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Teaching in a Time of Crisis: Lessons from Colonial Education

Nicholas Harrison

Tuesday, April 4, 7:00 p.m.

Co-sponsored by Department of French and La Maison Française

Introduction by Professor Cécile Bishop (Department of French, NYU)

Postcolonial critics and teachers have often been drawn to heroic models of the public intellectual and of political intervention, of a sort advocated by Edward Said, among others. This raises questions about their own work in education, especially if they teach literature, an activity that may look like a luxury in a time of crisis. What is more, the tradition of literary pedagogy may appear contaminated (as it did to Said) by its historical association with colonialism and nationalism.

This paper will reflect on these issues through a discussion of the work of Mouloud Feraoun (and will assume no prior knowledge of his writing). Best known as a novelist, and sometimes dismissed as an ‘assimilated’ figure, Feraoun continued to work as a teacher and educationalist in the French colonial system – as well as continuing to write – throughout the Algerian war of independence. That decision placed his life at risk both from Algerian nationalists and from the colonial Right. In its way, then, his commitment to education was heroic, but it was a paradoxical heroism, at once political and apolitical. It is this story, and this paradox, that the paper will explore, arguing that Feraoun's work may have something to tell us about our own work as teachers in a time of crisis.

n-harrison-200.jpgNick Harrison is Professor of French and Postcolonial Studies at King’s College London. A specialist of francophone literature and film of the Maghreb, he has played a leading role in drawing renewed attention to the significance of the literary and the aesthetic for the study of postcolonial texts. His research spans a wide array of themes, including censorship, translation, the practices of literary criticism, and education.
He is the author of Postcolonial Criticism: History, Theory and the Work of Fiction (2003) and Circles of Censorship (1995), as well as the editor of two collections of essays, The Idea of the Literary (2005), and Pontecorvos’s Battle of Algiers, 40 Years On (2007). His forthcoming book, Our Civilizing Mission: The Lessons of Colonial Education, deals with colonial education in Algeria.

In English