Comparing Civic Education Practices in the Multicultural Classroom

At a recent conference on civic education in France and the United States at Columbia University I was invited to share my ideas on how language programs can have an impact on citizenship, integration, and mutual understanding.

The teaching of civic education in France and the United States was the topic of an interesting conference organized by LICRA-US and sponsored by the Center for Educational Equity (CEE) and the Vice President’s Office for Diversity & Community Affairs at Teachers College Columbia University.

Professors Michael Rebell (Teachers College and Columbia Law School) and Patrick Weil (Université Panthéon-Sorbonne and Yale Law School), both internationally known legal scholars, examined national policies and compared civic education in France and the United States.

I discussed the impact of dual- and heritage-language programs on mutual understanding, integration, equity, and justice in both countries. · In my opinion, dual-language schools and the concept of heritage language education can facilitate citizenship and enhance social cohesion. I also presented the Bilingual Revolution and offered suggestions on how dual-language education can serve both French and US societies. We also heard from a current NYC high school students: Samiratou Sanga, and from Ibrahima Sow, a former student of the French Heritage Language Program who spoke about the impact of the program on his sense of identity and preparation for life after high school.

The conference was designed to initiate dialogue among educators and policy makers in France and the United States, inspire better civic education for our youth in the short term, and lead to concrete policy recommendations to help strengthen our democracies, in the long term. The conference originated with a Teachers College Vice President’s “Grant for Diversity and Community Initiatives,” awarded to Jessica Wolff and Harriet Jackson from Teachers College who organized this conference so brilliantly.

The conference also showcased an unprecedented collaboration of French students from a vocational high school in a low-income Paris suburb, and international students at a high school in New York City. Two teachers and ten students from France visited with the students in New York City for two days to discuss issues of identity, belonging, hatred (such as racism, Islamophobia, and anti-Semitism), and whether the risk of extremism is at all relevant to their lives.