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Conflans-Sainte-Honorine attack: when the freedom to teach is under attack

Shock, anger, indignation … Honorary Inspector General Jean-Pierre Obin (1) is however not so surprised the day after the Conflans-Sainte-Honorine attack which cost the life of a professor of he 47-year-old history-geography, beheaded in the middle of the street for having recently shown his students a caricature of the prophet Mohammed.

“Since an issue of the Islamic State magazine in 2015, describing National Education officials as ‘at war with the Muslim family’ and calling for the killing ‘of these enemies of Allah’, we expected a acting out “, explains Jean-Pierre Obin.

→ TESTIMONIAL. Attack in Conflans-Sainte-Honorine: teachers between anger and disarray

If the Inspector General is not unduly surprised by this tragedy, it is also because he has seen, for the past fifteen years, the protest of certain teachings in establishments, where “It is difficult to discuss the situation in the Middle East, to study the Shoah or even to take a class to visit a monument which is or has been a place of Christian worship”.

Strong self-censorship among teachers

Admittedly, the reports for attacks on secularism, which go back to the ministry, may seem few (935 between September 2019 and March 2020), if we put them against the 12 million students. “But many incidents are treated, even hushed up at the level of the establishment and do not appear in these statistics”, he assures.

In “A more general context of crisis in the authority of teachers”, he prefers to highlight other figures, taken from a 2018 Ifop poll for the National Secular Action Committee. “The study shows that 37% of teachers and up to 53% of those working in a priority education network have already self-censored”, he laments.

→ ANALYSIS. Attack in Conflans-Sainte-Honorine: attacks on secularism at school are not massive but worrying

“We feel that some teachers are slacking off to avoid having to face a discussion that could turn out to be virulent if they tackle issues such as religions, belonging to a gender or even homophobia”, confirms the principal of college Didier Georges, academic secretary of the union of management staff SNPDEN in Paris.

“You can’t throw stones at those who censor themselves. They act in this way thinking that it will allow them to continue to exercise their profession in serene conditions or, quite simply, are afraid. And the drama that has just happened should not help matters ”, anticipates the one who worked for a long time in Seine-Saint-Denis.

Caricatures, a teaching aid

“Many colleagues, like me, were all the more upset because they regularly make caricatures of Charlie hebdo educational activity support, particularly in the context of moral and civic education, reacts Amélie Hart-Hutasse, co-head of the history-geography group at Snes. It is not a question of showing the cartoons in order to show them but of placing them in the legal framework which is that of freedom of the press. “

When the question of freedom of expression is thus addressed, “Teachers are very often brought to face reactions from pupils, who say they are hurt or convinced that we do not have the right to draw the prophet”.

→ MAINTENANCE. Attack in Conflans-Sainte-Honorine: “Imams and theologians must engage with concrete actions”

For Amélie Hart-Hutasse, nothing really disturbing: “They don’t come to school having already studied these points of the program. And it is good to let them deliver their feelings, even if it may shock us. They express themselves and then we educate. If they just passively listen by saying “Yes Yes” but continue to think no less, we will not know if we have succeeded in our educational work ”, she insists.

Likewise, continues Amélie Hart-Hutasse, “What could pass for self-censorship is sometimes only good pedagogical sense”. And to explain that now a college teacher, she has stopped having the caricatures of Charlie hebdo. “My students are not mature enough to understand the second degree, they do not yet have the perception of irony”, she justifies.

Keep the debate alive

A history and geography teacher in the Paris region, of Maghrebian origin, talks about caricatures of Charlie hebdo but don’t show them. “They are sufficiently well known, that would not bring much”, she believes. On the other hand, she does not hesitate to jostle her students, to bring the debate to life by relying on the themes on the program, such as freedom of conscience.

“For example, I ask them if we can change religion. Some people tell me that it would hurt their parents too much. And I tell them that it is their life that it is about and not that of their parents. “

→ READ. In Conflans-Sainte-Honorine, “an attack of immense political significance”

No later than this Friday, October 16, “In a tense context, marked by a feeling of stigmatization felt by some pupils”, she had, in the mode of debate, to face one of her second grade students who argued with aplomb that the ban on wearing the veil at school constituted an attack on individual freedoms.

Certain disciplines particularly exposed to disputes

“I reminded him that the veil is prohibited in high school because the students are minors and that they must be protected against possible influences but that we have the right to wear it at the university, which welcomes adult students. “ The teacher also had to tell the student that everyone was “Free to believe or not in what is written in the Koran and which is not a historical truth”.

If history-geography and moral and civic education (provided by the same teacher at the college) are particularly exposed to disputes of all kinds, other disciplines are also concerned, such as life and earth sciences. “Even if it remains marginal, it happens more and more when we approach the theory of evolution and everything related to sexuality, gender”, notes Serge Lacassie, the president of the Association of teachers of biology and geology.


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