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Dear FrenchRevers,

I want to thank you all once again for showing up to Tuesday night’s class in what can euphemistically be described as trying times for Boulder, the inspirational and original home of FrenchRev. 

In the past few weeks, Élisabeth, Sabrina, and I have been brainstorming together to be able to better describe what it is exactly that we see as the task at hand for our students – be they in our FrenchRev classes or in more traditional settings such as Thomas Jefferson High School in Denver or Fairview High School in Boulder.  I personally have been drawing upon Sandra Savignon’s great work on Communicative Competence that began almost 50 years ago at the University of Illinois. Recently, I downloaded a book that inspired her – Teaching as a Subversive Activity  (TaaSA) by Neil Postman and Charles Weingartner.  When I teach the manuscript of Savignon’s 1976 Plenary Address to the Central States Conference on the Teaching of Foreign Languages, my graduate students are floored by just how relevant and contemporary it remains to this day.  I must say that I’m astonished that that may be even more true of TaaSA.  Postman and Weingartner promote a meaning-based, question-based, and inquiry-based curriculum that is fed by and grows organically from what is relevant to the lives of their students. And communication is central to the way the curriculum unfolds.

While that book is relevant to language learning, it may not be until the more advanced levels that TaaSA will have its greatest impact for us (versus courses where the students usually have a good grasp of the language of instruction). However, because we know that it is in a communication-based context that essential form/meaning connections are made for language acquisition to occur, I don’t believe that TaaSA is irrelevant for us.  Furthermore, our emphasis on story creation intersects with the preoccupations of TaaSA in that it enables our students to bring their daily life and their life’s preoccupations into the classroom. The stories’ details often emerge from that matter, perhaps not unlike how dreams emerge from similar raw material.

FrenchRev has the word “revolution” in its root name, and we hope that mythical word is not too grandiose a goal for our own good. But because our approach is not a product but a process (as are your stories) with a utopian goal of communication in French and French communicative competence, our pedagogical project has an interesting side product: the ability to deal with others in ways that do not reaffirm Jean-Paul Sartre’s infamous line, “L’enfer, c’est les autres” (Hell is others).  FrenchRev’s approach may also not contradict the notion that “love doesn’t exist, just acts of love exist,” but your fascinating quirkiness, fascinating differences, good moods, bad moods, opinions, faults, and talents certainly inspire something akin to love in us. We know that none of us can ever really attain perfect communication and communicative competence (it’s a process, not a product, remember?), but we do believe our schools, including our language programs, will best serve all of us if we do not lose site of those utopian goals.

Peace, justice, and acceptance to us all in this very tough week,

Mark

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