Aleteia

The True Intentions Behind the French Plan to Further Secularize Schools

Jeffrey Bruno
Share

The plan’s architect believes the government should replace religion

What do we know about Mr. Vincent Peillon’s plan to reform France’s public school system, currently under discussion in the French Senate? Not much, actually.
 
The text of the bill makes it compulsory to teach the “values ​​of the Republic” and “critical thinking,” which will now be part of each child’s right to education, even for children receiving private instruction at home or off-contract (new article L131-1-1).
 
The bill also replaces civics class with “moral and civic education” aimed at helping students “acquire respect for the person, his origins, and his differences, equality between women and men, and secularism” (new article L311-4). This “moral and civic education aims to help students become responsible and free citizens, develop critical thinking abilities, and adopt a thoughtful behavior. This teaching entails, at all stages of education, training in the values of the French Republic and knowledge and respect for the rights of the child” (new article L. 312-15).
 
As for primary school, the text adopted by the National Assembly in the first reading indicates that “it provides the conditions for education in gender equality. Along with the family, it provides moral and civic education, which must allow the exercise of citizenship and the learning of the values ​​and symbols of the Republic and the European Union, including the national anthem and its history .”
 
This moral and civic education will be taught by professors of history, science, and natural history starting in the fall of 2015 for one hour per week in primary and middle school. It will be mandatory, including for private schools under contract. Classes must be graded.
 
This intention to restore honor to secular morality and citizenship is a response, understandably, to the need for a common cultural framework, a Republic, for a generation of youth that is socially fragmented, often illiterate and violent. It is about building “a better life together in our society” (explanatory memorandum). This generation of youth is influenced by political, identitarian, religious, sexist, racist, and homophobic fundamentalism; it often adopts a hostile attitude to French culture. In a nutshell, large sections of the youth must be re-civilized and incorporated into French society, and this task belongs to the schools of the Republic. This is Mr. Peillon’s praiseworthy ambition, which is responding to a very real problem. The main means proposed are the hiring of 60,000 additional teachers, a massive investment in digital technology, and the teaching of morality and republican values.
 
The current situation of youth is not due to the failure of public education, but to the failure of families, because of their social, cultural, and religious determinism. Thus we understand the desire to educate children starting at the age of 2 and give high priority especially to children from immigrant populations.
 
The Minister also decided that a Charter of Secularism should be added to each school’s rules in 2013. This charter defines the principles of secularism and will be binding on teachers and students. The drafting of the charter text has been entrusted to the High Council for Integration that works to “block communitarianism.”
 
It is here that we see the purpose of teaching “morality” and “civic values”, and the National Education Minister’s concept of the Republic. In spite of the lack of precision about the future content of this moral and civic instruction, which is still under development, it is possible to refer to the Minister’s remarks and writings. He has stated: “The purpose of secular morality is to remove the student from all forms of determinism, whether familial, ethnic, social, or intellectual” in order to “enable each student to emancipate himself” because “the purpose of the republican school has always been to produce a free individual.”(National Assembly, full report on the second meeting of Thursday, March 14, 2013 report.) These statements are not accidental; rather, they summarize a coherent thought, an ideology. Thus, in his programmatic book
Newsletter
Get Aleteia delivered to your inbox. Subscribe here.