Tuesday, July 31, 2018

Belgian exchange teacher Jean Nicaise was fascinated by D-B football practices during his year in Kingsport, 1958-1959.

Memories of a Caroloregian: the Kingsport pages
Jean Nicaise

Translator's note: Square brackets [ ] enclose clarifications or explanations.  [Sic] means the previous word appears as per the original. Italics show when Nicaise himself uses English.

Extracurricular activities

          I have already said that very few of my students worked on their lessons at home. I asked one of the top students of the senior class, Dale Volberg, about this. She admitted that she never opened a school book at home and that the best students among her friends did the same.
          - I have my music, she said, and my brother has his basketball.
          A Gallup poll will later show that a majority of parents would like to see more home work.
Even the young people realize this. But that would require a huge change in attitude. Extracurricular activities take up a lot of the time, evenings, and attention of these teenagers: student council elections with campaign meetings and signs ("Vote for Barbara"); writing, selling ads, editing, and printing the monthly Indian Tribune or the annual (Year Book) with individual and group photos of all teachers and students; organization of dances, of which the most picturesque was the Barn Dance, where everyone dressed up like a Hillbilly peasant; the participation of the "band" in opening of the new post office; the election of miss Kee [sic] Club; and that's not all. Of course these activities had an educational goal. In particular they encouraged teamwork and the very strong civic sense that Americans have, got the kids involved in social life, and gave the best of them the opportunity to bear some responsibilities. The games brought together in the bleachers the whole school and the whole city and contributed to the formation of a group spirit [in French: esprit de corps] that is unknown in Belgium.
          Pascal [Blalse Pascal, French philosopher and mathematician, 1623 -1662] remarked that "men are not taught to be honest, but are taught everything else." American teaching does the opposite. You find the proof of this in the curriculum vitae of a student, which is given over in large part to all of the social activities. In the Year-Book, Maroon and Gray, there is no mention of scholastic achievement alongside the individual photos of the seniors, but all of the extracurricular activities are detailed, even the ones from the previous years. Anyone who contented himself with getting good grades in math, languages, or science without participating in any clubs would not have been admitted to any top university because it would have reproached him for egocentrism and a lack of initiative
          The most important occupation was obviously sports, especially team sports: football (meaning American football) in the autumn, basketball in the winter, track and baseball in the spring. Let's hear it for mens sana in corpora sano! [Latin for "a sound mind in a sound body."] Unfortunately, sports weren't a requirement. In Belgian schools sports have a much-too-small place, but there is physical education for all. For everything else, well, the Pascalian belief remains true.
          The coaches were former professional athletes better paid than the teachers. There were four of them. The head coach, Mr. Brixey, big and tall, with a walk like a dockhand, was the respected individual who watched over study hall, where he meted out the same discipline as to the "boys" of his football team. From September to December there was practice almost every day after school. How could anyone have asked the exhausted kids to re-open their notebooks once they got home? Dale Volberg described to me her brother when he got home at six o'clock from daily basketball practice: he ate between yawns and went to bed!
          I filmed quite a few practices of the football team of the Indians that participated in an East Tennessee championship.
          [A photo follows of a football scrimmage in helmets and pads.]
          It was incredible: violent collisions between these cuirassiers [French heavy cavalry that wore metal helmets and breastplates] of the twentieth century, along with blows, bruises, bloody noses, yelling, countless torn jerseys. If, on a Friday evening, any survivor of a training session thought about going out on the town, he would be sent to bed by the head coach who scoured the dance halls, the driving cinemas [drive-in cinemas], etc., on the lookout for reprobates. At least that's what I learned much later in the best seller written by Lisa Alther, a woman who came from Kingsport's high society. Her novel Kinflicks, translated into French under the title Ginny, caused quite a scandal in the little city for reasons that will soon be clear. On the other hand, critics greeted the remarkable talent of the young writer with enthusiasm, and the general public shared this feeling. Indeed, after the original publication in 1976, the famous paperback publisher Pinguin [sic] Books grabbed hold of the book and from 1977 until 1986 -- the date of my own copy -- issued twelve editions, and it would surprise me if that was the last of them. (I never found the French edition published by Gallimard; it's out of print.) The novel recounts the trials and tribulations of its heroine, Ginny, fifteen years old at the beginning of the story, during the sixties and seventies. Coincidentally, the author herself was exactly that age when I was in Kingsport! Her brother, one of my best students and also the most boisterous, later became the director of the Institute for Research in Social Science at the University of North Carolina. Her mother, a remarkably cultured and highly distinguished woman, was part of the faithful little French conversation group and remained the steadiest of Renee's correspondents.
          Slightly changing the name to Hullsport, LIsa exactly describes the city that I knew -- Church Circle with its "five large red brick churches all various shades of Protestantism" and Broad Street, become Hullstreet, leading to the train station by the river. She also notes the pervasive stale air: "the vilest air for human lungs of any town its size in a nation of notoriously vile air." I must say that I have not reported that an odor given off on some evenings in our neighborhood that was far more frightful than Eastman Kodak's:  that of rotting flesh from the cast-off waste of a pork processing plant. It refluxed by way of the sewers when the pipe was dry and forced us to live with all the windows closed in good weather.
          In Kinflick[s] the coach's name is Bicknell, and he is the exact portrait (and the name a close resemblance) of Brixey, "a huge muscle man in his forties with a gunboat grey [crew] cut and squinty eyes and inevitable non neck." [In a footnote Nicaise translates this sentence into French and then says, "As often happens, the translation is untrue to the original. My description of the person was neither as cruel, as talented, nor as accurate!"] I was flabbergasted by the young peoples' adventures described by the author, which are certainly derived from her own memories. Ten years before the sexual liberation year of 1968, the couples going in their car to the Driving Cinema would have had a hard time summarizing the plot of the movie. That's where Ginny, at the age of fifteen and without any pleasure, loses her virginity. Apparently my lovely students gave themselves over to many other excesses that I would never have dared imagine, even in the room in the school from which was broadcast school-wide messages. This public address system even gave cover to the love-making of representatives of Teen team for Jesus who'd been given the job of spreading the good news. To avoid any intrusion into this little sound-proof room during the broadcast of the religious message, they thought to double-lock the door, which allowed the couple to violate the sixth commandment without fear of being surprised by the Principal who sat not far from there, his bad back supported by a mountain of cushions. Se non è vero, è ben contato [Italian saying meaning, "If it's not true, it's a good story"] by Lisa Alther.
          Now let us leave the novel and return to the reality that inspired it.
          Renee and I very much enjoyed going to the Indians' night-time events that everyone in town hurried to attend. We never understood anything about the game, which, whatever one might think, is very different from European rugby. But it was an utter spectacle both on the field and in the stands. At halftime the "band" marched, except for the one time it was replaced by the procession of a white convertible Cadillac, on board which were Miss Kee Club and her maids of honor in dazzling evening gowns, shot by the flashes of the Camera Club. During the game, in the stands, everybody followed the example of the cheer leaders dressed in school colors: a maroon skirt and gray blouse adorned with an enormous K.
          There were students who, as members of the Kee Club, ran the non-alcoholic drink concession, rented cushions, and sold pop-corn. This club performed charitable work on behalf of handicapped children, etc. Another one collected money to buy football equipment for the less fortunate students, because it was normally the families that had to pay for the jerseys, cleats, helmets, pants, knee-pads, elbow-pads, shoulder-pads, etc. -- the armor of the knights of the oval ball.
          I regret not ever accompanying the team to an away game. That would've been fun! I had to content myself with attending the departure of three buses full of supporters. They were festooned with banners that bragged on the Maroon and Gray team and announced the certain defeat of the adversaries from Chattanooga or Johnson City. Sixty-six musicians in gleaming uniforms fanfared the departure with the school song before taking their place in the caravan of buses along with the majorettes and the flag team.
          The clubs all continued to meet even during exams, which took place morning and afternoon without interruption and without any break to prepare. The tests were all multiple-choice. All anyone had to do was put a check next to the number of the answer thought to be the correct one. Thus, in an English test, no one wrote a single word of English. Thus the unsurprising, terrible style of the numerous, voluminous, well-printed newspapers thrown onto front porches by a 12- or 13-year-old bicyclist, without stopping, or sold to drivers stopped for a red light. I had to conform more or less to this type of test. The only advantage was the ease and rapidity of grading. I've kept the exam questions from the first semester. I find them to be bristling with difficulty. My students must've overcome them, because none of them failed (or flunked, as they would say). Whatever the case, I knew that a bad grade in French wouldn't mean they'd have to re-take the class: a student had to fail three out of five subjects to suffer this consequence, without hope of appeal to a class council [in Belgian schools a meeting of teachers, parents, and class representatives] or the last chance re-taking of the exam.

[Translated by Jud Barry]

Tuesday, July 24, 2018

Belgian exchange teacher Jean Nicaise in the used 1955 Plymouth he purchased to get around town during his year in Kingsport. 

Memories of a Caroloregian: the Kingsport pages
Jean Nicaise

Translator's note: Square brackets [ ] enclose clarifications or explanations.  [Sic] means the previous word appears as per the original. Italics show when Nicaise himself uses English.

Public Relations

          All the dinners, cocktails, and well-lubricated evenings (in this supposedly dry State) I owe to the public relations of my wife. I also owe to her the fact that I was asked to deliver a number of "lectures" accompanied by slides to numerous groups made up mostly of women: Book Club, American Association of University Women, Beta Sigma Phi Sorority, Daughters of the American Revolution, United Daughters of the Confederacy, Business and Professional Women Voters.
          [About the DAR Nicaise says in a footnote: "These "Daughters of the American Revolution" make up a kind of New World nobility since they are descended from the first Europeans to settle on American soil, the chivalry who fought the English and created the United States." Of the UDC he writes: "A more recent 'nobility,' since it brings together descendants of the Southern soldiers of the Civil War. It does nevertheless include members of the previous group."]
          It's possible that I've left out a club or two. One year did not suffice for me to bring to all of them the combined brilliance of my knowledge and my projector: there were more than 50 clubs and associations. Not to mention that I also received requests for lectures from professional groups such as the University in Johnson City, where I received an excellent welcome.
          I always made a very short presentation and then made myself available to answer questions. Before long I was able to anticipate the questions and the responses best suited for them. The most frequently asked question was why, in my opinion, Americans were the least popular people on earth. In fact all over the world popular discontent has sometimes resulted in the burning of an American cultural center, the stupid act of ignorant crowds, or by the looting of the local offices of American Airways. Sent to South America on a mission by President Eisenhower, Vice President Nixon had to put up with the insults of the mob that swarmed his limousine.
          My answer to this question had three parts:
          1. People often sin through ignorance. They have not had the privilege of getting to know, as I have, the real America [in French, literally "deep America"]. Most of the time, not only do they not know this real America, but they judge its inhabitants by the worst representatives taken from its military and its tourists, who, camera on belly, toss around their good health and their dollars, thinking all the while that the whole world speaks English.
          2. The poor envy the rich and wind up detesting them.
          3. Finally, not only is it jarring the way Americans go to such great lengths to maintain their "way of life" in other countries, but there's also the strong feeling that they want to export it and, indeed, impose their lifestyle, like their Coca Cola, on the whole world. Generally I would add that of course it was up to the so-called conquered people to resist and to continue to enjoy their wine, their beer, or their Orangina, their Wolkswagen or their Deux-chevaux [popular Renault automobile].  I couldn't say but that someday Orangina might be the envy of Coca Cola!
          All the same I insisted on the fact that the great majority of Europeans retained their gratitude for their liberators and regarded with emotion the innumerable graves of the GI's who sacrificed their lives to keep liberty safe. It was to a university audience that I described the plot of Labiche's [Eugene Marin Labiche, French playwright, 1815 - 1888] famous comedy Mr. Perrichon's Trip, and the remark made by the devious Daniel to the honest Armand: "A jerk can't tolerate the crushing burden known as gratitude." It is a fact, I added, that the European population is not comprised only of jerks.
          We loved America and the Americans. We made some very dear friends, but none among the teachers. People told us it was because they had some kind of complex about Europeans and their bilingualism, a complex that was not shared by the intellectuals, doctors, and engineers, themselves only monolingual, whose wives Renee got to know and who invited us into their homes for cocktails and dinner.
          Almost the only exception among the teachers was the "Principal," Elery Lay, who had us visit his tobacco field.
          [A photograph shows the Nicaises and the Lays in a row of tall tobacco.]
          He inscribed a dedication to us in a copy of his novel, That Reek of Sin. The accounting teacher, Finley B. Eliott, invited me to go fishing (by some miracle I succeeded in hooking a fish); some of my colleagues asked me to go to a worship service at their church. Only one -- Sarah G. Pauley, an economics teacher with whom I'd made friends and who enjoyed talking slang to me just to get a kick out of my confusion -- invited us, shortly before we left, to a farewell dinner. It was a memorable evening! Along with another colleague and her husband, Mrs. and Mr. Tom Browder, we went to the Country Club. As in all Tennessee restaurants, alcoholic beverages were not served.  But Sarah's husband, an engineer, ordered soda water and then pulled out of a gray paper package a bottle of Kentucky straight Bourbon Whiskey that we emptied in no time at all. I would be hard pressed to describe the food with as much precision as the drink. After the meal we made the rounds of the slot machines where we lost a mountain of "nickels" (five cents), after which we went to the house of our gracious hosts. The men were invited to shed their jackets, and the ladies to kick off their heels. Renee, feeling more comfortable shod than unshod, kept hers on. Made very happy by the bourbon, I asked if they might not have by chance a piano. Yes, there was one stowed away in the … laundry room. No problem! It was to this place every bit as unsuitable for a get-together as for a concert that we went, a glass of encouragement in hand. I played a few jazz chords, accompanied by Tom Browder, and a few tunes that were more European but in no way classical, while the man of the house laid down the rhythm by drumming on the washing machine!
          Sarah Pauley was a cultured lady, but I have to say that, compared to European teachers, the level of knowledge of many of my colleagues bordered on destitution. The state of Tennessee lagged behind others in many ways. There was a joke making the rounds about the count of its residents: did they wear shoes? As for its economy, its agriculture had been ruined by erosion. Numerous Hillbillies secretly made whisky, called Moonshine because it was a good idea to distill it at night, by the light of the moon. Industry in the state where the famous Davy Crockett had lived only began to take off thanks to the huge project of irrigation and dams carried out by the T.V.A., Tennessee Valley Authority, well-known over in Europe. In fact it was particularly because of this enterprise that, in Belgium, I'd already heard of the state and its river. There were three dams on the Holston River in the vicinity of Kingsport that provided electricity to the industries of the city as well as lakes for outings and water sports.

Teacher education

          Speaking of education, they said at the school, "Thanks to Mississippi, we are not the last." I looked into the program of study that led to teaching. Teachers, at least the white ones, were either a "bachelor" or a "master." The former had four years of university ("college"), the latter, five. To get a degree, one had to accumulate a certain number of "credits" in almost no-matter-what subject. Any course finished successfully contributed a certain number of credits. I had a Spanish and English teacher, Miss Campbell, make me a list of the subjects studied during her four years of college. Of course she had to "major" in Spanish, meaning most of her subjects had to relate to this language and a "minor" in English. But I found among the relatively few areas related to these languages were, of course, a class in pedagogy but also: typing, elementary German (not followed by any higher-level German courses!), elementary basketball! When you know how poor the level of learning is going into college, it's staggering.
          We've already seen how Mary could only carry on a conversation in very hesitant French made almost incomprehensible by a bizarre accent. One day a young Bolivian entered school whose father was working for Eastman Kodak. He didn't speak a word of English. He was taken to Miss Campbell and another Spanish teacher. They failed to communicate. Finally the Principal sent the boy to me, and I had to serve as the Spanish-English interpreter even though I hadn't used the language of Cervantes in eight years! Moreover, they'd already trusted me with Latin despite any depth of knowledge of English. …
          When I learned that my position was classified as "bachelor" and my salary calculated accordingly, I protested loudly. The reply was that I had four years of college. I figured that by rights I should have the same reward as a "master." I had my academic transcript sent from Belgium, and I wrote Mme. Moor-Deflandre, to no avail. Fortunately, in November, I received some very good news: the Belgian Department of Education had decided to provide the salary of exchange teachers. This was a welcome gift that compensated for the fact that Renee didn't earn a penny. We were able to anticipate traveling without having to live cheaply all year long. …
          The mediocre level of studies in the United States is especially surprising given the quality of American science. If you look a little closer you can see that several of the top ones, particularly Nobel prize-winners, were recently-naturalized Europeans. Furthermore the prestigious universities like Princeton, Harvard, etc., and some private secondary schools are rigorously selective in their enrollment. There were also programs for gifted students in some of the big cities.
          A particularly qualified observer, the Belgian Director of Secondary Instruction, has said that American schools are very inferior to Belgian ones.
          One fine day (why do we say that such days are always fine?), a day neither prettier nor more ugly than any other, I was urgently called to the office by the secretary: a phone call from Washington! What in the world could have happened?
          - Hello, Levarlet speaking!
          - Hello, Mr. Lev … uh, Director.
          In a second I had recovered my Belgian reflexes of hierarchical etiquette. In America nobody uses the administrative titles for department heads or lower-level supervisors. At Dobyns-Bennett, the Principal was simply Mr. Lay. The "supervisor," himself a former teacher at the school, was "Jack." He had come to a couple of my classes and declared himself satisfied, no doubt due to my healthy glow, since he knew neither French nor Latin.
          - Hello, Nicaise. I'm doing a study trip in the US. How are you? I'm going to spend a few days in Tennessee …
          - Will I have the pleasure of seeing you?
          - I'd like to visit you, but you will have to come get me.
          - Where in Tennessee will you be?
          - In Knoxville. Do you have a car? I have the weekend open.
          - I will come get you, Director.
          With a doctorate in mathematics, Henri Levarlet was, at the beginning of his teaching career, a young colleague of Charles Nicaise at the Atheneum of Ixelles. My uncle had rendered some services to him, and he was grateful for them. … My uncle had introduced me to him, saying:
          - He has a worse temper than I do.
          He was exaggerating, as we will see.
          Knoxville is 150 km. away. In reality, I wasn't sure that my car would be available, since it was in the garage for a problem in the cooling system. But a bunch of friends offered to lend me a vehicle: over here they're not attached to their cars, as they are in Europe, with the jealousy of Othello for Desdemona. So M. Levarlet would be able to spend the weekend among Belgians. I know how isolated a European can feel at the end of the week. Since Mary's house had only the bare necessities, and given the quality of our guest, Rita Shobe, the most devoted of our friends, hastily lent us some money and a lace tablecloth. Obviously it was Renee who remembered to take care of these domestic details.
          She cooked a veal ragout for the occasion. I managed to scrounge up, probably in Virginia, a bottle of Bordeaux. At least it wasn't chianti. French or Italian, the wine was a nice change for the traveler condemned to the iced tea, milk, or Coca Cola that was invariably served in the restaurants of the innumerable travel stops in the state.
          The car was repaired, and on Friday after school was out we went to pick up our guest at his hotel in Knoxville.
          Saturday morning, he met with the Kingsport Superintendent of schools and some of my students, who made the effort to come and to speak spontaneously a few words in French, better than I had ever heard them do in class. The importance of motivation!
          That afternoon, the Kingsport News came to Wanola Street to take our picture and interview Dr. Levarlet.
          [A photo shows a pipe-smoking Belgian Director of Secondary Instruction on a couch together with Nicaise, both holding saucers with cups.]
          On Sunday, he explored with us the area around Kingsport, all the way to the foothills of the Smoky Mountains, gloriously revived with the tender green of spring. He spoke with simplicity and warmth about his family and with special emotion about his younger daughter, who was going on ten years old. He also gave us humorous portrayals of some of the picturesque characters from the world of the national Department of Education. He revealed that it was he who had convinced the Secretary of Eductation not to end the Belgian salary for the exchange teachers.
          Privately he didn't hesitate to compare the Bachelor's Degree to that of our "candidacy," which is awarded after only two years of college. He underestimated the reality. He also moderated his views for the press. The newspaper headline was "Belgian Official Says American Schools Aren't So Bad After All." Which goes to show that the Americans were perfectly well aware of their failings when the Russians "queened their pawn" by becoming the first to send a 58-centimeter-in-diameter satellite into orbit around the earth, the famous Sputnik. That was only one year before my arrival on the other side of the Atlantic.
          Who was it who had enabled the US to catch up to the Soviets with the Jupiter C rocket? The naturalized German Werner von Braun, who had developed in 1944 Hitler's last missiles, the V2. Emphatically, of course, the Americans quickly caught up to the Soviets, so that even though the first man in orbit was the Russian Gagarin, the first to set foot on the moon, on July 21, 1969, was the American Neil Armstrong, and the surface of Mars was explored in 1997 by the amazing robot Sojourner, thanks to the genius of the men of NASA.
          In the meantime, conscious of the poor quality of their education, particularly of the derisory place given to learning science and foreign languages. the Americans, still in shock from Sputnik, encouraged their youth to get on with it. In Kingsport, going from one mistake to another with touching naivety, the School Board decided to start the study of French in the third grade. We have no reason to boast. Belgium tried an even stupider thing: start the study of a second language in nursery school! When little kids can't even use their first language all that easily! The myth of national bilingualism reared its head. But even if Walloons [French-speaking Belgians] came to be able, by some miracle, to speak Flemish fluently, a unified Belgium still could not be raised from the ashes.
          The supervisor of elementary schools, Mr. Gardner, was himself made the teacher [of third grade French]. At the end of two and a half months of three classes of 30 minutes each per week, the students put on some skits for the members of the Parent Teacher Association. The planner of this "theatrical" evening so typical of the scholastic culture not just of Kingsport but of America, brought the two-page mimeographed text to Renee for proofreading. What a disaster! We found exactly 22 errors, mistranslations, grammar mistakes, and howlers in a dialogue that was not only necessarily elementary but feeble as well. We discussed what we should do for a long time. Should we take the risk of offending this person who was so sure of himself? Should we on the other hand just let all those mistakes go? Finally, Renee returned the pages with the most egregious errors corrected. A few days later, the muddling-through teacher sent her a thank-you note along with a bouquet of flowers! An perfect example of American manners! The following year, some society ladies with no language training at all came in to help the staff of incompetent teachers. Would we find things any better in Belgium? If you want five-year-old kids, or even three-year-olds, to learn Flemish, don't bother having a teacher give them three half-hour classes a week. Send them to nurse in Flanders for six months!

Tuesday, July 17, 2018

Memories of a Caroloregian: the Kingsport pages
Jean Nicaise

Translator's note: Square brackets [ ] enclose clarifications or explanations.  [Sic] means the previous word appears as per the original. Italics show when Nicaise himself uses English.

Questions and answers

          From the very first lesson I always wanted to know what motivated my students to choose my language over Spanish, for example. Thus I added to the little file that I'd begun to use in Belgium I added "Why did you chose [sic] French?" Among the responses were "Because I want to take the opportunity to learn from the mouth of a French person," since I was to everybody the "French teacher," meaning I was a French French teacher. I didn't tease anyone about this. It was only in Latin that I specified my nationality when we translated Caesar's famous remark: "Of all the people of Gaul, the Belgians are the bravest." Strangely, their textbook used a picture of the citadel of Namur for the oppidum [town] of the Aduatiques [near Thuin, 62 km. from Namur].
          The most frequent response to my question was, "Because I would like to visit France." The most interesting one came from a cute 17-year-old girl, Carol, with red lipstick, fingernail polish, and mascara, like most of her contemporaries:
          - Because French is the language of love, and I am very romantic.
          Up to this point I thought that Italian was the language of love. At least that was Voltaire's [18th c. French philosopher] opinion. In a letter he wrote to Marie-Louise Denis, we read: "I am not surprised that you write so well in Italian. How fitting and appropriate, even sexy, that you are fluent in the language of love."
          Some time afterwards, I was reminding the class for the tenth time the important difference, for correct reading, between the acute accent [é] and the grave accent [è]. Carol, who I could tell was pensive for a few moments, raised her hand. I've always been told that one should always answer students' questions, whatever they might be.
          - Yes, Carol?
          - Is't true
          - In French, Carol!
          - Is it … uh … true that the French are the most good … uh … lovers in the world?
          - You say "best," not "most good," Carol.
          In Belgium the class would've burst out laughing and the interrupter reprimanded. Here, everybody waited patiently for my reply, caring no more about the sex of accent marks. Insofar as I was supposed to be French, I said proudly:
          - It's the general opinion, Carol, but I'm not qualified to confirm it.
          - And why are they the most … uh … the best?
          I thought immediately of the Kamasutra. The French didn't write it. I had to figure out a satisfactory explanation for libidinal French virility that would be appropriate for the students and for pedagogical decency.
          - Carol, it's simple: it's because they speak quite naturally the language of love!
          That pretty girl Carol got married before the end of the school year even though she didn't have the time to learn such a marvelous language all that well. She had to quit school because in Kingsport that was the rule for everyone. A controversial rule, it was the subject of several articles in the Kingsport News. The newspaper reported the opinions both of opponents and supporters of this iniquitous policy. A California daily told the story, at the end of the school year, of the tolerant spirit of a school in that state under the headline: Mother of Triplets is High School Grad. Indeed, this young and prolific mother, Linda Sue Voss, appeared proudly among 469 graduates of a school in Redlands. She told the reporter who interviewed her that she and her 19-year-old husband -- absent that day because he was baby-sitting -- would be continuing their studies at the university. They didn't say if the happy parents would be taking the triplets to campus!
          I hope that for our Carol, excluded from school without even having had a baby (although maybe  she had a puppet in the drawer … "a bun in the oven"!) found perfect love despite the gaps in her knowledge of its language!
          Fortunately the questions asked by most of the students weren't as off-base as Carol's. A lot of them were interested in France and its people. From the very first lesson I clarified that the beret was a cap worn by only a few, and mostly out in the country, that is to say by our hillbillies, that the French don't eat snails every day and don't feed their babies bread dipped in wine.
          There was one evening when it was customary to give parents a shortened school day. My five course were shortened to fifteen minutes and given in the presence of a small group of attentive parents seated attentively at the back of the classroom. My lessons were something of a hit because of curiosity: people wanted to see and hear the exchange teacher. In the first French class I noticed a mother who repeated phrases in an undertone with a seriousness that her son lacked. Then I saw her sing along with unconcealed pleasure to the inspired bit of the mini-lesson, the song Au Clair de la Lune. Her son, who wanted to be called Chip although his name was Albert, was the class dunce, and instead of going with him from class to class, she stayed for my other lessons. At the end of the evening she came to find me and without fear of exaggeration told me that I was a "wonderful" teacher.
          - I would like to take private lessons.
          I was flattered not only by the recognition of my pedagogical talents but also maybe by the idea that my supposed capacities as a French lover had seduced a young and pretty American woman. Learning French might be just an excuse. I answered that I didn't give private lessons but that my wife would be delighted to, and I gave her my telephone number. l was persuaded that Judy, as she had introduced herself, wouldn't follow up on her project of learning French as soon as the lessons were limited to austere linguistic exercises. Renee also thought so, to the point of feeling a twinge of jealousy when I told her about my success.
          Well! Judy called my wife a couple of days later and became the first of a handful of students -- children, teenagers, and Kingsport society ladies. As a result Renee was invited out a little bit everywhere and formed a network of close relationships. My colleagues, in contrast, had no idea how to extend beyond school hours the purely professional relationships that connected us in the teachers' lounge -- men only. Because there was a male teachers room and a female teachers room!    I must say that my foreign status -- "French"? -- gave me the equal privilege of being invited into the ladies' lounge. But I was always the only male in the room.

Tuesday, July 10, 2018

Mary Johnson and Jean Nicaise in Room 202 at D-B

Memories of a Caroloregian: the Kingsport pages
Jean Nicaise

Translator's note: Square brackets [ ] enclose clarifications or explanations.  [Sic] means the previous word appears as per the original. Italics show when Nicaise himself uses English.

A New World … of school (continued)

          The teachers also had a schedule of five classes a day, with a free period expected to be spent at school. This twenty-five hour week was indeed a considerable enough load for a native. For the exchange teacher it came as a shock at the beginning, made worse by having to be there for the six or seven half-days generated by twenty or twenty-two periods of fifty minutes each, meaning effectively seventeen or eighteen hours at both ends of the day; not to mention, obviously, the hours for research, preparation, and grading at home. Every teacher also had to expect numerous out-of-class activities: leading a debate, cooking, drama, or photography "club;" putting out the school newspaper, Indian Tribune; editing the school annual; sponsoring the cheer leaders, the Future Business Leaders of America club, the Amateur Radio club, etc. During the forty minute lunch break some teachers could be seen sitting sandwich in hand having a lively discussion with a group of their students.
          I was in charge of the French club. I showed my movies and my slides. Since the school had several pianos, I sang and led the singing of not only "A la claire Fontaine," [By the Clear Fountain, a traditional French song] but also -- why not? -- "Douce France" [Sweet France] and "Boum, quand notre coeur fait boum" [Boom, when our heart goes boom] by the incomparable Charles Trenet [French singer-songwriter, 1913-2001, nicknamed "The Singing Fool."]
          [Here a picture shows two female students looking at a pull-down map of France. Its caption reads, "it's understandable that hearts would go boom at the sight of such attractive club members."]
          In Europe there is an excessive number of holidays. At Dobyns Bennett, in the first trimester we had a sum total of two days at Thanksgiving! In the second, after two weeks for Christmas, not a single "break" until Easter, for which the so-called "vacation" went from Good Friday to Monday, that is, two days in addition to the usual weekend. In the third trimester there was not a single day, neither Ascension, nor Pentecost, nor May First [International Workers' Day], nor May Eighth [VE Day]. Here you celebrated Workers' Day by working and did the same by way of commemorating the great Christian, civic, and military events.
          The night school would like to have added to my heavy duties that of French teacher for adults. I refused. I just was unable to add anything to my principal assignment. [In a footnote Nicaise says, "The Indian Tribune, a monthly with photos and advertising to pay for it, and published like a real newspaper by a student club with a lot of help from a teacher, featured me in its October issue: 'Teaching French and Latin (and deciphering our slang) keeps Mr. Nicaise busy.'"] My refusal was not appreciated.
          Every teacher obviously had, all week long, the same students at the same times in the same room. Thus it was Room 202 that I decorated with French maps and posters and where I am with Mary [Johnson] in this picture. [Photo follows.]
          I had to face the same Latin class every day for last period, a pooped teacher facing pooped and excitable students. On Friday, fatigue and excitability reached the breaking point. Fifteen minutes before the end of the last class, the loud-speaker installed in every room called musicians in the school Band out of the room to rehearse the school song. Also leaving were the cheer leaders so that they could practice the routines whose purpose was to guide the cheers of the supporters of the school football team, the only one in town.
          A panel of teachers chose fourteen girls from among twenty-five candidates. They had to be good students with a good reputation and, obviously, the ability to do the routines with sufficient spirit and grace. Their fellow students then chose seven from the fourteen selected by the teachers.
          What was I supposed to do with a class shorn of five or six students? The ones who remained  were as if they were on starting blocks, ready to dash for the door at the first sound of the bell for the end of the class and the end of the week. As it was, the bell at the end of every period served as a blade that cut me off mid-sentence and as a spring that launched the boys and girls toward the exit, whereas my little Belgians knew that they should wait for a signal from me before running out to recess.
          One day a student in the last period Friday class, less in a hurry than the others, came up to me and said:
          - You've had a tough day, Mr. Nicaise …
          What a good kid!
          Such gestures of friendship and even of familiarity weren't rare and sometimes, I have to say, were quite unexpected. One student, Judy Noel, while leaving the classroom tugged my tie with no malice at all. I was likable to her, that's all, and she let me know in her own way. One evening, Renée and I went to a basketball game, because we wanted to join in a maximum number of school activities. From the bleacher just above, in this magnificent and huge gym, one of my students tousled my hair:
          - Hi, Mr. Nicaise! Hello M'am!
          It was one of my best French students, Jo Royall, and I knew she was very interested in the class.

[Translated from the French by Jud Barry]