The Guardian is reporting warnings from the French education minister that the country’s principle of secularism has been twisted by politicians and so often wrongly used to attack Islam that schoolchildren have been left baffled.
Najat Vallaud-Belkacem told the Guardian that after last year’s devastating jihadi attacks in Paris, France was overhauling the teaching of secularism and civic values as part of the country’s drive against terrorism and radicalisation.
“We have to reappropriate the concept of laïcité [secularism] so we can explain to our young pupils that whatever their faith, they belong to this idea and they’re not excluded. Secularism is not something against them; it protects them,” she said…
“Laïcité is about saying we’re in a country where individuals can have whatever beliefs, or lack of beliefs, they choose and the public powers must be neutral towards them. That’s why in schools, we ask pupils not to wear distinctive religious symbols, because schools should be indifferent to beliefs and everyone must be treated equally. But there had been a growing sense of incomprehension among pupils over what this meant, with some pupils feeling it was an aggressive attack on who they were.”
She added: “If a big number of young pupils felt secularism was an attack on them, it was because the term had been misused and deformed in the public debate for years by the extreme-right and the right as an attack on Islam. The term had often been misused to point out how Muslims were different to others, and that is clearly problematic.”
She said: “So we really wanted to work on that concept of secularism and specially train teachers on it.”
In an unprecedented initiative, more than 5,000 “citizen volunteers” aged 18-94, including retired lawyers, journalists and business leaders, offered to go into schools to talk about secularism. Many volunteers have complained they have not yet been called upon. But Vallaud-Belkacem said the project was increasingly being rolled out. “On certain, delicate subjects, bringing in outsiders to talk about values is pertinent because pupils listen to them more attentively,” she said…
Vallaud-Belkacem said of the focus on French schools in the wake of the terrorist attacks: “It’s interesting because it means that French people, when faced with attacks intended to divide them, instead of looking for revenge or a scapegoat, their first reaction was: how do we raise our children so that this never happens again?”
Interesting insights from France on their struggle against radicalisation – any thoughts or reactions?
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