Travel to New York City and you’ll see, perched high atop a towering pedestal in the city’s harbor, the Statue of Liberty, a gift from the people of France to the United States in 1886 to celebrate the nation’s independence and its many historical ties to the French Republic. Designed by noted French sculptor Frédéric Auguste Bartholdi and built from copper sheets around Gustave Eiffel’s steel framework (yes, the same Eiffel who designed the landmark tower in Paris), the monument symbolizes the promise of freedom in America - life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness.
That’s a bit of history about freedom. And history and freedom are two subjects DIS French Immersion teacher Karen Jouve cares deeply about.
“What I find fascinating about America after living here for almost a year is this great belief in freedom,” she says. “France pays great heed to the idea of freedom - Liberté, égalité, fraternité and all of that - but there is a real difference when you get to know about America. The people who came here really believed in it and were willing to go to great lengths to have it.”
After graduating from Jean Moulin University in Lyon, France, with a degree in - you guessed it, History - Karen spent an additional two years at the Institut Universitaire de Formation des Maîtres, where she earned a Diplôme d'Aptitude à l'Enseignement du Français Langue Etrangère. This led to two years of teaching French as a second language to new arrivals to France who were seeking - you guessed it - freedom.
(Fun facts: Jean Moulin, the namesake of the university, fought for freedom as a leader of the French Resistance during World War II, and the campus was built at the site of the Manufacture des Tabacs, a former tobacco plant and Historical Heritage site.)
But Karen longed to spend time in classrooms with smaller children - like the 1st and 2nd graders she now teaches at the Churchill Way campus. “All ages have their advantages,” says Karen. “But I enjoy the younger ages because children are so curious and eager to learn. They’re like bonsai trees, carefully nurtured with great care when they are young and who retain their identity and beauty as they grow.”
Karen describes one of her current students who arrived at the school already speaking four languages and who became fluent in French in just three months. “They learn very quickly at that age - and that means so much freedom as they continue to grow.”
Language informs the ways that people learn to think, according to Karen, with linguistic richness tied directly to deeper ways of thinking. “In a language like French, for example, there might be several ways to say the word ‘hat’ - a toque, a béret, a chapeau or a képi - which brings a certain nuance to our perception of reality."
And, with the gift of multiple languages, says Karen, the world opens up to a deeper, richer understanding of key subjects - philosophy, the sciences, the arts and humanities, and especially history. “If we never learned about history, civilization would basically start over from scratch with each generation,” she says. “When we study history, we gain all the knowledge and experience of all of our ancestors so that we don’t have to discover all of that over again. It’s what we do with our histories - and the language we use - that can make all the difference.”
She points to a favorite movie, the 2016 science fiction thriller Arrival which depicts the landing on Earth of aliens from space who use a “circular” style of language based on palindromes that is quickly misinterpreted using the multiple languages spoken on Earth. In the end, a word like “weapon” - perceived as hostile by some nations - simply means “tool.”
“And so language really is a tool,” Karen says. “One that helps us to unlock all new ways to see things. Even more importantly, it can help you at least to know all the right questions to ask.” She alludes to a favorite book, Steven Askew’s 125 Answers to Questions You Never Knew You Had. She likes it, she says, because “It helps me to understand the truths about the world as I know it.”
Challenging what we think we know is routine procedure for Karen, who refers to herself as the ‘maverick’ of her nuclear family simply because she always questioned the status quo. “There is a story of a woman who always sliced a ham in half before putting it in the oven, but why?" she asks. Simply because that was the way her mother had done it. But as a matter of fact, it was because her mother’s oven was too small for the whole ham. "I grew up challenging everything.”
One subject that’s not up for debate, however, is Karen’s affection for teaching at the Churchill campus. “I step outside my classroom door and I’m in a beautiful setting,” she says. “The first day here I snapped a photo and sent it to my family back home. It is beautiful here; it's not just the school itself, but also the parents and the students and other teachers. There is a real feeling of freedom here.”
As she talks, a smiling student walks by to drop a pearl in a tiny bucket, a reward for success in a simple task. When the little pail is full, she’ll earn a reward - a special French breakfast or the chance to watch a French movie. “That is something I learned from another teacher here,” she says. “I really like that we have regular faculty meetings and share tips like that.”
A perfect role teaching eager students on a beautiful campus with support from caring parents and a supportive staff. So far, so good for Karen, who had visited other parts of the United States, but never Dallas or Texas, before joining DIS this academic year. So what does she think of living in Dallas?
“I was born in Villeurbanne on the outskirts of Lyon and now I live in Dallas - both places with two ‘l’s’ - so there must be something good about it. I had no idea what to expect but I’m learning about its history and I love the freedom of the wide open spaces here. It's part of what makes Texas what it is.”
So please meet Karen Jouve, a gift from France to the students of DIS who shines a beacon of freedom for everyone - without the need to travel to the Big Apple.