Tag Archives: Education

Education. Education. Education.

I am being asked, as a “Liberal” – whatever that means, what we should do to protect our values against the ones of the people who don’t think like we do. Especially, when these values are of openness, tolerance and freedom for all.

The answer to just block the ones who don’t believe the same as we do is very “in” these days but I do believe in education and empathy, first. Putting yourself in someone else’s shoes in order to understand where they come from so to fathom their thinking and eventually modify it.

I grant you that such a feat is easier for me as a gay man living in a Western society where the religious, no matter how much we order it to shut up, still condemns and calls for the ban of everything they disagree with.

I also lived in many countries where I have experience in shutting up, looking at local beliefs and culture, and try to position myself within it as well as I could without imposing my view.

I would say that’s the first we need to do when immigration is concerned: a French immigrant like me needs to understand that our rejection of monarchy doesn’t mean the rest of the world must behave their monarchs. I disagree with monarchy. It’s everything I stand against: privileges given at birth, social immobility, laziness and the epitome of people who believe they are entitled to living off the state sucking millions up just to look presentable. And they can’t even manage that for some of them.

However, unless specifically asked, I don’t go around Spain, nor did I in England, with a soap box calling Spaniards and Britons idiots and serfs for having a king or a queen and demanding their head on a platter. How Spain, Belgium, the Netherlands, the whole of Scandinavia and the UK understand their own state is their own choice and I must respect it or leave it.

Do I mean immigrants who don’t want to abide by our rules should leave or be deported? No and yes. For me, it all depends on the idea of choice and open-mindness. I would say to a Westerner riling against a country they have just moved in that if they are not happy to see two men kissing or women wearing bikinis that they are free to go back to where they come from. With an immigrant from most Middle-Eastern or African countries, I wouldn’t do as such. I would educate first. The double standard is justifiable by the difference in education and environment that leads to two words I used before “choice” and “free”.

Why would I tell off a Westerner? Because I know they had access to a differentiated educational system that has taught them about the freedom of choice. A system that has laid out all the possibilities, has explained the world at great lengths, that has creates endless opportunities and freedoms within a wider democratic system where the key is for citizens to take their destiny in their own hands as much as possible and learn to be responsible.

Don’t get me wrong, everyone is entitled to their opinion but after seeing, like I did, an American, born-again Christian in the streets of Paris calling for homosexuals to be banned from getting married, I would, as I did, confront them and tell them to fuck off home.School has taught them many ways and they have willingly chosen one. If it’s incompatible with the ones of a country they also chose to live in, why are they here?

To Westerners, yes but to Muslims for instance, no (-ish). Why? Political correctness? For fear of being labelled racist?

No just because I understand where they come from and the need for reeducation. First-generation immigrants in our Western countries are coming from countries where education is not about choice and opportunities, it’s about repeating and maintaining. Their schools don’t teach critical thinking but dos and don’ts in an overall political environment that is violent and intrinsically unfair and unjust.

These people are coming to our countries fleeing hardship, wanting a better life but with mindsets carved deep into themselves, sometimes literally. The answer to this, I often hear, is deculturation. Especially for the first generation so their children can be fully assimilated.

Parents are asked to leave their culture behind, for their own good too, and take on the new one but what is culture? Your language? Your religion? Your dress code? Your eating habits? As a French atheist living in Spain, should I convert to Catholicism and go to church? When I lived in England, should have I become a Anglican and bow to the Queen? Am I refuse to integrate and assimilate by rejecting Catholicism or my subjecting to the Windors? No. It’s more than that, I am said, but no one can define it.

That’s the point of culture: it’s all the untold rules that we grow up with and make us behave a certain way. In Spain, people think it’s weird when I address them using the second person plural but in France, it’s borderline insulting to address someone you don’t know using the second person singular. Yet we are all share the same Latin roots with just a small mountain range between us.

How do we fix the problem? Education. Education. Education. Let’s consider some key questions I heard from good-willing people thinking some immigrants are a danger to our values: How do we make sure Muslims are not antisemitic? How do we ensure Asians are not forcing their girls into marrying older strangers? How do we ensure African girls are not excised? How do we ensure religious immigrants are not homophobic?

We do what they do in Norway, for instance, we educate them. We listen to their thinking, debate with them, show them something different, teach them critical thinking and acceptance for it doesn’t come naturally, it’s always nurtured. And sometimes, often, we play into their weaknesses of bowing to diktats and say: “Because that’s the way things are done here. So think for you have two choices: You stay and accept it or you go back to where you came from.” A hard choice for most of them but it’s a choice at the end, one that will put them in control of their own destiny, often for the first time.

Cynics from the Right will come me a utopist for thinking we can ever reverse mindsets. Why would they think otherwise? They, themselves, think the solution is to go back to a past they have fantasised.

Cynics from the Left will tell me that we can’t even get Western Christians to be gay-friendly and our own society to accept full men/women equality so immigrants…I get where they come from but all the more reasons to keep trying. We cannot stop human progress and we will learn from ourselves.

Some will point out that I’m being very optimistic when talking about our educational system, that, in more and more countries, it’s being privatised so critical thinking is now a danger to the blind acceptance of a evermore unequal, neo-capitalist society in the name of making money.

I agree and I also see that countries resulting in blanket bans and camps are the ones where education is anything but a priority.

 

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The realm of the outdoors

Two weeks ago, I was at work and a colleague was telling us about her grandchildren. They were a “disgrace”, this “new generation” because the weather was beautiful and they could not even be bothered to go outside and envoy it. They would rather stay in all day playing some video games of some sort. Her problem: it was sunny and the children would not go out – like she would, presumably.

Then, a couple of day ago, the weather had changed into rainy days, right when the holidays started and she had her grandchildren staying with her. I saw her again and this time she was telling us about the weather and her “poor grandchildren” who could not even go out. I played dumb and asked her why.
“Because it’s raining!”, she said. I knew that was coming and I couldn’t stop myself, I had to be an annoying bitch.
“So?”, I asked gingerly.
“Well, I can’t let them go outside when it’s raining. They’ll get wet.” I told her she could let them go out.
“They are not made of sugar, they are not going to melt, you know. And maybe they don’t go out when it’s sunny because someone ‘s told them it was bad for their skin…”

She was outraged but I made my point about this endless complaining about the weather which is never good enough and mainly about the conflicting messages we are giving to children regarding what they can and cannot do when it comes to the outdoors.

That woman, born in the 1950s, would just not let her grand-children out because it was raining and they might wet and catch a cold. So the kids were doomed to stay inside and find a way to entertain themselves which turned out to be hours in their phones.  And she hates this. She wants them to connect with her although her childhood is probably filled with endless rainy afternoons at her own grand-parents when she had wished she was allowed to just get away from them, whichever the weather was.

I could have pointed out to her that as a child, she would not minded the rain if it meant having fun, but what got me the most was that same, endless chorus of “that new generation these days, really…Never wanting to go out. In my days…”. This business is seriously getting on my nerves, mainly because I hate the fact that the kids are being blamed for basically trying to adapt to all the scaremongering their parents have been subjecting them for generations when it comes to being outside. Your children are like this because of the education you gave them, because of the role models you were to them and your relationship with the outdoors will determine their willingness to experience it and feel at ease within it.

I am 31 now and for a long time, I have been this “new generation” but it turns out that I am not anymore. I am old enough to be the old “new generation”, judging by the ridiculously nostalgia-filled, fact-free, oblivious and conservative Facebook posts of a number of my 30-something friends. They are all describing a childhood in the 1980/1990s: free of videogames and Internet which allowed us to run free in the fields, hunt for frogs at dusk and play football outside until our kitchen-living, marriage-tamed mothers would call us for dinner. We would then beg for more time because there was nothing like spending time outdoors with our friends and nothing, not even the darkest night, would stop us. We were free. We were Laura Ingalls in the Little House in the Prairie, the wild nature was our playing field.

The problem with this vision is that it’s not what happened, it’s what most of us inspired to when we were kids.  I am not even talking about our teenage years when the Internet did arrive and we were the first generation to spent hours on consoles. I was lucky enough to be able to live this kind of running in the fields fantasy but most of us did not because something or someone would grab us by the collar and shout “Stop running!” as we were heading out.

A friend of mine, mother of a toddler boy, loves posting these nostalgic views. According to her, and many others of my still young age, the younger people today are wasting their life away by staying in, stuck on their phones, laptops and videogames. “They will never experience the joy of real life as we did”, she said. “Even with their friends, they’d prefer going to each other’s place and stay in rather than going out”.

Then I went to see her, we had lunch and a walk in the park but I discovered with shock that she was that kind of parents who is constantly warning their children about the danger of everything. In her eyes, and now the eyes of her son, the whole world is a minefield and death is lurking behind every daffodil.

It was sunny so he had to wear a hat and sun cream (in March!), every plant he touched she would snatch away from him and clean his hand with a sanitised wipe. We sat down on the grass and she took out two blankets that she put on top of each other (“sometimes germs get through the first one anyway”) and that was the only space where he could play. Any toy trespassing was swiftly taken away and put in a bag for thorough washing later at home and eventually, because he kept trying to explore his world, like every toddler, she put him on a dog leash so he just stayed there nibbling on his fingers until she gave him her Ipad with an “educational game” to play. Everything he did that meant reaching the outside world was stopped with a warning of danger even when it could have been an oppportunity to experience and learn. Instead, he went to the park and played with an Ipad. He’s 3 years old.

From a person who keeps on reminiscing on her childhood free of all constraint, she was quick to keep her own child was in a cage everytime he steps in the outdoors. I won’t be surprised if that child never wants to go out later and would prefer staying in. I won’t be surprised if he can’t tell a robin from a blackbird or a rose from lilac. I won’t be surprised if he gets grumpy when it rains and only wants to see the sun but never be exposed to it. Tanning booth and St Tropez tan, please.

And why? Because I suddenly realised that he will be exactly like his mother.  She can’t tell a robin from a black bird, she fake-tans before sunbathing because she was told it was safer and the only reason why she agreed to have lunch in the park and not in a café is because I insisted and told her I had not driving for two hours to sit behind a bloody window. I was paler than it was safe to know about and I wanted to be outside. She did put a scarf on because “the air was frisky”. It was 24° in Paris that day.

I can tell the difference between a robin and a blackbird just by listening to them. I know the names the trees and I like all kind of weather expect one (the unified light grey layered sky). I like the sun, I love the rain, the wind, hail, snow and thunderstorms. I like to go and run outside when the rain is lashing down during the summer supercell’s thunderstorms. The water is warm, the wind is strong and you let yourself drown by the power of Nature. I realised I hadn’t done it for years, going out in the middle of thunderstorms, so last year I did and no one but me was in the streets. Cars passing by looked at me like I was an alien standing in the river that the road had become.

Why me and not her? She looked horrified when I told her this. “You should never go out under a thunderstorm or you’ll get stroke by lightning!”.

Me and not her because all her childhood she heard all the following:
Don’t go out in the rain, you’ll get wet and you’ll get sick!
Don’t go out in the wind, you’ll catch a cold!
Don’t go out in the snow for too long or you’ll get too cold and you’ll get sick!
Don’t stay out in the sun for too long because you’ll get sun burned!
Don’t stay out in the heat because you’ll a fever!
Don’t go out in the sun between noon and 4pm because it is too bright and dangerous!
Don’t go out, it’s foggy and you will get run over by a car!
Don’t go swim for three hours after you ate something because of a phenomenon that no medical record has ever proved to exist!
Don’t touch this leaf! I don’t know what it is so you might get poisoned!
Don’t get go anywhere near a hedgehog, it’s full of fleas, it’s dangerous!
Don’t go look at that swan, it will get angry and break your arm!

Millions of children heard, are hearing and will hear this nonsense. Millions of children who then grow weary, scare or outright uninterested in the outdoors they see as a danger when not a complete bore or a nuisance that needs to be destroyed. No wonder, they always stay in!

I never heard any of these from my mother. Or anyone from my family as a matter of fact and everyone else looked at us weirdly. It’s not new. My grand-mother, born in 1936, and her siblings were already seen as bad seeds and daredevils by some of their classmates for they like the outdoors too much. It looks uncivilised. So at home, in a long family tradition, my mother always ridiculed my uneducated and scare-prone father and did not care for which weather we were playing under.

Maybe because we come from an enlightened family where I-heared-thats, such as cold-water drowning, have never had a place, for some of us were scientists and doctors, but all I know is that she never stopped us from going outside whichever the weather was. When it is sunny, my mother was the first to take us out and lounge with a book for hours while we were playing, all under the bright sun. She was getting looks at the time already and it was the 1980s.

So as usual, when the sun finally showed up a month ago, I went out and told a friend of mine that I was sunbathing. She said “Oh God, you shouldn’t! The first rays are always the most dangerous”.  That doesn’t even mean anything! She had been complaining about the bad weather for weeks and now that the sun was there, she was already weary of it, looking at it from the inside. “What a beautiful weather! But I am not going out, yet. It’s too dangerous”. And she is 35. How much do you bet her children will belong to this new “new generation who never goes out when it’s sunny”? Her parents were born in the early 1950 and already, they filled the heads of their children with ideas that the weather and the outdoors was full of dangers and need to be avoided.

My mother taught us to love the rain. It’s good for the garden and birds can find insects to feed their young. She would take us out to collect snails we would keep for a few days and feed herbs before realising them. Or crab that come when it rains on the beaches of Normandy. I was surprised to discover that none of my friends’ parents ever did that with them. And comes to think of it, my brother and I were almost the only ones to be out when it was raining. I remember friends of mine were forbidden from jumping in puddles of water or go near the river. We could do whatever we wanted, come back home soaking wet and covered in mud, my mother would just wash the clothes and get us in a bath. No word of having been an “irresponsible child who will deserve to catch a cold.

When it snows, she would take us out. It was not a question of yes or no from us. We would have to turn the Sega off, whatever level we were about to reach with Sonic, and go out to play with her. We did not have a sledge so we would take bin liners or kitchen trays but we had to beg to go out and it was fun. I regretted Sonic until the first sliding down.

When we don’t know a leaf, we would look at it carefully and look it up at home. She taught us that a hedgehog’s fleas are not interested in us and that every garden should have a family of hedgehogs because they are cute and they eat slugs which otherwise eat the leaves of our favourite plants.

My childhood now sounds like the ones of these Facebook posts but it has nothing to do with living in the 1980s, the 1990s or the 2010s. My family has always suffered some finger-pointing by people who would raise their children afraid and weary of all weather, all animals except for pets, all outdoor situations. Everything is a danger, everything is a risk, and everything is something their children will have to stay away from. And this has not started with the “new generation”.

You want your child to go out? Stop making them fear the outside! Let them play in the mud, the water, run in the rain. Make them love the outdoors and stop blaming everyone but yourself. It’s not your children’s fault if they can’t see the point of being outside, it’s because you never make them want to be there to begin with. My mother taught me the love of Nature and I regularly stop playing games or get off the Internet for hours just to sit still in her garden under a drizzling rain to watch sparrow, starlings, tits, blackbirds and robins feed and fight over some peanuts or bad apples we had put there for them. It took me six hours to write this piece because the sun showed its ray after four days of uninterrupted rain and I went to have a thorough tour of my mother’s garden.

Teach your child the love of the outdoors and they would gladly take their bike to ride for hours rather than sitting down at a computer. It takes nothing but to start with believing that Nature is here for us to admire and to appreciate whether it’s sunny or rainy.

t to have a thorough tour of my mother’s garden. Teach your child the love of the outdoors and they would gladly take their bike to ride for hours rather than sitting down at a computer. It takes nothing but to start with believing that Nature is here for us to admire and to appreciate whether it’s sunny or rainy.

Remembrance Day: No poppies on the fields of France.

“Just wear a poppy, it’s nothing”, the headteacher said.
“If it’s nothing, why do I have to wear one then?”

One of the most striking and increasingly uncomfortable culture shock I encountered in England was the one surrounding November 11th so as they call it in England “Remembrance Day”.

Let’s start with the poppies. In November 2007, I had been in England for a bit more than a month when I started to be asked, demanded, harassed to wear a paper poppy. I didn’t know why I should but I started to feel like if I didn’t do it, something bad would happen to me. Or that I was bad myself. So I asked what the poppy was about and I was told that the poppies celebrate (?) the fallen soldiers of the battlefields of France and Belgium in WWI. Lovely but why a poppy? Because after the battle (Only one? Which one? Where?), the year after, fields were covered with poppies and that year they were redder because of the blood of the soldiers. How cute!

But that’s complete bollocks!

I am French and I never heard of that. I found out that the whole legend (yes!) is actually from a line in a poem that is read year in year out about that war then I remembered a mention of it in Sting’s Children’s Crusade too:
“Poppies for young men, death’s bitter trade
All of those young lives betrayed.”
I was happy to finally be able to explain that line to Sting-adoring mother because none of us in France has even heard of that.

Personally, I think it could be a genuinely lovely way to remember the fallen soldiers…if it hadn’t become a symbol of England’s militarism.

In 2012, 2013 and 2014, I did not wear a poppy as they appeared sooner and sooner in late October so my students would first ask me why, then tell me I just should and finally the low-educated, tabloid-reading one just stated that I was heartless, mean, cruel and uncaring for the ones who saved my country after we surrendered.

And there you have it. I was yet another “cheese-eating surrender monkey” who is too proud to be grateful that they saved my life. That’s actually what many Englanders told me. We surrended (as we always do) and they saved my life (as they always do) and that’s why I should wear a poppy. And that also says loads about the state of England’s mind-set in today’s Europe. We owe them something.

In England, I discovered Remembrance Day is not about WWI anymore. Well, it’s not only about WWI but it’s definitely not about remembering the horrors of the war like we do in France. When I talked about the differences between the two days in France and England, I discovered how little they knew about the war itself, how little they were made to understand the reality of the front. That’s because Remembrance Day has become a moment to “remember all soldiers that died for the country” and the poppies are “to show respect to all soldiers that died for the country”. The day and the flower have become terribly heavily emotionally charged. And the fact that the money you spent to get the poppy goes to army charities is making it virtually impossible not to wear one. This is a symbol anymore, this is a sign. Wearing it shows something about you as person.

Everyone on TV from presenters to guests, whence-ever they are coming, to members of audience or the crew…even animals on their collars have to wear one or the network will face with thousands, hundreds of thousands of aggressive, threatening complains from viewers. Before, you had to wear one on the day itself but now, within a couple of years, it has changed and you have to wear one for the entire week before too.

I lost count of the times I was heckled, shouted at, called a “foreign cunt” and told to “go back to my fucking country” as I was not wearing one because I was “showing disrespect to the UK.” I was even once called into the headteacher’s office because some parents complained that I wasn’t wearing one. Three of my family members fought to death during WWI so a stranger can call me a “French twat” for not wearing a piece of paper.

The poppies and Remembrance day have lost their meaning because they have been used and abused. They have become something religious you have to abide by, no one really knows why but there is some kind of morale, and physical something, pressure to do it.

I began to wonder: why has something so pretty as a poetic metaphor as the poppy to remember the dead become such a commercial, patriotic whip to sort out the good and bad among people?

Since 1945, the UK and the US have been seeing themselves as the world peace-holders which, oddly, means that they have been hawking and going to war everywhere in the world, with a wide degree of success but mainly, failures. Expect for the Falklands and the Korean war, the two countries cannot boast any actual victory.

However, today, the UK is facing with greater difficulties making itself heard throughout the world, with greater challenges to the world order they established in 1945, with greater dissent to which they always respond with mention of The War. “We saved you from the Nazis!” Like every former hegemonic power which defined its position in the world by war but is now struggling, the UK’s psyche has become extremely militaristic as they go back to what made them powerful and they endlessly reminisce on a glorious past full of victories. It’s been over 60 years but they still mention The War, even though very little can actually talk about it.

England has been at war virtually non-stop since 1945 but its attitude has not changed towards it: it still sees war as a positive force. Only violence, threats and intimidation will get you somewhere. It also rules its idea of capitalism, burning and harming everything in sight. However, it was easy up to the late 20th century to just say war is good because it makes powerful but today how do you make death acceptable? We found “collateral damage” to justify the murder of civilians (so that’s dealt with!) but how do you bring a population to accept its own men and women to die in foreign land? If war is good, it should not be source of such much pain for us, people think.

So you have to rise war and the army to some kind of new religion: you don’t question its premise, you don’t disagree with its servants and you make martyrs the ones who fell as they were fighting for it. The pain is for greater good.

How do you make it mainstream? That’s when war propaganda gets in the pictures. In England, it is working full-blast and, unfortunately, since 2007, Remembrance Day and the poppies have become pillars of war propaganda along with the whole rhetoric:
*They are providing dictators with weapons and money yet, all the wars fought by the US and the UK are in the name of “freedom” and “liberty”, against “oppressive regimes” who are “killing innocent people”.
*Open the tabloids and you will find that other countries’ soldiers are called “soldiers” whereas anyone fighting for England is a “hero”.
*Showing respect for the heroes who died is showing respect for your country. “Showing”, we said, display it, make it obvious. Being silence for a minute or three is not enough, we want red on collar.

“Poppies for our heroes” is all over the newspapers, TV and traditional media outlets because it is what Remembrance is all about nowadays and what the huge display at the Tower of London is all about (they are actually going “on tour”, by the way).

War will save you, fighting it will deify you, supporting it will absolve you from being a coward so wear the freaking poppy!

In England, the army has become a religion and all soldiers are role-models. Even the Secretary for Education said that the only way to restore discipline in schools was to allow “our heroes” to teach without any degree or qualification. In the English mind-set, being soldier puts you above, makes you god-like. They are never wrong, the reality of the army and their behaviour is chocked by the rising of soldiers to example of selflessness, courage, strength and devotion. They will fight for the great and the good against the evil, they are the keepers of our democracy, they will make us, the country proud.  If only we could all be like them.

Talk to people in England about the wars they are religiously remembering on that day and they will not be able to distinguish WWI from WWII, they think the French lost both, that Hitler started both, that the European Union is responsible (true story), they mistake Iraq, Iran and Israel. The kids do not know much about WWI or WWII, just that England won and all soldiers were heroes and that’s all that matters because propaganda is not about facts, it’s about hammering, emotions and symbolism.

The English are behaving with war like a lot of Christians still do with their religion: they don’t really know what is about but were told to believe in God, go to church, believe the priest, do as he says and give money to the institution. Mostly, it’s about showing that you believe, the church don’t care if you do, what they want is you to show it, to display signs of belief. Poppies are now the sign of belief in the army and the war in England.

In France, November 11th is to actually remember the people who died but also why. It is a private matter because it’s mourning at the end of the day so you don’t do ostentatious. Black is the colour and there is no need for more symbolism, death in itself is enough. Some visit and clean graves of people who died. Many never found bodies at the time so every city, every town, every village has a cenotaph in its centre to the Unknown Soldier. In Paris, an unknown soldier was actually buried under the Arc de Triomphe where the president will display a wreath. Because it is also bank holiday, which it is not in England. I always liked to point that out to the students who liked to say that the French were all bastards that did not care. “We care enough to actually allow people to get off work so we can mourn and remember. Unlike you”. They hated it but that shut them up.

Seriously, this is a very important day in our calendar but like Germany or Belgium, we have a different thinking. When it comes to war in general, we hardly see it as a positive force, we are weary of it. I think it’s because we know the price of defeat. When you only have bleak outlook, it’s easier to reflect and ask yourself: What is the point?

But also, we are conditioned to look at it with care. When I was a child, we looked at images of war propaganda, analysed them and looked at them for what they are, saw the message behind them and were told to be careful with messages of blind faith towards something. We study WWI and WWII at length in school. It used to be about dates but now that many letters, journals and written testimonies found then hidden or censored by the state at the time are coming out, we see the war for what it really is: not this sexy, attractive, manly idea of brotherhood and fighting with pride like the propaganda has always tried to make it look like.

When I was at school we had two very old men talking to us about what they had experienced in the trenches of Verdun and the fields of Somme. They were not soldiers, they were forced to be. They told us how they were just like us but one day the army would barge in their classroom or bedroom to take them away because they were 14 or 15 and “France needs you”. We were silent, no attempt to be funny or clever, we asked questions if we were interested, remain mute if we were not because we felt the solemn of the occasion.

They told us about the reality behind the posters we see in the books of tall, strong soldiers in glittering uniform fighting in the sunset; or the articles in the newspaper mentioning how many German soldiers were killed by the great French army that day.

In France, at school, prior to November 11th, we remembered the Battle of Verdun, for instance, where French and German soldiers lived for month in narrow, two meters trenches they dug themselves in the fields, sleeping in the mud and cold water next to the corpses of other soldiers who had been blown in half by lone grenades or sudden attacks in the middle of night. We hear about the soldiers alone, far from their loved ones, surviving without clean water, with barely any food and plagued by Spanish Flu. We read their anguished letters revealing human beings far away from the strong men on the posters, rather men scared, frightened, that cried every night, killed themselves and begged their family to get them out of her. We talked about how they would go to prison and maybe get shot to be made an example of in they ran away or refused to go to the front.

We saw pictures of them: kids like us, young men like our fathers, we see the mutilations, the bodies deformed, hurt by the explosives. We see the agonising pain on the face of the ones who inhaled mustard gas, their body covered in blackened blisters that leaked pus and blood. It was not about glorifying them, stripping of the humanity like they do all too often in England but showing human beings torn apart by the war. We are made to remember that it must never happen again.

The Battle of Verdun lasted more than 9 months and every single family in France has someone who fought or even died in that battle. In my family, three people died in the mountains of Jura during the war. Up to 542,000 French soldiers and 434,000 German soldiers died in Verdun alone. In nine months. That’s up to 3400 every single day!

We could be proud of that battle, we could picture it in endless films showing the bravery of soldiers fighting for their motherland but history is not made of pretty stories to emulate people or make a country feel better about itself. The truth we learn is that battles like this are useless butchery where innocent men, sons, brothers, fathers, 16-year-old boys are used by the army and are made to kill each other in the name of nationalism, for purposes they know nothing about.

These men, not soldiers, but simple everyday men who were forced to be soldiers for four years were all telling us that they had no idea why they had to fight. They were told the Germans were evil and they had to be killed because they were evil Germans, end of but then the Germans they encountered turned out to be just like them, as human, scared and fragile as they were. We are taught to see the similar patterns in the Middle East today where propaganda attracts young Muslims to “fight for their faith” just to realise once they arrive there that they are actually nothing but canon food for extremists who have ulterior motives.

November 11th in France, Germany, Belgium and all countries on the continent that had to suffer from it is made to avoid this happening again. We are showing the kids how far hatred, xenophobia and autocratic despotism can go in brutality. I always felt this cultural shock between war-going England that encourages people to support war and us, in Europe, trying to learn lessons from millenniums of aiming to crush each other dead.

This is what the European Union with all its flaws and problems is built on: the blood of the innocent men who died because leaders wanted pay back and revenge which they justify under patriotism and the religion of war as a mean to solve problems. Which England still believes in.

“Just wear one to show that you gave money”, the headteacher also said, trying to appeal to some kind of common sense that was foreign to me. I told him I was not the kind to fake cough when putting £10 in the basket at church so everyone could see it. I told him I would wear it if it meant something to me because it still means something to people and wearing for the sake of it would be insulting. I told him I was sending money to France every year to pay for some flowers we put on graves every year. That shut him up. Not the parents or the kids, but he did not come back to pressure me with that travesty.

In seven years, I never wore a poppy.