to change the French education system, the strikes go out in earnest. Nothing, REPEAT NOTHING, must be changed. None of the parents I talk with  really like the system, but not enough to want to change it. After all, they went through it and they're alright. Overtly fearful of any form of change, but they're fine, normal, nice people. 
So why do I have such a sense of dread?

As I paint my 'positive' in tears today, I wonder how my child is going to pay for having a rebel mother. I was brought up to work hard at my studies and work for what I wanted to achieve. But this is too much. If she does not keep up with those lessons because I think it is too much for her to spend so much time studying after an already over full school day, how will she feel in class? Falling behind is not a fun thing for a tween, a teen, or anyone for that matter. So somewhere in there, I'm even likely to become instrumental  in maintaining a system I can't abide by. 

Friends say that I will be able to bring my messmonsters a different perspective, because I have a whole other outlook on life. I don't think that, where I come from, my outlook is in fact that different. Or is that the years talking? In any case, it seems like so little with which to confront the mastodon that is the French education system... And then ...

... I chanced on this piece by one of my favourite 'guerillas' earlier on this morning.  Keri, famous author some of you may know already, has just finished reading a book on revolutionising the education system. I've just finished editing 100 pages on the same thing (albeit in Africa) for an NGO, and it all just seemed to fall into place. 

Guess what I have to do is go straight to point 13 then activate point 8, point 3 being illustrated by the fact that I pinched this list!!  Allez - time to make a mess with my paints and inks... I may just be able to bring Point 7 out in a positive light.

Thanks for listening to the rant ... don't know what I'd do if you weren't around...


  1. Dear Ange, I can only imagine how fustrated and sad you are. Unfortunately France has a lot of great things going for but their education system leaves a lot to be desired hence a lot of local children leave as soon as they are able to.

    On a positive note I have registered under the new auto-entrepreneur scheme and it works relatively well, I say this after having registered a year ago and only just received a letter to say that I now have a social security number and the carte vitale is apparently on its way :-)

    My motto is keep cal, carry on and eat cake.

    That said I am back to my hot cross buns which you can not buy here so I am making my own to keep Mr FF happy :-)yes France does have its shortcomings and no hot cross buns is one of them...

    Bisous budgie girl,


  2. In tune with you today, Ange! I was feeling down about a number of things, some of them related to the French education system, but your rebel list got me thinking more positively, so IT WORKS!

    Possibly by coincidence, my morning started in the doctor's waiting room listening to the doc's wife saying: 'Why are we French so negative to our children in school? They need to be nurtured and grow up strong, not told they are rubbish!' Indeed...

    Like your friend Leeann, I'm making some hot cross buns this week too!

    Hope you can work things out - I'll email you.

  3. sweet sweet friend~
    as a mum myself, I know how difficult it is to watch your children walking into something that is so against the grain of what you believe or want for them. I think that, right now, you are so immersed in it all (the culture, the system, the serious heaviness) that is difficult for you to see what the rest of us do. The one thing that those children have going for them that most of the frenchies don't is having YOU for a mother. That alone will keep her from falling into the abyss of the current fearful system.
    I also think that you really must take one of those fabulous doors that you have stockpiled and paint the Rebel's Manifesto on it to place in a prominent place in your home. Words to live by my friend - THANK YOU for sharing them with us!!!

  4. Good grief Ange...just reading this post I am starting to sweat.
    I guess in our family we encourage change, change is growth...which living in France seems difficult to do. How can a chiild flourish being in an institution till 5:30 + homework...holy smokes, when do they get to be a kid??!
    Here is a thought, it does cost, but what doesn't? There are curriculums out there such as Oakmeadow - where you can enroll your student(litterally) with a teacher, you have check in I think once a week. This takes the pressure off you Ange, because if there are questions the students contacts thier assigned teacher.You know as they get older too they can do more by themselves so you can do things on the side. Also the student will graduate from that school as if he/she went to private school.
    Julian, who will be 15 this year is going that route for the next 4 yrs.
    Nothing wrong with being a rebel Ange...I kinda am here in Montucky (homeschooling is still pretty new here.I don't care the schoolsystem here SUCKS(sorry, little passionate)and unlike France this place is not drenched in culture.
    I feel for you...wishing you will find a happy medium for all parties.
    Battle on Ange, something will work out,it always does.
    Please email me if you have any questions or if I can send you links and info.
    Hugs from Montucky

  5. i can only offer empathy
    and the conviction that you will
    figure it out and make it work.

    not very much, i know.

    i do have a friend, american,
    who raised a daughter in paris
    and she (the daughter)
    is the most delightful, well adjusted,
    happy young woman i know.

  6. How frustrating that sounds for you. But I'm sure you will gather all your powers and resolve and march right straight into your own solution that you will no doubt find works beautifully. One of my favorite quotes is from Elenor Roosevelt who said "Do one thing every day that scares you." It sounds like the kind of advice that was meant for this situation. ~Lili

  7. Dearest Ange,

    I keep trying to write a response, but everything I say sounds trite. I wish I had a brilliant solution or even a germ of an idea to offer. My brain just keeps going back to the one truth I know in all this, which is that you are a brilliant and caring mum. No matter how you make this work--and I know that you WILL make this work--your kids are going to thrive because they have you and your rebel's manifesto back home to guide and empower them.

    Thinking of you . . .

    xoxo G

  8. What a heartfelt post! I can only imagine what you are going through. I was amazed to read that your daughter is starting college at such a young age. We have an average school system here in Canada; (better then your I think) I used to teach;have a son and daughter in law who are also teachers.
    Not perfect for sure; there have been so many cut backs that it is kind of rocky now.

    Isn't that life! I thought France was the place to be; after all it is much older that our country but having the experience is not always a good thing. We must evolve.
    You sound like a fighter and I sm sure you will make the right decision and succeed.
    Bonne Chance Ange.

  9. Dear Ange,
    What a dilemma to be in. It must be really hard for you to know what to do. I guess that, if you are French, you were bought up with their system but, when you have known different, it's not easy.
    I've never been sure about home schooling. I can't see how you can teach every subject by yourself....but, that's because I wouldn't have had the confidence to do it. I'm sure that you will find the right solution for you and all will be well. Try not to worry. Whatever happens, I know that your children will be fine. They have a great role model. XXXX

  10. Ange, that's exactly the same sort of school system I went through aged 11 to 16 and it was pretty hateful. I wouldn't wish it on anyone else. I think your children should take time to explore what they want to do, what interests them, and not pay much heed to the routine or homework of anything that's clearly not up their street. If you manage to do homeschooling and facilitate that, so much the better. You sound under a lot of pressure there and I wish you very well.

  11. I think it will be a good experience for your daughter. Kids are resilient. The new system will challenge her and new challenges are always good. Here in the US we wish that our education system was more rigorous like the European schools.

    It's normal, as a mother to worry about your kids. You want what's best for them but remember that things that are difficult for them are actually good for them.

    Good luck to you.
    Second Hand Chicks

  12. Ange...one thing came to mind over and over again as I read your post (which was wonderful and heartfelt by the way)...'kiwi ingenuity'..how many times did I hear that all those years I lived in NZ..and yet, there is someting about kiwi women..they have a heart of gold and the will of a lion and you do not mess with them...I know, I tried! Your post sounds like an expat who knows the difference and is forever questioning. I love the list, follow it! Your messmonsters will thank you one day. Hang in there and hold on tight!

  13. I really do sympathise with your plight here - could she give it a try and see how she gets on? Mart's kids responded so differently to their schooling - Nat really lapped up the challenge of being at a 'tough' school but Will just wilted.

  14. What can I say that others have not already expressed? My heart goes out to you, but we can all see the treasure they have in you - your creativity and influence will guide them through. Have you ever watched the TED lecture by Elizabeth Gilbert on Creativity. It argues your case pretty well I think. You can find it easily on google. My creativity was always in me, but stifled a great deal at school - even in art lessons I was told what to paint! You know what they need though and I'm sure you'll provide it. They are fortunate to have a rebel mother like you!

  15. It's pretty clear to me that you need to make some plans for a better future... in other words some major changes.

    take care and I hope you find support for all that you need to do for your children and you own peace of mind.

    xx Robyn

  16. Oh dear Ange! 9 am to 5.30pm is longer than a work day (admittedly in the public service). I'm going to tell my son. He keeps telling me how badly done by he is because 8.35am to 2.55pm is just so exhausting!!! I'll threaten to send hm to France (he has French/Australian citizenship)if I hear him whine about his so called long hours.
    Seriously, I do feel for you and hope you will be able manage the compromise between school and creative play. At least you realise its importance and more importantly, at least you care.

  17. Sir Ken Robinson is really worth looking at too, he has influenced our choice of school (Reggio emillia approach) you can view Ken here


    Like the others have said, you are and always will be your child's greatest influence, but my heart really goes out to you.

  18. OH Ange
    I can feel your angst from right over here.. Funny I went through the Australian schooling system and yet still felt stifled and left at the age of 15 [other issues in the mix] but I do understand what you are saying.. A child needs room to nurture what unique talents they have. How many of us get to adulthood and wish we had taken a different path and usually that is when the experts say 'what did you enjoy as a child'... it takes us half a lifetime to find out our childhood passions are what drive us... A trend I do not like here is that 'most' parents seem to enrol their children in far too many after school activities .. resulting in just what you mentioned.. no time for play.. no time for idle thinking which is usually not very idle at all...

    The manifesto is brilliant.. and i agree with Mimi that you need to paint that one and display in a prominent position... I wish I could offer you some answers.. the only suggestion may be.. could you home school the eldest only this year.. the child that will be most affected by the long hours.. in this way you may be able to ease into the home schooling and still have some time to progress your own dreams and needs... whatever the answer.. it may not be obvious right now.. maybe there is a solution somewhere in the middle of these choices.. hang in there Ange ... thinking of you.. xxx Julie

  19. What an amazing post...I especially loved # 7 and 8 in the Rebel Manifesto...today I did a particularlly difficult post and was feeling like I went overboard...but upon reading the above I feel better for it.

  20. Hey Ange,
    Your comments brought a tear to my eye when I read them this morning . I sent my 12yr old daughter off to said collège this morning to be assessed on her ability to "sing" in front of her teacher and peers. It took her 24hrs to pluck up the courage to sing the selected piece of music ( Celine Dion "My heart must go on") to me, let alone an audience! She sang with a heavy heart, discomfort written all over her face. Listening to her sweet, little voice I felt like we were both going down on the Titanic, drowning in her embarrassment.Where's the joy..........?????
    Let's hope you can find the right solution for you and your family and if you need some back up, that old place needs a kick up the ********!! Karen x

  21. Hi Ange, my heart goes out to you over this. No easy answers I suppose, though I do think that if anyone can compensate for a stifling education system, it's you. No doubt your brand of encouragement and creativity will not allow their spirits to be crushed. Keri Smith is awesome - I'd be "accidentally" dropping a copy of that manifesto onto every teacher's desk. Meredy xo

  22. Oh Ange - my heart goes out to you. I met a French family out here (in Aust) on a work transfer and their kids refused to return to France to finish their schooling when the parents had to return... now I understand why. Good luck with finding an answer to this. Kx

  23. hi ange
    i was, and still am, a rebel mom.
    i raised my 3 myself. i thought about homeschooling many times, but i also needed to focus on my work, being self-employed. im sure canadian schools are different, but i pulled them out of classes any chance i got to go for fun events, festivals, a walk on a beautiful day, anything.
    we limited soccer or dance to one thing so they could still have time to just "BE"
    as a result, i was the one always in trouble with the principals, not them, but i was always ok with that.
    bottom line is, i did my best with what i had to work with, and from what im hearing, you will too.


  24. I've been thinking about this post since I read it last night Ange. As you know Dylan is nearly 14 in collège too and only a year away from the big Lycée. I've no idea what the NZ education system is like but it's true that the French and British systems are very different. I was able to study a lot of arts, take part in all kinds of drama / dance /music activities,Thank God, and went on to do a performing arts degree entre autres...
    The French system is strict, rigid and heavily "mark-oriented". Les terribles moyennes... and, once you choose certain language combinations, etc, it is virtually impossible to change your mind. My advice? Well, if you're unhappy now, I think it gets worse - long hours, tons and tons of homework and as from next year Dylan will be leaving at 6.30 am by school bus and getting back around 5.30 / 6 pm...But, ados need to socialise, they need their peers, and to gain their independence.Tough decision - and aside from the financial aspect, it's a very big commitment for you. Are you still considering home schooling all three?

  25. gosh, it is so strange I come here and read this. Having got back from Barcelona (and yes, we will meet soon I know it!!) I came across this on Keri's blog too and reminded myself of things I feel passionately about. Firstly, we NEED more rebel mothers, so don't ever doubt this. It is time for women to change the world - my goodness it needs changing doesn't it?

    also, you might like to read Howard Gardner's books on intelligences (there are many intelligences not just the academic ones) and also Neale Donald Walsch's books particulary the parts where he talks about creation education. Totally fascinating.

    It's strange I come back to this too, because for some reason whilst away I kept finding myself day-dreaming about a new kind of school for kids (maybe it's having done the autism project - which is live incidentally with a link on my latest post), but the school would involve lessons where we 'dream'/imagine our lives unfolding instead of trying to cram in so much info which can become burdensome and useless often! And then lots of science labs to experiment, and large gardens to garden in, and kitchens to bake in, and art spaces to 'mess' in. . . .sorry this is far too long a comment!!

    This is also why I sent my eldest to a Rudolf Steiner school - have you considered this? Is there one in France?

    Big hug - I am with you on the rebelling revolution front :)


  26. Thank you so much for becoming one of my followers....It looks like I am among a group of fine , like minded thinkers and women who want to change the world!!

  27. Ange, I homeschool my son because I want him to grow up learning French and Latin and good math, and the schools here that teach that cost as much to attend per year as I am making at my job. I do have him enrolled in a swimming and soccer class a couple times a week, and also he's learning to play the electric guitar, but other than that I teach him everything. In the US there are all sorts of resources to make the job easier.
    As far as socializing goes, he and his friends are daily on their bikes, skateboards or playing soccer that I don't worry about lack of interaction with others his age.
    Best of luck to you, whatever you decide to do.

  28. Oh Ange, you're definitely caught between a rock and a hard place aren't you. What can I add that your other wise friends haven't already? It seems the french system is indeed tough, and I so understand your need to nurture your little ones in the art of being a 'kid'. They are only little for such a short time. However, home schooling, amongst your need for creative and financial independence is also a huge commitment. I know I would be hopeless at it - great intentions but I just know I am better at teaching my girls other things in life than maths. And thats the thing - your mess monsters have you. A rebel with a great cause and a huge heart. I agree with Mimi, write that rebel list on one of your doors, and keep it at the forefront, especially when there is a tough day. And work hard on getting that french man of yours out of France - maybe just for a few (school) years. He might even like it back here in NZ. We have great wine, great food, and lots of ex-pat French. Thinking of you my friend. xx

  29. As I read this your heart was so real and honest. Being a mother is such a hard job. I truly feel for you and ALL that you want for your sweet children. I hope your heart directs you to the right decision. I hope we get to meet when I come to France.

  30. Ange,

    I love your rant and your list, so much that I may steal it. Inspired again!

    I believe your rebellious side inspires your messmonsters to never accept second best, strive for their dreams and to take the road less traveled. There may be bumps, but they will be true to their course.

    Head on over to my blog. I left a little sunshine over there for you. And keep up the rebellion. It's worth the fight. You definitely have a fan in me.

  31. The French education system sounds exactly like the American Catholic education i endured for 12 years. Ange, i had an ulcer by the time i was 14. In the pediatrician's office my mother was asked what my day was like. I went to school, came home, practised piano, ate dinner, did my homework, and went to bed. And when does Lizzy play? the doctor asked. The problem was that my concert pianist/teacher wanted me practising for at least 3 hrs a day. My homework amounted to same. A decision was made that i give up the piano because i couldn't give up school. But why did it have to be that way? Why not do both, but in moderation? School took over my life, because i learned very early that i had to be a superachiever. It wasn't till i attended a Jesuit university that i learned about living life with passion and balance, to question... come to think of it, everything that's written in your manifesto. So, i say to you: Follow your heart, indeed, dear Ange. But no matter what you decide, your wonderful spirit will always shine through and continue to inspire your children. 'It is the time you have spent with your rose that makes your rose so important.' :)

  32. Just read the above comment 'living life with passion and balance' - such an important concept! I want to remember that one. I'm still thinking of you and your messmonsters, and you can see...

  33. Dear Ange,

    My heart bleeds for you . . .

    My children have finished the American school system and both are now in college. We have a crises as budgets cuts means that classrooms are now increased from 22 to 32 and 34 students per teacher in elementary and the same goes for middle and high school.

    Art and music in most schools has been cut out of the program and in some districts even physical education is out the door, including even some school libraries are being closed since there is no staff.

    We are in a crises!

    Yet as I have read what you have written and most of those who responded, France appears to be on the extreme.

    Children need to be children and be able to make use of what they learn by trying it out when they play. Play is also education as are other activities besides school work.

    In San Francisco my friends two children have to get up at 5 in the morning and do not get back home till 4, then do hours of homework and crash to bed at about 10.

    We had thought about homeschooling and almost did it. If my children where under ten today, I would now homeschool them.

    I was surprised that Germany and several other European countries do not permit homeschooling and England is now looking at banning homeschooling.

    We made a decision when my children went through the school system that affected my freelance business and severely cut into the income. I stayed home since my wife had steady income and health insurance. I would stay home and take care of the children, do the house work, cook and work with them on their homework. Take my daughter to her basketball meets and so forth. I have no regrets!

    Like I said earlier, my heart bleeds for you and your family.

    I wish you all the very best and know the two of you will make the right decision.

    Wishing you a wonderful Easter day weekend,

  34. Follow your heart Ange.

    My husband's family are living in Paris at the moment and I have never heard of such a grueling system and, they are lucky enough to be in an English International school so it is apparently a little more forgiving.

    I say we get Beaker out here for a few weeks...a week in Mooloolaba and Buderim, a week in Brisbane...you can visit your Brisbane bloggy friends and we can show him how wonderful life is here in Oz!!

    I will be keeping you in my thoughts and prayers Ange.

    Best wishes and Happy Easter,
    Natasha...in Oz!

  35. Your post made my heart hurt for you and your child. Yes, when do they get to be kids? I homeschool my 3 older kids (my 7 month entertains us all in the process). It seems my 13 year old will be going to jr. high next year. Grrrr. This is not in my heart to do. She wants it and my hubby wants to try it. It is only from 8:00-3:30 but STILL!!! I hope you find an answer and although I don't know you, I am praying for you. Best Wishes. Shea in America.

  36. I have just stumbled upon your blog. I so understand your dilema. I homeschooled my four children for that very reason...I wanted them to have a childhood. They(and I) loved every minute of it. We spent a good amount of time outdoors daily studying nature(science) and drawing/painting/creating(art). My two oldest graduated at 17 and entered the trade of carpentry, my second graduated at 16 and now is in her 2nd year of college with straight A's and and editor for the campus newspaper. My youngest two are now in public H.S and doing well. They all agree that they learned far more by homeschooling and are thankful for it. I miss them now...but am also thankful that I took that risk, followed my heart, and kept them home to educate. I hope you will follow your heart as well. As an artist(I am one too)you see things differently. What you value in the world is different. There is sooo much more than books and exams.

  37. Oops I see I made some typos..My oldest(not two oldest) graduated at 17. I wanted to add that my third entered public H.S her second semester of Sophmore yr. She has been an honor awards student with straight A's for 3 semesters. She wanted to go to school to be with her friends. And she is flourishing. She has also been able to excel in her artistic gifts...her teacher entered some of her drawings in art shows. My youngest began his freshman year in September and wanted to go so he could play football. He says that he misses home-education, but loves being on the football team. He is getting A's and B's. I don't think they would be doing so well if they hadn't homeschooled all those years. They had so much more time to read good literature and study history than they do in the public school. They also learned how to do the basics in life like cook, clean, communicate, be responsible, etc. etc. You know if you do decide to try home-education, if it doesn't work out then the school system is still there. Try not to stress about it...see where your heart finds peace. And talk to your daughter about it. See where her heart is. Good luck.

  38. This is my first visit but already you've captured my attention because this is something I feel passionately about, too (and I used to be a teacher). I haven't read any of the comments so don't know if this was mentioned, but what about moving to the UK as a compromise (though I know the school system there is in crisis on many levels)?


Can't think of a famous quote that says 'communication makes the world go round' so you 'll just have to get my clumsy way of putting it instead ;-) Your comments are precious. Thanks for dropping by!