Cross-Curricular Learning Across French and English

Mr. Abel’s seventh grade English students were treated to a visit by St. Hilda’s & St. Hugh’s French teacher, Ms. Vincenot-Dash, a French historian who holds a Ph.D. in French Literature and French Studies from New York University.

She visited with the seventh graders to discuss her interpretation of The Necklace, a short story originally written in French by Guy de Maupassant in 1884.

While the class may have viewed the protagonist in an unbecoming light, as a French cultural scholar, Ms. Vincenot-Dash was able to share a different perspective. She provided an important interpretation of the story for our students, reliant on historical and cultural context, justifying the dynamics at play within the story. She elaborated, “As a cultural historian of the 19th century, I know the extent to which our protagonist, a woman who has higher expectations for the life she is leading, is in fact a typical character for her time period.” Ms. Vincenot-Dash explained that the “rags to riches” tale was quite common during this time, and in fact, a theme that paralleled reality.

Ms. Vincenot-Dash helped the students to put the story into its historical and cultural context, placing it after the French Revolution and the radical upheaval of the very traditional society that was being upended. A desire to climb the social ladder emerged amongst everyday men and women of all social classes. Civilians saw this prospect as attainable since Napoleon, a major figure at this time, went from being a person on the margins to the first emperor of France. As a result, this theme was embraced and represented in many works of fiction during this period.

Another important part of this type of exercise is to teach students what is possible in the arts when it comes to interpretation. Ms. Vincenot-Dash emphasized that provided you can ground your interpretation in evidence, opposing opinions are just as valid. “That is what is so brilliant about the arts,” said Ms. Vincenot-Dash, “you are free to delve more deeply, based on your own unique point of view. Such views have to be supported by historical evidence to be persuasive, however.” We thank Ms. Vincenot-Dash and Mr. Abel for this important cross-curricular learning opportunity.