Tsimi on Bouamer and Bourdeau, eds. (2022)

Bouamer, Siham and Bourdeau Loïc, eds. Diversity and Decolonization in French Studies: New Approaches to Teaching. Palgrave Macmillan,  2022, pp. xxi + 267, 2 tabl., ISBN: 978-3-030-95356-0

Diversity and Decolonization in French Studies, co-edited by Siham Bouamer and Loïc Bourdeau, compels French and Francophone educators to reshape their discipline to mirror our multicultural, globalized world. The volume counters the assertion by French president Emmanuel Macron that intersectionality inherently divides, illustrating instead that it can act as a catalyst for social justice in the classroom, highlighting often marginalized or underrepresented identities. Divided into three distinct sections, the work zeroes in on dismantling the concept of “Francophonie,” endorsing intersectional French studies, and charting new pedagogical strategies that go beyond traditional textbooks. This tapestry of insightful studies addresses a range of issues from the racialized “Other” in language textbooks and the importance of Indigenous testimonies to neurodiverse classroom policies, feminist perspectives, and the potential of multimedia pedagogy.

The volume stems from the 2020 online conference “Diversity, Decolonization, and the French Curriculum,” initiated by the editors. It features contributions from an array of specialists, each of whom offers a unique perspective on varied themes. Madeline Bedecarré and Cecilia Benaglia delve into the intricacies of Francophone literature and its sociological contexts. Hasheem Hakeem stimulates dialogue around gender studies, colonial narratives, and queer studies. Kris Aric Knisely and Julia D. Spiegelman provide fresh insights on the intersections of language education with gender and identity. The anthology is further enriched by Alisha Reaves’s emphasis on pragmatic competence acquisition, Daniel N. Maroun’s dedication to experiential learning modules, Thea Fronsman-Cecil’s scrutiny of economic inequality in contemporary French culture, and Blase A. Provitola’s exploration of postcolonial literature and transgender-inclusive pedagogy.

Shedding light on the specificities of four emblematic chapters highlights the broader argumentation and thematic progression characterizing the volume. In chapter four, “Racism, Colonialism, and the Limits of Diversity: The Racialized “Other” in French Foreign Language Textbooks,” Spiegelman explores the portrayal of racial issues within the United States’ foreign language education. Utilizing two popular U.S. secondary school French language textbooks, Glencoe's Bon Voyage (2008) and Houghton Mifflin's Discovering French (2013), she examines the representation of Francophone regions and of France itself. Spiegelman's analysis of specific textual passages reveals an alarming, racialized dichotomy between France and the francophonie. Firstly, the francophonie (a term she leaves in italics to underscore its contested meaning) is depicted as justifiably colonized, with France portrayed as the benevolent colonizer. This narrative, she argues, feeds into the age-old white supremacist arguments by framing colonization as a positive, civilizing force. Secondly, the francophonie is presented as a consumable, with France as the consumer. Here, non-French Francophone groups are objectified and reduced to products for French consumption, perpetuating colonial discourses of labor, resources, and exploitation.

In chapter seven, “Honoring Native American Voices in the Francophone Studies Classroom: Restoring Oral Testimonies to Their Rightful Place in the Story of the Early Modern Americas,” Charlotte Daniels and Katherine Dauge-Roth showcase the authors’ collective goal of expanding the scope of the Francophone studies curriculum at Bowdoin College beyond traditional French narratives to include the voices of indigenous communities. Daniels and Dauge-Roth emphasize the development and implementation of a redesigned survey course titled “Spoken Word and Written Text” rooted in the 2001 law passed by the French National Assembly and championed by Christiane Taubira, which recognized the enslavement and trade of Sub-Saharan Africans as crimes against humanity and aimed to foster a more comprehensive understanding of history by incorporating oral and archaeological sources alongside conventional written archives. By embracing this approach, the course seeks to honor Taubira's vision, offering a more diverse and inclusive historical perspective that interweaves oral sources into the fabric of French-speaking history, challenging conventional approaches to teaching French literature. This innovative methodology, described in their chapter, serves as a compelling example of how educational institutions can integrate various cultural and historical perspectives into traditional disciplines, fostering a more nuanced and inclusive understanding of the world.

In “Approaching Plurality and Contributing to Diversity Through Podcast Pedagogy,” Thomas Muzart charts the rise of podcasts, from their coining by Ben Hammersley in 2004 to their massive growth in the following years. Utilizing survey data from Colby College students, Muzart examines how podcasts influence media engagement, noting that many students frequently engage with them for both entertainment and knowledge. He particularly stresses the value of native podcasts that offer unique insights and touch on subjects often overlooked by mainstream outlets. Podcasts, with their narrative simplicity and storytelling techniques, can aid students in grasping intricate ideas while promoting active listening. This can pave the way for a more inclusive learning environment, enriching students’ understanding of social class, gender, race, and sexuality, as well as fostering democratic values and intercultural awareness. Muzart also touches upon platforms for sharing student-produced podcasts, emphasizing the need to honor diverse views. He wraps up by highlighting positive student feedback on podcasts as educational tools and advocates for collaborative podcast projects to boost learning and community cohesion.

Kelly Biers’s closing chapter, “Decolonial and Feminist Course Design and Assessment in the First-Year French Curriculum,” provides a practical illustration of this pedagogical approach. Biers details a specifications-based grading system for a first-year French course that promotes student autonomy and agency. The grading system links course grades to achieved learning outcomes, eschewing any assessment hierarchy. This chapter effectively encapsulates the anthology’s ethos, and its practical applications serve as a beacon for pedagogical transformation within French and Francophone studies.

At its core, Diversity and Decolonization in French Studies serves as a hands-on guide for educators, providing tools and strategies to transform pedagogies. It doesn't dictate a fixed approach. Instead, the guide invites readers to tailor the suggested models to their specific teaching contexts, establishing itself as an essential resource in the pursuit of pedagogical evolution: while the anthology stands as a critical resource in the quest for diversity within French studies, one might gently critique its title for not overtly acknowledging “Francophone” as a crucial marker of diversity, a choice that thereby slightly understates the breadth and depth of the cultural diversities with which the volume engages. Nonetheless, it remains an indispensable compendium for those looking to transform their teaching approaches in line with diversity principles.

Éric Essono Tsimi
The City University of New York