Bilbo – the English Hobbit


For the second year, French pupils who follow the most literary of the three streams of the French General Baccalauréat are now specifically taught literature in a foreign language, often English.

The idea is to instill knowledge and love of literature in English rather than specialise in technical terms, even though my pupils seemed to have fun with the rhyming scheme of the Petrarchan sonnet last week.

In December we did some work on The Hobbit, focusing on the poster above for Peter Jackson’s film, the 1938 New York Times book review and the first pages of the novel.

During the holiday, the pupils were asked to write several paragraphs to answer the following questions:
– Is Bilbo adventurous?
– To what extent can we say that Bilbo is typically English?

I found their answers to the latter both interesting and amusing so I thought I’d share a selection from different essays with you. Their ideas of what English people are supposed to be like are quite sweet.

His home:

We can say that Bilbo is typically English because he has got a very comfortable, cosy and warm house.

His house is a definition of what English houses look like.

His clothes:

Bilbo also likes wearing bright colours.

He also wears bright colours which match the image of the English who wear colourful and original clothes.

His habits:

Bilbo smokes a pipe like English characters such as Sherlock Holmes.

We can say that Bilbo is typically English because he smokes a pipe. Indeed the most popular character who smoked a pipe was Sherlock Holmes, an English fictional character.

He is very fond of flowers and gardens like British people.


What is typically English is the fact that he has tea during the afternoon with visitors.

Bilbo invites Gandalf to come to tea which is a very typical thing in Britain. Tea time is at five in the afternoon and to invite someone to tea in Britain is typical.

His manners:

Bilbo Baggins looks typically English because of his way of talking. In fact he uses the words ‘dear sir’ many times to talk to Gandalf, which is a British, especially English, expression which shows a mark of respect.

Bilbo is also English because he doesn’t speak much.

Bilbo, even if he doesn’t want any adventures, is and remains polite. He uses very good and clear language, like a gentleman; something which is typically English.

One of the important things is that Bilbo is very polite. He says: ‘Good morning’ many times to Gandalf. In France people are known to be a little rude whereas English people are always polite, even to strangers.

Moreover some stereotypes say that English people are reserved concerning conversations. For instance, they rarely ask questions to the person they are talking with. That’s what we see with Bilbo and Gandalf. Indeed, the hobbit didn’t ask for Gandalf’s name; he only said ‘Good morning’.

Bilbo is a discreet character who is well educated, this is the idea we have of English people.




Tonight I am feeling a little dejected. The meeting with the chief school administrator was not successful. The whole set up was meant to impress us and show who was in charge: five men in three-piece suits and one woman who were sitting on one side of an oval table, people who believe they are so important they feel they can check their Iphones all the time – apparently the concept of a secretary who steps in when some kind of director is needed urgently is now alien to the local school board.

The chief school administrator had said that he would see no more than five people therefore there were three teachers from my school, a parent and a union member. We had rehearsed beforehand and each of us had arguments to put forward depending on what we would be told.

We had figures as well as more humane arguments. The chief school administrator and his advisors refuted some points, agreed on others but basically we were repeatedly told that, even if they understood and shared our worries, they did not have the budget to keep three deans.

I am not sure what I had expected but I hoped things would be more open: I was probably too naive. Now I clearly need time to digest the failure and am glad we are going to Paris tomorrow.

Looking for a Jewish Hero


Those of you who follow me on Facebook may already know that I am looking for ideas concerning a new project for my 10th graders.

The students will have to name a newly-built school (in the US) after someone famous. Each group will present their choices and the class will vote. I’d like to include at least one Jew in the examples we’ll work on before they do their own research. Because of their History curriculum I’d prefer those heroes to have been born in Europe prior to migrating to the USA.

All suggestions are welcome.

Thursday Musings


– After reading a review of Day After Night by Phyllis I have decided to order the book. I have also just realized that Jewwishes reviewed it too last month.

– I got an email about Buy Nothing Day (which is scheduled to occur on a Saturday) as some French teachers seem to think it is great to teach our students about this (and why not). Interestingly enough though nobody on their site seems to realize that Judaism invented a weekly version about three thousand years ago and that millions of us still observe it today.

– As the head of the English Department in my school (a task which is not paid in this country), I wonder how I can communicate efficiently with my younger colleagues. Indeed they are aware that I send them emails but don’t seem to actually read them. They then ask me what I wrote and what they are supposed to do about a particular situation – our language assitant’s schedule being the latest example.

– Our language assistant, Abigail, has just arrived. She is from Southern England but studies French and English at Leeds University. She seems keen and friendly which will be a great asset for our students. It will also be nice for us teachers to have her around. Last year our assitant never turned up and never even told us she didn’t want the post. I only found out when I found her phone number (thanks to the Internet) and got in touch directly.

– Abigail didn’t take A levels, like most of her British peers, but took the International Baccalaureate instead. In addition to being tested in 6 subjects (one of which has to be a foreign language), a candidate must fulfill three “core requirements: Extended Esssay (something like or Project Work), Theory of Knowledge and CAS (Creativity, Action and Service). As an educator I like the idea of a rounded education based on both formal and more flexible learning and teaching.

Is this the kind of education you would have liked to have or something you would like for your children? Are you happy with what you were taught or what your kids learn?

Conversations: Jewish Education


Anyone interested in the future of Modern Orthodox education is likely to find the latest edition of Conversations stimulating. Whether you are a parent, a school leader or a Jewish educator you will find food for thought.

Here is the sort of the articles you can find:

– A symposium of four leading Jewish school leaders.

– Ideas for Jewish schools to save money at a time when Jewish tuition might have become too expensive for some parents. The idea is for Jewish schools to pool some of their ressources and purchases so as to shorten running costs. In the end, everybody benefits.

– An article about Samson Raphael Hirsch and secular education.

– One about Nechama Leibowitz‘s teaching technique. Apparently she was a skillful facilitator – someone who encourages students to learn and think by themselves – and a pedagogue – here the term is used to designate someone who controls what the students learn. As a teacher I found this particularly inspiring.

– An essay dealing with the challenges of fostering midot (virtues) and Derech Eretz in children.

– An article which addresses the issue of religious education for children with special needs.

– A mother’s perspective on homework for children.

The article on Jewish American literature to which I have already referred.