~Whatever The Cost Of Our Libraries, The Price Is Cheap Compared To That Of An Ignorant Nation~ Walter Cronkite

~You ! You read it out in a British accent and you here, read it in your American accent. We must get the feel of what the foreign political personalities and press were saying about the French Revolution~

The assumption being since most of the class had chosen English as a second language they would understand or at least try to understand what was being said. 

Only three days in my new French school, armed with one sentence ~Je m'appelle Nandini~ My name is Nandini. I was indeed nervous to have a role in my class Presentation Politique Socio-Culturelle Sur La Révolution Française as was my French-American classmate with hers. A valued friendship to this day, several decades later.

I threw myself so completely into it, unaccustomed to being taught history a subject I enjoyed, in this unique way. 
The pages of our history book were filled with beautiful images of paintings, portraits, lithographs from various museums but we were yet to open it.

Our class of twenty was divided into five groups, some small, some larger-
- Political & Economic Causes For The French Revolution.
- The Resentment of the Lower Clergy vs Higher Clergy.
- The Aristocracy & the Ordinary Citizen.
- Cultural Scenario.
- Foreign Press & Reactions.

Each group fanned out to the school library first, then to the Archives - Musée des Archives Nationale or Musée de l’Histoire de France as it was previously known, the recently opened Centre Pompidou, the state of the art Public Information Library which boasts of six million and more visitors annually since its opening. 

We were given a month to put it together - A 360-degree Presentation on the French Revolution. 
After school hours were spent collating, typing, filing, borrowing, and signing in for documents and slides that were necessary and important to our project. 

My French- American classmate and I having been given the lightest responsibility were expected to help any group that required extra assistance. 
What we couldn’t find in the school Drama Club we went to the Theatre District's numerous period costume stores to hire hats and pinafores. 
The idea being to bring alive an authentic France of 1789 to our classroom.

~At the end of the month not only will we have you speaking in French Mademoiselle Bahri but also dreaming in it~ declared my history teacher passionately but in that formal manner French teachers addressed their students. 

After numerous practise sessions, within our individual groups and then together as a whole we laid out the itinerary and sequence of our Presentation. 
In elaborate hats, wigs, layered dresses, waistcoats, and monocles we got better at it with each day. 
The Music Club was roped in to perform the popular revolutionary songs and ditties, some of them rather risqué, taking pot shots at Marie Antoinette who was eventually guillotined, making the Cultural Scenario group a very interesting one indeed. 

What a way to learn history!

Anybody, from any class, who was interested and free at that time was invited to a smaller, cozier annexe to the School Auditorium for a program that extended one hour every afternoon, over an entire week.
But before that we had a few rehearsals with our history teacher where she gave her comments, suggestions and answered any of our queries or doubts. 

It was an exhilarating week where that very important period in French History played out like a film produced and directed by us students. 
A Question-Answer session with other students and teachers was an opportunity for us to back up our production with sources and references. 
Despite a few minor glitches here and there, it looked like a great success to me however was treated by others with typical French nonchalance....

The following week, we still hadn’t opened our books when we went by Metro to the Louvre, to see paintings and other works of art of that period, stormed the Bastille and walked through Versailles, the palace from which the King & Queen were dragged in a cart to their prison. 

It was nearly two and a half months into the term when we finally opened our books to learn dates and other historical facts. But by then the French Revolution was a breeze !

As I was to learn over time, this was quite the norm in how subjects were handled. From Napoleon to the French author Colette, we delved, we researched, we asked and as fifteen-year-olds wrote our own opinions. What was most important, it mattered. 

Pause to think only for a moment how our rich and varied history is taught in our schools and our literature not even explored. 


  1. So well written nandini ji.. As usual.. You just made me time travel into my school days.. Where hours would be spent in searching for books, taking notes down and elaborating there itself to make a project or prepare a speech.. Thanks a lot

  2. "The idea being to bring alive an authentic France of 1789 to our classroom."

    This above sentence literally made me ponder about our education system. What we miss from current education system is "The Idea" and "The Authenticity". Being a science student, I couldn't dive deep into history during my school days but whatever I could learn and most importantly the way I learned till 10th standard in Army school that was not enough to ignite my curiosity.

    Yes, we feel more connected to our history when we visit any monument or any history site or watching a documentary. And that very "idea" of bring alive that very "authentic" France to classrooms is surely capable to make students more curious and fulfills that gap between our authentic history and students and that's exactly how our classroom teaching should be.

    Yet to see what this New Education Policy (NEP) -2020 brings to the table but way of teaching is something which only individual teachers / Schools can take care of. We have a rich history and we are not doing justice to this rich history and culture just by taking down notes and delivering speeches in classroom.

    Thanks Nandini Ji for showing us this wonderful way of exploring and learning.

    1. Thank you....Hoping the NEP brings in much needed change in the methodology of imparting education.

  3. Full marks for stylistic excellence, lucidity and the final literary rub where the obvious need not be stated. You are on a roll, Nandini.
    Amit Bararia

  4. Hi Nandini, thank you for this brilliant piece! I was wondering if I could consult you on an initiative we are planning as part of enabling community based education?

    1. Thank you ! Yes, I'd be happy to assist in anyway I can. If you are on Twitter you could DM me.

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