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Sébastien Ledoux: “We must show students the interest of secularism”

The Cross: Two weeks ago, a teacher was killed for showing his students caricatures of the Prophet Muhammad. How should teachers discuss issues of religion and freedom of opinion after this tragedy?

Sebastien ledoux : Teachers must be able to show students the interest of secularism, a protective principle in our multicultural and multiconfessional society. What is at stake is for there to be debate: it should not be a word of authority in the face of a class that has no say.

→ ANALYSIS. Attacks on secularism at school are not massive but worrying

There may be questions or even disagreements, if they are made within the strict framework of the law. The goal is to make the students progress. It takes firmness in relation to the secular framework without locking the word for all that. Because the risk is that everyone gets locked up. Teachers are here to enforce a framework of respect and neutrality.

How can the teacher use cartoons to illustrate freedom of expression?

SL: In my opinion, the issue of cartoons should be broadened beyond those of Charlie hebdo. They must be inscribed in the long national tradition of images criticizing politics and religion. Loosen the confrontation between Charlie hebdo and Islamism to mobilize the long history of a right to derision on religions and opinions.

Teaching freedom of expression isn’t just about talking about cartoons, in your opinion …

SL: Yes, the challenge is to go beyond to make children understand that this freedom, as well as secularism, has been built over time within the Republic. And it is important to remember that the teaching of religions is a fundamental mission of the secular school, even if the State frees itself from a discourse of truth on such and such an opinion.

→ READ. Islamism: the school is facing as best it can

You taught history and geography for ten years in a college in Grigny (91). Do you think that the teachers are sufficiently prepared on the issue of secularism?

SL: Today, the situation is such that everyone must take up the issue. The subject should not be left solely to “secularism referents”, set up after the terrorist attack. Charlie hebdo in 2015. Nor to the only history and geography teachers, on whom we have relied a lot since that date – what Samuel Paty was doing in class was indeed the answer to January 2015. The PE teachers, of philosophy, SVT, mathematics, primary school teachers… All must seize it.

In his speech in tribute to Samuel Paty, Wednesday, October 21, Emmanuel Macron described the role of the teacher: he “shows the greatness of thought, teaches respect, shows what civilization is”. In this fractured society, is it too much responsibility?

SL: As after the attacks of 2015, political speech is indeed turning a lot to the school. If it really has this role of glue that is supposed to solve the problems of a fractured society, then let’s invest it to its rightful extent! We must give it much greater resources, because many teachers feel discredited.

→ REPORT. National tribute: “Samuel Paty has become the face of the Republic”

It is thus up to the State to review the initial and continuing training of teachers on these subjects. In 2015, we saw that there was a vagueness around the issue of secularism among a certain number of teachers. It is essential to discuss with the legal aspects what they have the right to say and do. Everyone must be better prepared for concrete situations – the wearing of religious symbols, for example – in order to respond to children, but also to parents.


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