Islamicising the curriculum

The French national curriculum (which - through the medium of English - we follow in some respects for Years 7 and 8, although we are not obliged to do so) is in many ways a thing of wonder. The vision of an enlightened, optimistic and purposeful humanism (secular rather than Christian, unfortunately) is rather impressive. Christians can, in fact, find much in it of great value and common sense. Even though, from a British point of view, it can sometimes seem terribly Cartesian and dry. Of course, the reality in French schools might bear little relation to the ministerial ideal, but on paper it looks good.

There is a fine idea of logical progression in the sciences, of grammatical content in the languages and - most impressively - of chronology in history. There is also a clear programme of transmitting a sense of national and European identity, through a knowledge of classical antiquity, classical literature and the European story generally.

French children in the first year of secondary school, according to the programmes developed in 1996, should learn about the civilisations of ancient Egypt, Mesopotamia, and Greece. They should know the main points of the Old Testament and the role played by figures such as David, Moses, Joseph, Solomon, etc. They read substantial extracts from Homer and the Old Testament, and even from the Gospels. They should see how Greek culture was perpetuated by the Roman empire, and how in turn this fed into the beginnings of Christianity. This study finishes in about 325 AD, with the Council of Nicea and the other achievements of Constantine.

In the second year the theme is the Middle Ages. It begins with the study of the fall of Rome, the creation of the Eastern empire, the monastic influence, the rise of Islam in the 7th century, the preaching orders, the crusades, life in feudal Europe ...

In the the third year the focus is on the renaissance, the early modern period ...

In the fourth year French children reach the familiar material of the Second World War, and similar themes, just as UK children do for their GCSEs.

The programme followed, then, is something akin to the sort of thing which is done in good private schools in England: a chronological approach, with clear periods in each school year, so as to avoid blurring in the child's mind.

The UK national curriculum asks for some elements of this between Key Stage 2 and Key stage 3, but there is not the same over-arching chronological vision. History is not seen as a story; it is more about skills : 'empathy', learning from history, or whatever.

And now for the bad news. Political correctness has won a victory against all that crusty old French Cartesian intellectual rigor. It has been decided that from September 2009, the 'three monotheistic religions' will be taught together in the 6eme (11 year-olds). Islam, a phenomenon only invented in the 7th century, is somehow going to be worked into the school year whose focus had been (and will remain) the ancient world and the roots of the modern age, up to 325 AD.

There is absolutely no historical argument for this. It will only confuse children who will think that Islam is a phenomenon of the ancient world or of the 1st centuries AD. They will have difficulty understanding the Early Middle Ages properly without Islam's place in the 7th century (unless it will be taught a second time.)

The main problem is that Islam has nothing to do with the roots of Europe, because Europe was already well-established by the 7th century.

It is good for children to study the birth of Islam. It is an important historical and cultural event. But it should be taught in its rightful place.

So, whatever the final details of this curriclum changes for 2009, we will be sticking to the current system, where history is told as a story with a beginning, middle and end, however uncomfortable that might be for the PC classes.

Incidentally, the changes are not yet 100% official; although they have gained the approval of the teaching unions. The minister of education is a university academic and perhaps he will see that the proposed changes are too obviously ideological to pass academic muster. Let's hope so, for the sake of France's children.

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