First, a word on what I mean when I refer to what I do. Many of you have read my posts about adoption, childhood trauma, and advocating for the mentally ill, which, of course, all matters. A lot. But it is not the only thing that drives me. It's not even the first.
The first thing that ever lit me up, inside and out, was music. Close behind that was French. We were exposed – woefully late, I might add – to French and Spanish in junior high. I liked both, would go on to study both, but the language I fell instantly, head-over-heels in love with, was French. Thanks to two marvelous high school teachers, Ms. Griffiths and Ms. Chester, I was able to cram five years of study into four, and actually got pretty good. I chose a college with approximately one goal in mind, study more French and go to France. Nazareth College gave me a scholarship to do just that. When my time there was almost up, my trusted and beloved mentors, Candide, Ruben, and Octave, encouraged me to try for grad school. Since all I really wanted to do was keep speaking and reading French, this seemed like a plausible option, so I did.
When I arrived at Indiana University, I still wasn't really sure what exactly I intended to do, other
I loved it. Turns out teaching college is exactly what I'm supposed to do. I remembered Octave and Ruben and Candide and began to believe that like them, I could maybe make a difference, see that my love affair with French didn't begin and end with me. Less than two years after finishing my PhD, I landed at Cumberland College, where I've been ever since.
It's not all roses, though. This love of mine is subject to more or less constant attack. I've gotten flak about my francophilia pretty much from day one, right up until the present. Not that I've much cared, being a) stubborn as a mule and b) convinced this is what I was born to do. I've been interrogated about what it's good for, admonished that everyone speaks English, had so many stereotypes rammed down my throat that I'm surprised I've not yet choked. I still don't really care. France and French are just my "thing." Quitting them would be like quitting oxygen.
I could spit out a bunch of numbers, use math to explain why French matters. I won't [although if you're interested, you can check out the AATF Fact Sheet here]. I didn't learn French for the numbers. I did it for love. For love and for the stories. The blueberry grower at the Paris agriculture exhibition. The World War II pilot shot down in the center of France who decided to make his life there. The journalist who flew on the actual Concorde. The couple camping in the American West when they encountered their very first skunk. The businessman who needed a French-English speaker to get through the immigration line in India. He in turn got us to our connecting airport minutes before the airport closed due to monsoons; without him we would have been another day late in meeting our son. These aren't just ways French has proved useful; they are tales of human connection, stories that never would have happened if I hadn't embraced a language and cultures beyond those into which I was born.
To many such things don't matter, including those in my own back yard. Our governor began disparaging my life's work years ago. Then my daughters' high school began an attack of its own, replacing a talented teacher of first-year French with a second-rate computer program that is leaving students further and further behind. I know French, and I know good instruction. This software offers neither. Nor can it. When is the last time you heard a computer, of its own free will, share a compelling story or make a deep connection? I guess such a machine could exist, but I've not seen it here.
Worst of all, French has turned out to be the canary in the coal mine. Education itself is on the chopping block, in my state and across our land. Libraries, universities, and especially teachers are undervalued to a degree I have never seen. Teachers have seen their benefits cut, then found themselves bullied by the government for daring to protest. Every time I think things cannot get much worse, they do.