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How to instill critical thinking in students?

The cross : Ten years ago, you launched “intellectual self-defense” workshops for student volunteers. Why this initiative?

Sophie Mazet: It started with a light idea at the start. I had discovered an American satirical newspaper playing on false information and offered a game to the students: decipher the false information that I was going to voluntarily slip into my lessons. Even warned, no one managed to distinguish the true from the false, even when I forced the line! From there, I said to myself that it was urgent to work on this question.

→ CONFLANS. Islamism, an “identity variation of Islam”

How do you work in practice?

SM : I start by showing them, in particular through sociological studies, that in matters of critical thinking, our worst enemy… is ourselves! Each time, this first course hits the mark and establishes a common working basis with the students.

I also use humor. For example, when working on sectarian influence, I suggest that they create their sect and be a guru. It is often very funny, while allowing to bring to light the issues. The workshop lasts one hour per week, for a year. The goal is for them to sharpen their critical mind, to question what they hear and to be able to question themselves.

In high school, do you feel pressure, especially religious, regarding the lessons given?

S. M. : Yes, it happens, although it is rare, that parents refuse to allow their daughters to participate in swimming lessons, because they do not want them to put on their swimsuits in front of ” men “. However, in second, the swimming test is compulsory. In my high school, ten young girls also wear the abaya, this rigorous garment. The phenomenon started ten years ago, and has not spread since. But unfortunately, I was not surprised by the attack on my colleague, because, among the potential targets, only the school was missing …

To cope with these pressures, should we strengthen the teaching of religion?

SM : We have to talk about it in school, we have to talk about everything! And in this regard, it is important that teachers are well trained. However, the problem today is that in National Education there is massive recourse to contract workers, who do not have access to this training. This is not the only issue: to cope, the rectorates must also play their role in supporting the professors and heads of establishments confronted with these pressures. This is far from always being the case.

We expect something concrete: when a sanction against a student – in particular an exclusion, if something serious has happened – is pronounced, that the rectorates support it. If they disown it, it is a real problem, because the student comes back to class as if nothing.

How, at the start of the school year in November, should we tackle what happened?

SM : We could have, at the same time, in each establishment, a time for discussions and debate, using common tools – we have to think about it, here we are still hot. It is important to tell children that we believe in them, that maintaining freedom of expression comes from them. Bet on their intelligence. It has been working in my workshops for ten years!

I especially remember this Muslim student who told me: “Madame with your thing, I don’t believe in anything anymore!” “ She intended to cover up after high school. My goal was not at all to dissuade her, but for her to know why she was making this choice, vis-à-vis herself.


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