Secularism: “Schools should not be afraid to expose”


ploss of signs and clothing, suspicion of proselytism, refusal of certain activities, contestation of education… The Ministry of National Education recently unveiled a report devoted to attacks on secularism in schools and reported an upward trend in its coverage. In front of PointIannis Roder, associate professor of history in a priority education network (REP) for twenty-two years, and member of the Council of Elders of Secularism (body made up of experts needed to advise and guide national education on this matter), comments on these reports.

Two years after the murder of Samuel Paty, he warns the institution, as well as parents and all citizens of the efforts that must be made to restore the original missions of the Republican school. Author of French youth, school and the Republic (Éditions de l’Observatoire), he is alarmed: “It is the whole idea of ​​the republican pact that is at stake and it is our values ​​to fight against what hinders and threatens it. »

Point : Two years have passed since the murder of Samuel Paty, and attacks on secularism in the school are on the rise, with 313 reports for the month of September alone, 82% of which are from students, according to the Department of Education. Has nothing changed since this tragedy?

Iannis Roder: We cannot say that the murder of Samuel Paty did not affect the institution. It gave rise to the training plan for secularism that Jean-Michel Blanquer wanted – following the report of the former Inspector General of National Education, Jean-Pierre Obin – which is in high demand from teachers. And creating a specific test for the teacher recruitment competition on the principles and values ​​of the Republic. But it must be recognized that on the ground there is another very important inertial force. There is no denying it: a resolute discourse on these questions is still lacking. Going through some staff rooms, I see that the issues are not yet well understood. However, secularism is not “the law only the law”. This principle is part of a philosophy and issues that it is extremely important to instill in our students. It’s about our Republican values…

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Are these reports not the tip of the iceberg, in a time of “no waves”?

Unfortunately, yes. There remains a real culture of secrecy in national education, with the idea that “the less we know, the better”. For example, the vast majority of incidents go unreported: they are handled in the classroom or in establishments, when they are not silenced. Jean-Michel Blanquer has tried to put an end to this “no wave” but from words to deeds there is a gap. Even today, 56% of teachers do not go to their superiors when they have a problem and prefer to confide in colleagues or remain silent. And one in four teachers admitted to self-censorship (“from time to time or regularly”) the day after the murder of their colleague Samuel Paty.

We do see that a reporting culture is developing at institutions, especially if they are aware of these matters. The new Minister of Education, Pap Ndiaye, [qui a souligné « un niveau de sensibilité et d’alerte qui n’existait pas jusqu’alors » et appelé à « prendre le dessus sur les forces hostiles à la République », NDLR] showed itself clearly this Sunday [16 octobre, jour de l’hommage rendu à Samuel Paty]. It is crucial to have a strong voice, which comes from above. It is also a way of alerting the inspectors of the academies to the subject, and more specifically to the importance of these training courses that encourage reporting. The school should not be afraid to denounce, nor should it be teaching subjects considered sensitive. But it is necessary that the teachers are guided and supported when they get into difficulties.

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54% of the reports, about which the Grenellestraat communicated last week, concern the wearing of signs and outfits. What does this say about our youth?

That a minority, of the French Muslim population, won over by increasingly rigorous ideas, refuse the discourse of the school of the Republic as a space for emancipation. You learn to think about it for yourself and that is unbearable for these students, who can’t even stand the idea of ​​freedom. This radicalization of practices also testifies to a normative shift inspired by Salafist Islam – prayer, changing rooms, consumption, etc.

Some young people are not even aware of it, they have internalized them so much. I’m thinking, for example, of those young girls who put themselves in an abaya in their establishment and brag that they “fucked” their CPE (sic) [conseiller principal d’éducation, NDLR], collect more than 400,000 views on TikTok. Also to those who promote a glamorous Islamism on social networks by explaining in beauty tutorials how to “make up when you wear a veil”. These videos, which are going viral, habituate their peers to this content and create habits.

Some heads of institutions buy social peace, they are playing a very dangerous game there

The law of March 15, 2004 regarding conspicuous religious signs in school is clear. As well as the circular of May 18, 2004, which states that “the signs and clothing that are prohibited are the signs and clothing the wearing of which leads to immediate recognition by one’s religious beliefs”. How can the school still be the scene of these debates?

All this is indeed very clear. Still gotta hold on to it. Take the example of the tensions that took place last week at the Joliot-Curie secondary school in Nanterre [après que des jeunes filles sont entrées dans l’établissement vêtues d’abayas, NDLR]. The former principal of the school had shown great flexibility towards her students, who – strong in refined language elements – presented this piece of clothing as “cultural”. In doing so, she opened a slit in which these young girls were swallowed. The tensions that arose when his successor ended the generosity show that the law must not be compromised. Some principals buy social peace in this way, they are playing a very dangerous game. It’s not just their doing, some teachers are just as irresponsible…

Which means ?

You may wonder what the class teachers are saying, who still relate Islamism to economic and social issues. Like those who believe there is systemic racism in France. We can doubt the fact that all of them – despite being officials of the Republic – make a good distinction between private and public obligations. Admittedly, the speeches about the fight against Islamism are more audible today within the National Education, where acceptance of reality finds its way. But at the cost of how many deaths?

Moreover, we also see young teachers – like their students – imbuing an American model of society – individualistic and communal – leading them to challenge secular laws, believing that “everyone should be able to do what they want”. A relatively simplistic idea that was seized upon by a minority of young French Muslims. And where secularism and the Republic no longer have their place. However, the construction of society requires a part of individual efforts and renunciations… It is up to the school, which has the function of founding republicans, to convey a clear discourse on this subject.

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How to be heard?

For example, by explaining what positive France brings to these future adults and how lucky they are to grow up in this country. By also encouraging social diversity, making it possible to compare and build visions of the world, in the end, common values. But also by reminding the students and their parents that, in addition to learning, the school of the Republic has the vocation of civic education, the importance of perpetuating its model, of working for the common good… misunderstood and acting like consumers at school, choosing what they want or not… It is the whole idea of ​​the republican pact that is at stake and it is our values ​​to fight against it that hinders and threatens it.


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