President Nicolas Sarkozy has enraged the French with his recently proposed plan to educate schoolchildren about the Holocaust:
Sarkozy told France’s Jewish community on Wednesday that every 10-year-old schoolchild should be “entrusted with the memory of a French child victim of the Holocaust.”
The proposal unleashed a storm of protest from teachers, psychologists and his political foes who said it would unfairly burden children with the guilt of previous generations and some could be traumatized by identifying with a Holocaust victim.
This hue and cry may be unintelligible to Americans, many of whom grew up “unfairly burdened” with The Devil’s Arithmetic and The Diary of Anne Frank without succumbing to shell-shock. And how is one to argue with the children’s rights group spokesperson who said (we can only assume with a straight face) that “[n]o educational project should be constructed on death”? I’d love to see what a French history textbook looks like: Napoleonic paintball wars? Nerf guillotines?
But is the real problem that children might be traumatized—or that this project was originally proposed in tandem with a call for faith to be returned to public discourse? It’s unsurprising, given the nose many of us have developed for even a whiff of the theocratic, that the French have been put on the defensive by Sarkozy’s recent speeches. But Sarkozy’s clarification is more or less satisfactory: “I never said that secular morality is inferior to religious morality. . . . My conviction is they complement each other and that, when it is difficult to discern good and evil . . . it is good to take inspiration from both of them.”
It’s worth keeping in mind, too, that the group most likely to be upset about nationwide Holocaust remembrance is also the group most due for a reminder that France is a religious composite, not a religious vacuum to be filled.