Although the school has changed profoundly since the 1970s, the discourse of the National Front and the National Rally on this subject remains quite constant, as explained by Ismail Ferhat, university professor of educational sciences at the University of Paris-Nanterre. The point in six questions a few days before the second round of the 2022 presidential election.
What place does the school have in the programs of the Front National?
Ismail Ferhat – The National Front took an early interest in the school issue. From the first program, written in 1973 by Gérard Longuet, a future high-ranking official, several pages have been devoted to it. If the subject is there – it would be complicated for a party not to talk about school in a country like France, which has traditionally invested politically in education – it represents only 2 to 5% of the programs of the FN if we propose it at the national level (whether in the context of the presidential or parliamentary elections) that remains marginal in his speech on topics such as immigration, security or rural areas.
Has the situation changed today?
In quantitative terms, little has changed: the takeover by Marine Le Pen has not given more room to school in the programs. But we see a symbolic turning point as far as a whole portion of his programmatic book For France to live, published in 2012, is dedicated to school. She theorizes the fact (more) to talk about this topic, especially about public schools being presented more positively, which is a real novelty.
What does the Front National think of the school? What are the main educational goals?
In terms of programs, three periods can be distinguished. The National Front differed in the party’s early years on a whole host of questions of parliamentary law, but did not differ greatly from it as far as schools were concerned. He delivers a speech denouncing the undermining of the education system by the far left, an obsession common to large sections of right-wing parties since May 1968.
The eighties opened a second period. Here the National Front made a radical liberal turn. It imports the concept of the “education voucher”, promoted by Reagan in the United States, which consists in paying the parents a certain amount at the beginning of the school year to allow them to choose the residence of their child, public or private, taking into account education as a school market. The National Front is the only party to defend such an idea; on the right, neither the RPR nor the UDF – with the exception of a few executives, such as Alain Madelin – have never been this far in their programs.
This view goes hand in hand with an outright defense of private schools – the National Front also demonstrated in 1984 against the Savary Act that was supposed to change the relationship between private schools and public education – and a discourse against unions that would indoctrinate the school, where the textbooks would be contaminated with Marxist teachings.
The obsession with the decline of the French school began in the 1980s and struck in the 1990s, when Bruno Mégret took a more central position. This promotes an organic vision of the school, the central element of the nation, whose heritage would be jeopardized by extra-European immigration – the case of the scarves in a Creil college in 1989, which is widely exploited.
This cycle ends with Marine Le Pen taking the party, to give way to a discourse more favorable to public schools and abolishing the “education check”.
What concrete measures would this program translate into on the ground?
The measures advocated by the Front National and then by the National Rally have remained fairly stable over time. They call first, as Jean-Michel Barreau reminds us, for the ‘re-establishment of authority’ in the classroom, arguing that the school would function better if the teachers were more respected. This requires the introduction of the uniform in public schools, which has never existed in France. Then, priority education is considered unfair – it would favor the suburbs and minorities to the detriment of rural areas in particular -, the reflection boils down to pointing out the role of immigrant children in the decline of education and to highlight some topics ( French, history-geography, etc.)
Democratization of schools is seen as a bad thing, which radically distinguishes the FN, then the RN, from all political parties. From the Gaulist right to the extreme left, no other political organization advocates a drop in the number of graduates or students. The abolition of the single college is no longer in the presidential program for 2022, which can be seen as part of the current logic of demonizing the National Rally. But the early selection of students, with a post-CM2 orientation, remains the focus of his speech.
Is the Rassemblement National more interested in an education electorate known for voting more left these days?
Until the 2000s, the National Front held a discourse that was deeply hostile to teachers, or at least to their unions. While traditionally well established among the police, gendarmes and military, the Front National has not appealed to officials in general. But in 2015, the situation changed and the vote in its favor broke through among public service agents, until it became a force on the side of Category B and C agents.
A new electoral issue thus arises and the Front National invents a role of defender of the status of civil servants and their purchasing power. The National Front and then Marine Le Pen’s National Rally then proceeded to become less divisive towards the teaching staff. The private school defenses are disappearing from their program, which is a real revolution, as support for Catholic institutions has historically been strong in much of the far-right French.
Would a National Rally win spell the end of the Republican school as we know it?
While there is continuity in the themes that engage the National Front and then the National Rally regarding school, their programs are rarely exhaustive: it’s difficult to outline exactly which school would be set up, as only a few topics are over-invested. Among the leading topics, as mentioned above, we find the emphasis on “patriotic” subjects, history-geography or French, the rejection of pedagogical innovation (particularly in teacher training), or the issue of violence in school. On the other hand, nothing is said about, for example, pre-elementary or socio-economic or gender inequality in school results.
Although the school has changed profoundly since the 1970s, the Front National remains attached to its foundations and assigns the school three important functions: to bring about an early selection of pupils, a majority who have no vocation to study for a long time , that of generating an elite, that of forming patriots. It is a remarkable continuity, even though the French education system has been disrupted during the same period.
ThroughUniversity Professor of Educational Sciences, Paris Nanterre University – Paris Lumières University.
The original version of this article was published on The Conversation.