Saturday, January 07, 2006

Paris Riots in Class

First published 11-14-05

On the blackboard, I wrote four questions under the heading “Riots in France.” The first asked, “Who is rioting?” The others asked, “What happens during the riots?”; “Why are the riots occurring?” and “What is the French government doing about them?” Students were instructed to copy the questions on a piece of paper, leaving space under each for answers. They they were to use search engines on their laptops to find information. The riots had, at that point, been occurring for two weeks.

“How should we answer the first question, Mr. McLaughlin?” a girl asked.

“Use your brain,” I said. “Don’t use mine. It’s a simple question: ‘Who is rioting?’ Find an answer.”

She didn’t like my response, but I didn’t want to influence her search. I knew the answer was being reported in different ways and that’s what I wanted students to find out.

Pretty soon, several started raising their hands. When I called on a boy, he started reading from the screen of his laptop: French youths rioted for the thirteenth night . . .”

“Hold on,” I said. “I’d prefer that you each write the answers on your paper before we go over them as a group. I want you to process the information through your brains rather than reading it from the screen.” When most were done researching, I said, “Okay. Who is rioting?”

The boy had his hand up again. “Youths,” he said.

“Youths,” I repeated. “Who else found that?”

Several hands went up.

“Any other answers to ‘Who is rioting?’ ” I asked.

“Immigrant youths,” said a girl.

“Immigrant youths,” I repeated. “Any other answers?”

“Muslim immigrant youths or the children of Muslim Arab and African immigrants,” said another girl.

I went over to a world map and called for everyone’s attention. “Here is France,” I said, “and here is North Africa across the Mediterranean. During the 1800s, Algeria, Morocco and Tunisia became French colonies. After World War II there was a rebellion in Algeria and it became independent in 1962. After that, France’s population didn’t go up much as people used birth control more and abortion became available. Immigration from the former colonies was encouraged and now Muslim African and Arab immigrants, and their descendents, comprise about 12% of France’s 60 million people. However, they’re not assimilating well. That means they’re not joining French culture as fully as France would like. They live in France, but stay to themselves keep their own ways. Unemployment is very high among Muslim male ‘youths’ - almost 40% of those under 25 are out of work and many of them get into trouble. That’s the part of the population of any country that commits most of the crimes and their being out of work doesn’t help. Are you beginning to get a picture of how the riots could happen?”

There were nods all around.

“Okay. What happens during the riots?” Lots of hands went up and I called on a girl.

“They’re burning up lots of cars,” she said, “setting them on fire.”

“How many?” I asked.

“More than fourteen hundred the other night.”

“Wow. That’s a lot of cars,” said a boy.

“But it’s getting better,” she said. “Not as many cars were burned last night.”

“How many?” I asked.

“Six hundred sixty.”

“That’s a lot!” said another boy.

“Okay,” I said. “Third question: Why are the riots occurring?”

There was a pause before another girl said, “Because they feel discrimination in France and they’re angry.”

“Okay. Any other answers?”

“Because they don’t have jobs,” said a boy. “A lot of them have nothing else to do.”

“All right. Now for the last question: What is the French government doing about the riots?”

“They’re putting more police out there to deal with the rioters,” one said.

“They’re starting curfews,” said another.

“What are curfews?” I asked.

“When people must be inside at night.”

“Is it a sundown to sunrise curfew?” I asked.

“Ten PM to dawn,” she said.

“What happens if they go out?” asked a boy.

“They go to jail for two months and get fined $6000,” she answered.

“Wow. That’s a lot.”

“Do you think those moves will be effective?” I asked.

“There were only 660 cars burned the first night of the curfews,” said the girl.

“Only?” said the boy.

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