Pupils to learn France’s secular moral values

France’s education minister presented his plan for school pupils to learn “secular morality” values to the French parliament on Monday. The project has been likened to a call by Marshal Petain, who led Nazi-allied, Vichy France, during World War II.

Pupils to learn France's secular moral values
File photo

Young children need to learn the values of the French Republic from an early age in schools. This is the idea behind proposals put together by Education Minister Vincent Peillon for pupils to take lessons in “secular morality” or morale laïque as it is called in France. Details of the plans were presented to the French parliament on Monday.

As French media pointed out the presentation of Peillon’s plans comes at a time when the French people have been calling for politicians to show a bit more morality themselves, in the wake of the tax fraud scandal that engulfed ex-Budget Minister Jérôme Cahuzac.

The move to encourage the promotion of “secular morality” comes after President François Hollande vowed to strengthen the values of the French Republic during last year’s Presidential election campaign.

In his mission statement, Peillon declared: “Teaching and sharing the values of the Republic is a responsibility for each school.”

In primary and secondary schools, one hour a week will be devoted to the teaching of "secular morality". But the subject will not be taught as a separate subject with dedicated teachers as was first envisaged by Peillon. Instead, the hour a week dedicated to the values will take the form of debates rather than formal teaching.

Teachers will be given special training on how to lead debates on issues where religions take a different stance.

Students will be evaluated individually based on their knowledge and behaviour.

In the past the minister has said that secular morality serves “to understand what is right and to distinguish good from evil”.

Secularism or laïcite is a big deal in France, especially when it comes to education. Recently, a court overturned the sacking of a nursery school teacher for refusing to take off her veil. In response, deputies from across the political spectrum decried the ruling as an attack on secularism.

Although lessons on civil morality are currently given in schools, Peillon wanted them to be more structured.

“Secularism creates a hierarchy of values, which places the common good, equal rights and respect of each person over specific cultures and traditions, whatever they may be,” Peillon wrote.

The announcement received a mixed reaction from France's teaching unions.

“We would have preferred to have a dedicated subject included in the timetable,” François Portzer, President of the National Association of Lycées and Colleges (SNALC) told Europe1 radio.

Without a specific framework to a class, Portzer believes the subject material will be “watered down”.

However, head of the SNUIPPfsu union Sebastian Sihr welcomed the fact the values of secular morality will not be taught as a standard lesson.

“Instead of the teacher just writing the values on the blackboard to be learned by heart the pupils will be able to debate certain issues and reflect upon common values and the values of the French Republic,” Sihr told The Local.

Not everyone in France agrees with Peillon and Hollande's bid to learn moral values.

When the minister first announced the proposals last year, his predecessor, Luc Chatel from the opposition UMP party said the plan had echoes of a similar call by Marshall Pétain who led the Nazi-allied regime, known as Vichy France, during World War II.

Chatel said Peillon’s quest to seek the “intellectual and moral re-education” of France’s young people copied “word for word the call of Marshal Pétain on June 25th, 1940” when he promised to rid France of its “moral decadence”.

Henri Pena Ruiz, a philosopher and specialist in moral secularism, has also been critical of Peillon’s plans.

“We can’t just replace Christian instruction with Republican instruction, for there is no point just substituting religious indoctrination with secularist indoctrination,” Ruiz told Le Journal du Dimanche.

Secular morality debates will become the norm in French schools from September 2015 once the project is passed by the French parliament.

Member comments

Log in here to leave a comment.
Become a Member to leave a comment.


Schools to close as French teachers strike over Covid rules

Around three-quarters of French teachers plan to go on strike onThursday to protest the government's shifting rules on Covid testing for students, forcing the closure of half the country's primary schools, a union said Tuesday.

Schools to close as French teachers strike over Covid rules
Photo: Fred Tanneau/AFP

The strike led by the Snuipp-FSU union, the largest among primary school teachers, comes after the latest of several changes on testing and isolation requirements for potential Covid cases announced by Prime Minister Jean Castex late Monday.

After seeing long lines of parents outside pharmacies and labs in recent days to test children in classes where a case was detected, Castex said home tests could now be used to determine if a student could return to school.

But teachers say class disruptions have become unmanageable with the spread of the highly contagious Omicron coronavirus variant.

“Students cannot learn properly because attendance varies wildly, and a hybrid of in-house and distance learning is impossible to put in place,” the Snuipp-FSU said, adding that absent teachers are not being replaced.

It is also demanding the government provide facemasks for staff, including the more protective FFP2 masks, and CO2 monitors to check if classrooms are sufficiently ventilated.

“Not only does the current protocol not protect students, staff or their families, it has completely disorganised schools,” the union said, claiming that classes have effectively been turned into “daycare centres.”

Education Minister Jean-Michel Blanquer has said the government is doing everything possible to avoid outright school closures that could cause havoc for parents and jeopardise learning for thousands, especially those in low-income families.

“I know there is a lot of fatigue, of anxiety… but you don’t go on strike against a virus,” Blanquer told BFM television on Tuesday.

As of Monday some 10,000 classes had been shut nationwide because of Covid cases, representing around two percent of all primary school classes, Blanquer said.