What we’ve been up to….

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As the days get shorter and colder we’ve made an effort to squeeze in a few more outdoor adventures over the last few weeks including a local working wind-mill and a few visits to Nantes.  Nantes is about an hour away and is a pretty cool city with many interesting things to do and see including this gigantic mechanical wooden elephant which the kids rode and they are still talking about it. In 2004 Time voted Nantes the most ‘liveable’ cities in Europe.

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There are no more juicy blackberries to pick on the sides of the country roads so we went to collect clams from the muddy sand along the Passage du Gois (about 30 mins away) which one can cross only during 2 three-hour periods daily  (1:30 hrs before low tide, and 1:30hrs after low tide).

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To eat them raw you need to be very swift with your knife otherwise they ‘clam up’ and are impossible to open……a bit sweeter and ‘nuttier’ than oysters.

I have somehow ended up (not quite volunteering) teaching (for free) my daughter’s class of 27 7-year-olds English twice a week. The students are very enthusiastic which is more than I can say about the class teacher: The teacher said that to give the students some photocopies of the songs that I’ve been doing with them would take too long (?!?!) and for some unknown reason, she won’t give me a list of the kid’s names. It’s a stereotype to say that French teachers are rigid, lacking imagination and creativity, unlikely to give positive feedback and reluctant to receive feedback or have students ask questions….but my feeling is that this could very well be the case here. Very disappointing.

A British teacher (Peter Gumbel) at one of the leading universities in Paris  wrote a book about French schools, saying they “humiliate pupils” and that “the system focuses on the transmission of knowledge and doesn’t even remotely address the child or their wellbeing”. – The Guardian 5 Sept 2010

“Why is France the only country in the world that discourages children because of what they cannot do, rather than encouraging them to do what they can?” Gumbel writes. “I believe France is missing a key element of what’s wrong with the school system, an element that is immediately apparent to any foreigner who comes into contact with it: the harshness of the classroom culture.” and I’d have to say that after viewing a 45min video of excerpts of the school day at a class meeting last night ‘harsh’ was one of the many words that came to mind. As I watched the teacher telling the children not to talk (nothing but whispering is aloud in the classroom until after lunch-time recess) and shuffling the kids along and asking them  what ‘il faut faire’ (what they ‘need to do’…as if there was one and only one correct response) I was wondering WHY the teacher would actually want to show this to the parents….although the little 5-year-olds DID appear to be very ‘sage’ (well behaved) which is as important as being polite (see previous post ‘Back to France in August for a discussion of politeness). After the meeting I was relieved to find one other parent who was as ‘surprised’ as I was by the teaching methods…but she simply said with resignation…”c’est la France”… ‘It’s France’…. and then mentioned that she was considering moving to Quebec.

To finish on a positive note (because don’t get me wrong, there are some/many), here are some recent gifts from neighbors – delicious treasures from the last days of summer:

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