Today, Schools Are Creating Barbarians
by Jean-Paul Brighelli, teacher and author of La Fabrique des crétins ["The moron factory"], who is publishing a pamphlet on schools
The presidential campaign is underway. To take account of the ideas in debate, our section "Opinion" welcomes iconoclastic, even provocative remarks. We can each make up our own minds. Today: Jean-Paul Brighelli, who is publishing L'Ecole sous influence ["Schools under the influence"], a scathing attack on our school system.
From "morons" in your first book, the students, at least in ghetto areas, are now supposed to have become "barbarians." How?
Jean-Paul Brighelli. We have the school we deserve: that of a weaker and weaker democracy. We are currently paying the last consequences of the Jospin school law of 1989, which puts the pupil at the center of the system and incites him to "build his own knowledge," as the hackneyed educational refrain goes. But after not learning anything solid, many students have been walled up alive behind a terrifying screen of ignorance that leads to the worst excesses. Moron, that was nice. Today, the schools are manufacturing barbarians. The riots in the suburbs, which will happen again, show that I was right. By "respecting" the law of the ghettos and its underlying language, we have let an entire generation degenerate.
Does barbary begin with language?
Jean-Paul Brighelli. The barbarian, in the first sense of the word, is someone who does not speak the language of the city. Those from the projects make do with a rudimentary illiterate slang, reduced to a few hundred words sprinkled with English terms like "gun" or "cop." Bad rap, in a way. We are guilty of having let it happen by amputating by one-third, in twenty years, the number of hours devoted to learning French. With the result that there is a gangrene of the spirit, zero degrees of thought: the students don't even understand the words the teacher is reading.
The effects go even farther, you say....
Jean-Paul Brighelli. The Jospin law opened Pandora's box. It's not an accident that two months later, the first veil affair broke out in Creil (Oise). It was a way of testing the law, which legitimized the right-- without anything asked in return-- to express opinions, especially religious opinions. That is how debates that should have stayed in the private sphere erupted into schools. Today, school is no longer a sanctuary. We can feel the rise of violence, which is the only way barbarians communicate. Into a skull emptied by the absence of knowledge and of culture, you can slip any ready-made extremism. The future makes me uneasy.
"We have ended by tolerating the intolerant."
Then the principal of secularism is in danger?
Jean-Paul Brighelli. You must be joking, it doesn't exist any more! All you have to do is read the Obin report* published in 2004 by a team of inspecteurs généraux. An official, rigorous inquiry... and apparently kept out of sight by the Education department because it was too upsetting. It shows how public schools suffer every day from attempted infiltration by small religious minorities, and ends up by giving way over and over. In the name of the spirit of tolerance and cultural diversity, we end by tolerating the intolerant.
Jean-Paul Brighelli. Some principals act as if it is normal to have a prayer room for Muslim students in the Paris region; teachers give up teaching Voltaire, for example, or barely mention Darwin; students ask the gym teachers for separate locker rooms [WHOA! does this mean French boys and girls share locker rooms?!?]; the cafeterias prefer to use only Muslim-rule meat; the heads of schools receive veiled mothers [even though the veil is forbidden at schools]... It's certainly only a partial visiton, because these problems are concentrated in certain areas. But twenty years ago, there were no head-scarves in schools, and a lot fewer in the streets.
Since the law on religious signs, two years ago, however, the veil seems to have disappeared from schools. Do you disagree?
Jean-Paul Brighelli. What we chased out the door by banishing the veil has come back through the window in another form. Look at these boys who challenge girls at recess to force them to lower their eyes. Or that girl beaten up in a junior high school in Lyon for having dared to eat during Ramadan. They are the first victims of intolerance. For antisemitism, it's the same thing: we reassure ourselves by saying that the crimes are diminishing, but in the minds, it is becoming normal.
Do you not refuse, basically, for schools to be the mirror of a multicultural society?
Jean-Paul Brighelli. Society has never been multicultural, or only at the level of regional cultures. Schools have their share of responsibility. By putting all cultures on an equal plane, schools have neglected and even torpedoed our culture and our common language. They have encouraged kids to exalt their differences. Is it an accident that "Céfran" [verlan slang for français, French] has become an insult in the mouths of young Beurs [French of Arab origin] who almost all, however, have French nationality? We have let it happen because we are paralyzed by the post-colonial guilt that puts us in a situation of repentance.
You want to go back to "nos ancêtres les Gaulois"? ["Our ancestors the Gauls," traditional first words in French history class]
Jean-Paul Brighelli. No, no more than I'm nostalgic for the gray smock. It is not a question of creating an aberrant model, but of rediscovering a cement that will allow us to teach the same history, the same culture and to speak the same language from Lille to Bonifacio. School must no longer be the place of diversity, but that of a uniting speech. In order to do that, we must re-think the carte scolaire [which assigns pupils to schools for social-integration reasons], review programs from top to bottom while returning to basic learning, first of all French and math, even learn things "by heart" sometimes. The frame may look strict, but it is the only way to give students a solid base.
--Interview by Charles de Saint-Sauveur in Le Parisien, 19 October 2006
* Brighelli also contributes to a collective work based on the Obin report (l'Ecole face à l'obscurantisme religieux, Schools and religious obscurantism)