Perspective: Understanding the French world

AP French curriculum addresses the issue of inequality

by Rana Aghababazadeh


he essence of equality shines through countless examples of activism at MVHS. Whether it be through clubs like Gender Sexuality Alliance, the Girls’ Empowerment Project or even any culture club, the stigma of promoting equality is far from absent on campus, especially in response to events like white supremacist marches or acts of terrorism.

It’s easy to augment the academia that revolves around MVHS. There’s hardly any room to talk about activism with a curriculum that has students reading concrete information about mitochondria.

But changes in the AP French curriculum have brought about a different look on what it means to encourage discussion about issues outside the MVHS bubble.

AP language classes are culminations of the content learned in earlier levels. For the French classes, much of the work is centered around basic knowledge of Francophone — or French-speaking — countries. Although culture is still explored in lower levels, higher level classes of French take what is discussed in students’ personal lives and relate it to global events. AP French teacher Sarah Finck notes the critical thinking difference in the AP class when discussing these events.

“The students are able to think more deeply and to address any issue that's going on in the world,” Finck said. “So I think the level of reflection and analysis of sources and deduction is what should be different in AP [French].”

Before changes were made to the AP French Language and Culture test in 2011, the test revolved heavily around grammar. Exercises had students discuss their personal lives and do activities like describing cartoons. Texts focused heavily on the literacy of the language. Listening tasks simply asked students to finish dialogues in a staged conversation with voice actors.

But now, the curriculum and test have switched lanes to a less formulaic and more applicable methodology in the classroom.

Des Défis Mondiaux, or “Global Challenges,” is a unit in AP French where students explore subjects like current environmental challenges, war and peace, od distribution and human rights. They are given content through news videos, articles, and even graphic novels. They then need to be able to synthesize these sources and answer “big picture” questions, such as ones that ask how french culture accepts diversity, and to provide evidence in a french context.

Senior Ana Matoo, who currently takes AP French, says the class has exposed her to the views of people from other countries. She especially enjoyed reading an article written by a man from North Africa who immigrated to France for a better life.

“[The article] truly opened my eyes,” Matoo said. “He explains that there will be racist people around you [that] lack education, they don't know our culture. They don't know what we are, so stick to your roots. Don't change for them.”

Through such articles as well as other mediums like songs, poems and videos, the students draw connections between the racism in France and that in America.

Matoo says that there is a dislike of immigrants in France, many from Algeria, Maghreb, and other parts of Africa. One example is Les Romanis, people from northern regions in India, were a larger concern in France in 2015, but continue to face discrimination.

Senior and French Honor Society president Anika Ramachandran believes making such connections is extremely important, as they help Americans understand racism outside the U.S. She believes there is a different view of racism at MVHS and that students often don’t realize what’s going on in other parts of the world.

An example of this difference is Laïcité, which directly translated means “secularism.” It is a concept which has guided the French government for over a century. Under such ideology, religion may be practiced under a practical note at home, but as soon as students enter the classroom, headscarves must be unwrapped, kippahs removed, and the government must refrain from involving religion in its governmental affairs.

Ramachandran notices that the French lifestyle involves removing social differences. She also believes there is minimal racism in France compared to other parts of the world, and that learning about concepts like Laïcité helps to advocate acceptance in other countries.

Topics like gay marriage and racial equality can reach their limits at times. Especially in the classroom, maintaining a positive and productive environment can be difficult with the exchange of different ideas. But Finck believes her students have the understanding and experience to overcome such obstacles.

Although not everyone agrees with one another or the content being studied in class, Finck tries to promote a mutual acceptance of others through her class.

“I encourage a message of understanding other people and getting to know them whether it's through speaking another language or not,” Finck said.

Ramachandran has a similar belief that MVHS holds an important part in spreading this tolerance, paving the way for more acceptance of different people and cultures.

“We're seeing that this is how the world is and it's something that, being minorities as the majority, we have a position,” Ramachandran said. “We have a role to play here in making sure to spread this acceptance.”