Towards a “secular fact” teaching?


Concluding on December 9 a day organized at the CNAM on the theme: “Secularism, law, standards and habits”, the Minister of National Education, Jean-Michel Blanquer, spoke of his desire to further structure training initial and continuing teachers with regard to secularism.

He announced that from the 2022 session of the recruitment competitions, candidates’ knowledge of secularism would be duly appreciated. Jean ‑ Michel Blanquer stressed that their training should effectively prepare them for it, which would be clarified with the Higher Council for Programs.

With regard to continuing training – “insufficient” – the Minister of National Education has asked the Institute for training managers and Réseau Canopé to design training “stronger and more appropriate”. Finally, he asked that a concrete training offer be designed on “the secular approach to religion”.

But why stop there so good? It is, to say the least, strange that, for the past twenty years or so, each time that there has been a question of secularism at school , it is the teaching of “religious fact” in the republican and secular school that comes to the fore. in the foreground and not that of the “secular fact”.

“Reconquest of secularism”

Yet there had been much discussion of secular education during the spring 2012 presidential election campaign. Asked with other candidates about “secularism”, as part of an organized school day on March 17, 2012 by the FCPE (the main federation of parents of public school pupils), François Hollande declared that it would be opportune to teach the “secular fact” at school (“like religious fact ”, he had specified). But these words were without an effective future.

The idea was then carried in particular by Vincent Peillon who was in charge of the theme of education in the campaign team of François Hollande. And the 1 th  March 2012, in an interview on France Culture , Vincent Peillon had already called for a “reconquest of secularism in schools.” Asked about the teaching of the religious fact, he felt that this teaching was better implemented than that of the secular fact. And he even declared “to discover that there was no teaching of secularism for the pupils” and that one “was not preparing the teachers for these values”.

To tell the truth, the problem of secular education has been posed for a long time, but not fully achieved, in particular because the problem of educating students themselves in secularism has not been explicitly posed and treaty.

Teacher training

Yet this question of secularism and its conditions of possibility can only be central in a republican and secular school. And, for a long time, as we can see for example in the following extract from the article “secularism” of the famous Dictionary of primary education and instruction , edited by Ferdinand Buisson and published in 1911.

“What should we understand by secular education? […] It is the separation of church and school. The teacher at school, the priest at the church, the mayor at the town hall […]. But is it possible to stick to these general lines? The cult of logic, which we perhaps profess more than another people, does it not require us to say where secularism begins and where it ends? Is it enough that the priest does not enter the school, that the catechism is not taught there, nor the prayers recited, for the teaching to be secular? “

The formula hitherto preferred by the Minister of National Education to make known the priority orientation of his educational policy has been “read, write, count; and respect for others ”.

During the CNAM day on secularism on December 9, Jean-Michel Blanquer affirmed that secularism was “the cement of our social pact” by making specific announcements on secularism training, placed under the aegis of ‘a formula of Marx, “nothing more practical than a good theory”, and of Jean Zay, whose spirit should be “rediscovered”. And he marked his objective in this case “to restore at the center of the educational system the teacher, figure of intellectual authority par excellence, the one who is authoritative.”

In this regard, however, we should not only train teachers (and students) in the religious fact, but also (and probably above all) in the secular fact. It is certainly difficult and it would be unprecedented; but this is undoubtedly what would have to be done to deal with our unique situation.

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