With Worrisome New Rules For Students, French Government Suggests It Now Wavers on Issue of Liberté January 26, 2015

With Worrisome New Rules For Students, French Government Suggests It Now Wavers on Issue of Liberté

What do you do with pupils like these?

Éric Bettancourt, a schoolteacher in Clichy-sous-Bois, a heavily immigrant suburb, told the France 2 television channel that three quarters of his students had refused to observe the moment of silence [after the Charlie Hebdo massacre]. “The first shocking words I heard were that the murders were justified,” Mr. Bettancourt said. “They considered that it was forbidden to make blasphemies or insult the prophet through drawings or speech.”

Question: Were the students who refused to be quiet during the moment of silence not exercising their right to freedom of expression? Are they the equivalent, or near-equivalent, of atheists and others who refuse to say (or decline to rise for) the Pledge of Allegiance in U.S. schools? The case can surely be made.

To combat the students’ insolence and the social, political, and religious division, France has decided on a two-pronged approach:

Prong one:

Officials in France announced new measures … aimed at reinforcing secular values at French schools, after the terrorist attacks in and around Paris exposed serious cultural rifts between children in heavily immigrant communities and others in classrooms throughout the country. Teachers are to receive new training, students would be exposed more deeply to civics and morals lessons, and classroom activities would include the singing of “La Marseillaise.”

Bonne chance with that! I see nothing wrong with “civics and moral lessons,” but the socially or teacher-enforced singing of the national anthem is a creepy step too far.

Prong two:

[Education minister Najat] Vallaud-Belkacem also said that, starting in September, a new program of “moral and civic training” for students would include lessons on how to fight racism, anti-Semitism and “any form of discrimination.” The government’s objective, she said, is to “re-establish” the authority of teachers.

That’s fine, I suppose, but the language turns ominously dictatorial in the next part of her statement.

Any behavior which will question the values of the republic and the authority” of the teacher, [Vallaud-Belkacem] said, “will be systematically signaled to the school principal” and followed by an “educational dialogue with parents.”

With ukases like these, and free-speech-quelching arrests of comedian Dieudonné M’bala M’bala and dozens of others, France seems to have taken a page from the North Korean playbook.

Does liberté now take a backseat to mandatory, enforced fraternité?

I’d love to see secularism spread, but not through state coercion.

(Image via Shutterstock)

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