Maureen Klein ’13 opened her presentation with the quote, “The first day an African child goes to school, he gets rid of his culture” from the Wolof in Senegal. Addressing the colonialized French education system in Senegal, the quote illustrates Klein’s study. There exists a paradoxical assumption that the Senegalese and French cultures were equal, however the goal of the French was for the Senegalese to assimilate over time through different efforts including the national school system.
Languages are directly related to education because they all play a role in a child’s learning process; the native languages, national languages, official languages, second languages, and religious languages (often Arabic), all intersect for a multilingual stratification of language and class in Senegal. As such, the value of the French language reflects the language’s association with wealth and power as set forth in the colonization of Senegal. These differences all contribute to power being given to certain languages over others and the difficulty it poses for children going through education and having to choose languages to learn, speak, write, and converse in. All of these reflect the cultures in Senegal, but all bring their own challenges.
Klein studied abroad in France and Senegal in Fall ’11 and Spring ’12. She visited a school in Piline, Senegal, which chose to change the school language to the native language Wolof in order to make learning material more accessible to students. This change will help foster a pride for native language and personal growth not associated with succumbing to French colonial expectations of the Senegalese.
“They cut the tree, it regenerated. They cut it again and it regenerated, forgetting that its roots were firmly fixed in the black soils.” – Senegalese Proverb
Klein chose this quote to end her presentation as a way to explain the view of the Senegalese in reference to the way the French, “they,” attempted to break the Senegalese by removing their culture, but the Senegalese will remain rooted in their native culture and language, be it Wolof or Arabic or something entirely different.
Maureen, a globe-trotting Scottie who has studied in Benin with Dr. Douglas Falen in addition to her own study abroad experience, is headed to the Peace Corps next year. Good luck Maureen and congratulations!