School is a place for learning, but for learning what? Education must convey values, such as freedom of expression, but also respect the counter-values coming from every subculture. Without the willingness of parents to accept a different point of view and without thorough training of teachers, pedagogical “battles” fail to achieve their goal.
By Giulia Barjona / 11.12.2020
On 16th October a French school teacher was beheaded in the north-central region of Île-de-France after showing offensive images of the Islamic prophet Muhammad in class.
Samuel Paty, a history and geography teacher, was also responsible for carrying out the moral and civic education lessons; the most difficult subject to address in multicultural classes, especially in schools which are located in priority education zones.
It is therefore necessary to think, or rethink, carefully about the roles everyone has on both a national and international level when talking about education, priorities, values, discipline, and pedagogy.
The school is primarily a place of learning where education is not limited to only maths, languages, geography, etc. This educational institution offers the opportunity to learn how to discuss and confront other cultures or “only” the most varied ideas. By questioning our convictions we have the opportunity to discover new points of view and to reinforce them. Regarding comments as accusations does not help to develop a dialectical ability useful for making oneself understood.
Additionally, schools offer to teach the greatest amount of useful information in order to be able to live, and live together, in our world. Some professions follow a suitable path to prepare students for future studies, and others offer the opportunity to critically analyse society. Getting to know each other and those around us gives an opportunity to “build” a peaceful and respectful cohabitation.
Moreover, parents of students, when they take their children to school, recognise how useful these institutions are. Schools impart a country’s knowledge and culture. They also share knowledge that parents could never give to their children themselves. These parents are obsessed with the desire for control and with planning the practices, the mind and the life of their “baby”.
However, schools are not ready to face the educational upbringings that children bring with them into class.
First of all, it’s important to be aware of the home culture of the different children and teenagers. Similarly, teachers are hardly ready to tackle such hot topics and start conversations. Paty had not forced students to watch the Charlie Hebdo-related footage, but one of his students did not understand the very purpose of the class. Perhaps the teacher had not understood that the student was not yet ready to approach this topic.
Secondly, in our digital age, there are other solutions than paper newspapers to show images. In some schools, it is forbidden to use mobile phones. Sometimes giving teenagers permission to turn on their phones in order to search for information and use it as they see fit may be a good compromise.
Thirdly, the choice to address current topics is a strategy that is always used. Sometimes, however, you have to think ahead and imagine the consequences. The trial of those responsible for 2015’s Charlie Hebdo bombing took place at the same time as Paty’s murder. Paty had, perhaps, carefully chosen this topic to make students better understand the news they watch on television. However, he did not think that those people involved are terrorists who have links to an international organisation still present in France to this day. It’s enough for an angry father to spark an international “debate” between French president Emmanuel Macron, Turkish president Recep Tayyip Erdogan, and the entire Muslim community. Teachers should be informed, even by the military, about taboo subjects.
In conclusion, on one hand a piece of advice to give teachers is to listen to the real interests of students to create better-designed methodologies and programmes. On the other hand, parents should place more trust in schools. They must be informed that no one is trying to replace their authority. A new “structure” of mind is paramount on both sides.
Finally, the two sides must be asked if they truly want to work together and if they are ready to rethink their views. Would such a sincere collaboration ever really be possible?