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I’m going on strike on Thursday.

I walked down to pick up the twins at 5:15 today, arriving just as the bell rang for the end of classes. (Elliot finished at 3:30. I LOVE living so close to school–a 2 min walk) As we left, twins straggling behind chatting with their friends, I saw my Italian friend. We greeted, kissed. “Are you going to participate in the greve?” she asked me. “Everyone I’ve talked to is going to.”

I am, I told her. I didn’t know parents could go on strike, but I’m up for it. This afternoon, I got an email explaining it. We show up at 7:45, and premade banners and armbands are envisioned. I’m kind of excited. I’ve never gotten an armband before.

I have a kind of love/hate relationship with the French school. On the one hand, I feel my children are getting an excellent education, heavy on the arts but also solid in math and science. I love that they are not only bi-lingual, but will have the chance to learn a third or fourth language. I love that they are learning a broader view of the world, that their history lessons begin long before 200 years ago in Valley Forge, that their friends come from Lebanon, Switzerland, Spain, Cote d‘Ivoire. On the other hand, the French invented bureaucracy and it is near and dear to their hearts. The hours are ridiculously long, and they even have school on Saturdays which is just plain wrong. And also, rumour has it that in order to become a teacher of French in a French school, one is put through a rigorous testing process that ensures one has no sense of humour or proportion. I hear they tell you jokes for an hour and a half, and if you even crack a smile, you have to teach music or history.

Still, I knew the positive side of French school would win when I attended a “Welcome New Parents” orientation at the primary school in the small Alpine town of Chambery. We walked onto the playground of the elementary school at 11:00 on a Saturday morning and they were serving wine. This does not happen at elementary schools in America.

Striking is near and dear to the French heart. The year we were in France, we were amazed at all the strikes. The French joke that it’s their national sport, and the season for strikes is spring. Even the unemployed went on strike, a fact which amused us so much that I bring it up from time to time, as you may have noticed. They filled the streets with banners, effectively bringing a once-mighty nation to its knees–just kidding! Sadly, the strike of the unemployed had no effect on things functioning as a whole, which I’m sure only added to their frustration.

French teachers go on strike all the time. The teachers all belong to different unions, who decide the strikes, which usually last a day. Last Thursday, for example, was a massive one. Donn and I had things going all morning, so we made all 3 kids go till noon, but they spent hours sitting in permanence, or Study Hall. The boys were free for the afternoon, and Ilsa only had one hour of Sports. (Poor Ilsa ended up having no classes for the morning, but since school starts at 8 and they didn’t list absentee teachers until 10, she was stuck.) (For you new readers, the French school has a nice long 2-hour lunch, during which the children return home. This was traditionally to allow the parents time to polish off a bottle or two.)

Now it’s the parents’ turn. We are organized; we are coming. We are calling it “Journee de L’École Morte” or Day of the Dead School. Isn‘t that the best name? We are protesting (with armbands! Did I mention the armbands?) the proposed enormous price increases, which if carried through will take the school out of range for a lot of families. We’re demonstrating outside the school from 7:45 till 9 (although, knowing the Moroccans, I’m guessing from 8:55 to 10:00 for a lot of them) and I believe I already mentioned the armbands. We are also keeping the kids home for the day, which I imagine will really break the school. Those poor teachers! I picture them wandering aimlessly around, forced by lack of actual students to insult each other. (Note: in the interests of fairness I should mention that there are excellent teachers as well; kind, affirming, patient, and not nearly as much fun to mock.)

Best of all, we can’t be replaced by scabs.

Welcome, new readers. I’m now a part of Travel, and I’ve got a post up at the Women’s Colony too. It’s an old one, but who doesn’t want to relive being served a goat’s head? Good memories never die…even when we may want them to.

March 2009

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