Le Verseau, Le Mee/Seine (S. et M.), France
December 7, 1960
Dear Friends :
Please pardon this poorly typed missive which we are sending instead of cards.
We have been in France since the end of June. I had received a grant from the American Philosophical Society to work with the Saint-Simonian papers in the Arsenal Library in Paris during the summer and a grant from the Guggenheim Foundationn to continue work during the academic year on a book on the idea of progress in recent historical thought. With apartments very difficult to find, and rents prohibitively high in Paris, we rented a house in a small village thirty miles from Paris in the direction of Fontainebleau, fortunately with good train connections to Paris. Living out here has been advantage, with some disadvantages, the greatest being the distance from Paris. It takes me about an hour and a half each way by train and metro to the Bibliotheque Nationale; however, I try to read at least on the train. For Wilma; however, it is difficult to go to Paris unless I stay home. from the library, and in the evenings it is almost impossible to go. We have, however, explored Paris with the children on Thursdays (schools are closed that day) and Sundays - there is always more to see and we are far from having exhausted the museums which fascinate the children - and some of the Paris plays come to Fontainebleau, only ten miles away.
But the great advantage of living in Le Mee has been that we have had a good opportunity to observe French life. Contrary to what we had been led to expect, it has been quite easy to meet people here. Our landlady, a widow school teacher, active in almost every educational and every left-wing non-Communist political group in Melun, has been’very helpful in introducing us to the organizational life here. Our neighbors, also school teachers, introduced us to a sort of family hiking and discussion group, where we have met quite a number of people. So we have been invited to observe meetings of the PTA; the Ecole des Parents, the Ligue des Droits de l’Homme (Human Rights League); a meeting of the Parti Socialists Unifie, and in the opposite political direction I heard Poujade address a mass meeting yesterday in Melun.
Jeremy and Danny have been going to school since September. For Jeremy the linguistic and academic adjustment was very rapid. After being permitted pro- visionally to remain in the fourth grade, he emerged after several weeks as one of the best students in the class although the work was considerably more ad- vanced than in New Orleans. Danny’s adjustment has been a little slower but he is making rapid progress now. Jonathan after two short visits to the ecole maternelle (kindergarten) refused to go. Not only was the language strange to him, but the discipline and the pedagogy in an overcrowded class room in which a teacher with one assistant attempted to keep fifty children quiet were so diﬁferent from the nursery school he had known. Schools here have changed much less than we had thought, and much less than they apparently have elsewhere in Northwestern Europe. Levels of academic performance are surprisingly high, alhough there is very much memory work. However, there is still an atmosphere in which children (although not ours) are afraid of the teacher, children are beaten not only for misconduct but for poor performance, overly great emphasis is put on examinations which qualify children for the lycee, and children in some class rooms are seated (or shifted) in terms of rank. Within the very traditional system, some of the teachers we spoke to seem very imaginative while others seem strikingly little so.
Indeed in contrast to other Northwest European countries and the U,S., one is struck here by the conservatism of institutions and the lack of flexibility. Except on the technological level, relatively little seems to have changed in the past decades, while in Britain and particularly in Germany one is constantly struck by the profound changes which the catastrophes of this century have wrought. However, there is a greet deal of self-criticism in France, of the educational system and of other aspects of French life, a feeling that something ne marche plus and that fundamental reforms are required. Here in contrast to other Northwest European countries, one is still aware of extensive poverty in the midst of the new prosperity and of the existence of a proletariat which seems to have rapidly disappeared elsewhere in Northwestern Europe, If the conception of the “grande nation” still looms large in the Palais de l’Elysee, it has been considerably modified among the people who seem mostly to have a much more realistic view of France’s position in the world today. Everyone speaks about the Algerian war; almost everybody opposes the war, generally very bitterly so, and feels that the age of colonialism is over. The complaints of what 21 years of war have done to French democracy and economic development recur, and the war in Algeria has become a matter of conscience for most Frenchmen (although not, of course, for M. Poujade). The stream of self-criticism here as well as in regard to other spheres of life may be a hopeful portent for the future, One sign of the Europeanization of the French spirit is the very striking decline of anti-German sentiment.
We are now planning to go to Göttingen on May 1, the beginning of the summer semester when we can have an apartment for the summer months. Unless unexpectedly a grant should materialize for the coming academic year, we intend to return to New Orleans the end of August, we have followed the developments in New Orleans with a heavy heart. It is disheartening how few people, so many fewer even than in Little Rock, have had the courage to speak out for decency. New Orleans shows again how deeply wrong from a practical as well as moral standpoint the false type of gradualism is which aims at token integration rather than as honest compliance.
With best wishes for the holiday season and the New Year, the five Iggers Georg, Wilma, Jeremy, Danny, and Jonathan