Picpus cemetery and the rothschild hospital
Using the archives to support national standards for students of french
by Margot M. Steinhart, NORTHWESTERN UNIVERSITY
 

A significant proportion of the audience for this digital archival may be students, teachers, and researchers, interested in American and European history, but this archive offers authentic materials never before seen or used, which will be of value to those interested in French language and culture. Teachers of French will probably approach this digital archive, which converges on two contiguous loci in Paris, Picpus Cemetery and Rothschild Hospital, with the question of how to use the wealth of resources available in order to construct units and lessons for their students. The complexity of the answer is readily apparent when we consider the range of age and language abilities of our students and the instructional focal point of the various courses offered in our schools and universities. Our students include those in elementary, secondary, and higher education programs, and those possessing varying degrees of linguistic proficiency.  Moreover, the courses themselves may lie at different points on the linguistic – content continuum, with some courses focusing more on communicative competence and others, on content based instruction. Because of the richness and variety of the resources in the archive, the opportunities to use the materials for linguistic and content purposes would seem inexhaustible.  Still, a starting point is needed, and the national standards for students of foreign languages provide an organizing strategy.

Developed from the generic standards for students of foreign languages, published in 1996, the 1999 edition and the 2006 revised edition (ISBN 0-9705798-1-0), which now includes French and nine other language-specific standards (Standards for Foreign Language Learning in the 21st Century), reference the 5 Cs in terms of what a student should know and be able to do. The 5 Cs are stated as five essential goals of learning a foreign language: Communication, Cultures, Connections, Comparisons, and Communities. Sample Progress Indicators at Grades 4, 8, 12, and post-secondary suggest a variety of activities in which students might be engaged as they advance in meeting the standards. Neither exhaustive nor prescriptive, these Sample Progress Indicators for French are proposed as examples that will inspire teachers to develop their own activities and to select appropriate content from the French-speaking world to meet the standards. The student standards do not specify particular content to be used in teaching, but the instructor will want to consider materials that are age and language-stage appropriate, as well as the interest level in the selection process. Since the archives are directly linked to two familiar periods of history, the French and American Revolutions in the 18th century and the Holocaust during World War II, students already posses some notions about the significance of these periods and have an entry point for interacting with the materials. Moreover, materials, even those which might initially appear too difficult, might be used if the task which students are asked to do matches the students’ readiness. Teachers may also incorporate scaffolding as a strategy to prepare students to complete challenging tasks successfully. See: Rachel R. Van Der Stuyf, Scaffolding as a Teaching Strategy:

http://condor.admin.ccny.cuny.edu/~group4/Van%20Der%20Stuyf/Van%20Der%20Stuyf%20Paper.doc

The Five Cs and the Archives
A review of the 5 Cs may inspire teachers to look at the archives as the content basis for developing lessons to use with their own students. Although they are considered separately, the standards of Communication, Cultures, Connections, Comparisons, and Community, do not stand in isolation. Rather, any single activity is likely to combine several standards, and a unit may engage most, if not all of the standards.

In terms of Communication, students are expected to engage in two-way communication through writing and conversation, to understand what is heard or read, and to express ideas in speech or in writing. While the outcomes are determined by the way in which student activities are structured, the topics for speaking and writing can be based on the content found in these archives. For example, students might discuss in pairs or in groups what is meant by “un lieu de mémoire” and which sites of memory are important to Americans or to their own community. These questions could provide an introduction to the archives in general or to the video documents with the interview of Pierre Nora, who coined the term in French. They could also be used to verify aural comprehension of Professor Nora’s explanation.

In terms of Cultures, students are asked to understand francophone cultures and eventually to develop the skills to function in a culturally appropriate manner in those cultural settings. They are expected to develop an understanding of the human condition in these cultures, especially as it is expressed through literature, art, and philosophy of the French-speaking world. Within the standards’ framework, “culture” is considered to include philosophical perspectives, social practices, and products of society. Both Picpus and Rothschild lend themselves to understanding how certain groups and individuals experienced and confronted war conditions in terms of actions and of expression. Visual art, poetry, and music, dating from the time period or produced retrospectively, are strongly supported by the archives. Portraits and scenes from the French revolutionary period and photographs during World War II in Paris, as well as clips from newsreels and films, are included. In addition, samples of poetry by Roucher and Chénier, two victims of the Reign of Terror, are displayed. Also presented are the libretto of Giordano’s opera, Andrea Chénier, and the performance of Poulenc’s Dialogues des Carmélites, an operatic retelling in English of the events leading to the execution of the nuns whose order was responsible for the convent and cemetery at Picpus. Interviews with descendants of General Lafayette and of poet Antoine Roucher and with Rothschild Hospital survivors of the Holocaust provide perspectives on the events of the two periods. Observances held on July 4th at the grave of Lafayette and the annual mass in the chapel at Picpus demonstrate visually the cultural practices of remembrance.

In terms of Connections, interdisciplinary activities bring together French and other disciplines and oblige students to use French to acquire information. Through this standard, the emphasis on language acquisition shifts to understanding other topics through French. Connections to history, the arts, and to literature will occur quite naturally by using the archives as points of departure for further research on the web or in the library and media centers. The link between Lafayette as an historical figure in France and as a revolutionary agent in America increases the opportunities to learn more about this citizen of France and honorary citizen of the United States. Why is Lafayette buried in Picpus? By tracing the history of his wife, a member of the de Noailles Family, the link can be made. A discussion of capital punishment can be explored through the use of the guillotine, which was featured so prominently during the French Revolution and whose use continued in France until its abolition in 1981.

In terms of Comparisons, students are encouraged to make comparisons of language and culture systems between their own language and those of the French-speaking world. The war-time speeches of DeGaulle and Pétain (included in these archives) might be compared with those of Roosevelt and Churchill in terms of choice of vocabulary and rhetorical devices. The role of Lafayette in the contexts of the American Revolution and of the French Revolution offers another point of comparison. The internment of prisoners in France during the French Revolution and World War II could be compared and contrasted with each other and with the treatment of prisoners of war interned in the United States during World War II.

In terms of Communities, students strive to make practical applications of their French communication skills within and outside the school setting and to engage in lifelong learning through French for personal enjoyment and enrichment. Opportunities for internships, research, and work, as well as travel, may supply the future context for using French. The archives certainly suggest a visit to the 12th Arrondissement in Paris where Picpus and Rothschild are located and to other sites associated with the French Revolution and Occupied France. Museum visits will be more meaningful if the history associated with these documents is understood. Future activities might include additional searches on the Internet to learn more about the people, institutions, and events presented in the archives. In addition, rich cultural experiences can emerge from further reading, attendance at concerts, operas, musicals, and movies, and listening to recordings of music and speaking.

The archives related to the Rothschild Hospital, where Jews were held prior to being shipped to Drancy and later to Auschwitz, can be used to develop further studies of the Holocaust. In a number of states, Holocaust studies are mandated in Grades K-12 or are included in state standards. The education web pages of the United States Holocaust Memorial Museum provide a profile of Holocaust education by state. See also: http://www.ushmm.org/education/foreducators/

In addition, the museum has developed an extensive set of materials for teachers to use in teaching about the Holocaust, and these materials are available online. This digital archive includes a number of exclusive interviews with French Holocaust survivors and documents, which can support the goals of Holocaust studies. Additional video material, accompanied by a teacher’s guide, La France divisée, produced by Barbara P. Barnett and Eileen M. Angelini, explores a France divided by collaborators and resisters during World War II. (available from the American Association of Teachers of French: www.frenchteachers.org.)