High school student movement: return on some historical mobilizations


The student movements, when they are of any magnitude, can not be reduced to “manipulation” or “contagion” as some believe (or want to make him believe). To have any chance of coming out from above, it is best to try to understand them in their own physiognomy, their “tempo” and their evolutionary “geography”. Comparing them to other movements of historical importance can help to grasp the singularity.

The mobilizations of high school students have been numerous and varied for at least a century and a half. We could make an inventory in the Prévert. It will be limited to three of them, among the most significant, eliminating two episodes yet in all memories, but where the impulse came first students: May 68 and struggles against the reform called “Devaquet” of 1986.

1882-1883: an already national movement

We will begin with one of the most significant student movements: the one that took place during the “ferryste” period, almost a century and a half ago. It is not useless to highlight it against those who think that high school student movements and the very possibility of high school organizations would be the effect of post-sixty-eight laxity.

Following the uprisings of Toulouse and Montpellier high schools of April 1882, a first congress of high school students in the south of France is held in Albi. Representatives of these two institutions, and others from a dozen cities, including Avignon, Bordeaux, Carcassonne, Lyon, Mâcon or Nantes, develop a “Manifesto”.

They ask for a review of the disciplinary regime, the establishment – for the upper classes – of a commission of pupils who can make wishes on the functioning of the school, and the amnesty for the pupils who took part in the revolts from Toulouse and Montpellier.

A second congress, held in Bordeaux in August 1883 after the great Parisian revolt of Louis-le-Grand, welcomes delegates from high schools and colleges throughout France, from Albi to Nancy via Angouleme, Dax, La Rochelle, Libourne, Lons-le-Saunier, Nice, Rochefort, or Versailles.

The resolutions voted are very similar to those of the Albi congress with some additional requirements: to delete the provisorat and replace it with a board of directors before which the pupils would appear; create a jury to control the exams and make any bias impossible. These two congresses (and these revolts) of high school students will have no immediate effects, but will not be for nothing in the great disciplinary reform initiated in the late 1880s.

1990: the edge of the periphery

The movement of high school students of the last quarter of 1990 initiates an important change in the sense of the claims, but also in the geographical and social nature of the schools particularly mobilized. It is true that it is situated in a paradoxical context, that of a growth crisis of high schools following the decision of the Minister of National Education Jean-Pierre Chévènement – taken in 1985 – to go 80% of an age class at “bac level” by the year 2000.

This last quarter of 1990 is marked by demonstrations of suburban high school students against the “insecurity” of their schools in mid-October, then by the extraordinary magnitude of the high school student movement of autumn 1990 – part of the “periphery” .

The student or high school movement had until then developed from the city centers and the most upscale establishments such as the Sorbonne, the ENS of Ulm, or the high schools of Paris – with, most often, words of order, in the post-sixties, against the different figures of “repression”.

This is to say if this inversion (the “periphery” at the initiative), on an unprecedented theme – security and order in schools – is a sensation, especially in the media world. The theme of violence in schools developed in the politico-media sphere will remain very marked, in an equivalence: “school violence equals institutions of the periphery”.

On 24 October, nearly a dozen thousand high school students, most of them coming from high schools in the Paris suburbs, joined by high school students from a few high schools in the provinces or Paris, are demonstrating in Paris demanding “security” and “Cleanliness” in their establishments, and more staff and material means. The world is not mistaken, titling Montreuil, Bondy and Saint-Denis: three high places of high school discontent , October 25, 1990, then L’agitation lycéenne extends to the province , October 26, while highlighting : Paris dragging its feet .

Faced with a movement that is growing, the Minister of Education, Lionel Jospin, who had initially promised “a hundred additional supervisory positions” in “sensitive” high schools, is led to announce “an emergency plan” November 12th. In mid-November more than 100,000 protesters meet in Paris and about 200,000 in major provincial cities. The promise of the Minister of National Education was in the order of 4 billion and a half francs in additional budget for its “emergency plan”. With the support of President François Mitterrand (somewhat in delicacy with Prime Minister Michel Rocard and Lionel Jospin), the student movement of 1990 will finally get more than double.

2005: the tank fires the powders

At the beginning of 2005, the reform of the baccalaureate is included in the annexed report of the future law of orientation of education (known as law “Fillon”). Its preparation is entrusted to a “working group comprising representatives of staff, parents and high school students.” The Minister of National Education François Fillon sets the framework during the installation of the working group on January 17:

  • reorganization of the exam around six terminal exams (instead of a dozen)
  • evaluation in other forms of other subjects (continuous or during training).

The high school organizations, the UNL and the FIDL, question the durability of their presence, and claim that there can be no question of participating in the establishment of a “baccalaureate per institution” whose value would be different according to whether he passed in a downtown high school or a suburban high school

Demonstrations of high school students include several thousand, then tens of thousands of high school students. They are estimated at 100,000 in the street on February 10, 2005, during a national day at the call of the FIDL and the UNL, against the Bill Fillon, and particularly against the introduction of continuous controls at bachelor. “No to the two-speed ferry”; “Fillon, tighten the buttocks, we arrive at full speed”; “Fillon, you’re screwed up, the youth is in the street”.

On February 14, 2005, François Fillon announced the tabling of a government amendment removing all mention of the baccalaureate in the bill. As for the discussions of the working group, it is expected that they will “start from scratch”, at an unspecified date: “the specifications of the negotiations that will open will be as flexible as possible”.

Two weeks later, during an interview with the VSD newspaper , the Minister of National Education François Fillon declares: “From the evening of the first demonstration, I said that we would not reform the ferry if we did not find not the way to appease the fears […]. We must wait for the spirits to subside.

Author Bio: Claude Lelièvre is a Teacher-researcher in history of education, honorary professor at Paris-Descartes at Paris Descartes University – USPC