“Teachers implement around ten strategies on subjects linked to secularism or discrimination”

Educational science researchers Françoise Lantheaume and Sébastien Urbanski coordinated the work Secularism, discrimination, racism. Education professionals put to the test (Lyon University Presses, 320 pages, 25 euros). For this book, a dozen academics conducted nearly 1,000 interviews in around a hundred middle and high schools in 11 academies, between the end of 2015 and spring 2020, to understand how teachers react and work on these lively questions.

After the work on “The Lost Territories of the Republic. Anti-Semitism, racism and in schools » (A Thousand and One Nights, 2002), which pointed out community abuses in schools, the book “Living Territories of the Republic. What school can: succeed beyond prejudice” (La Découverte, 2018), which replied to him to “go beyond prejudices”, you arrive at the conclusion of “disputed territories of the Republic”. What does that mean ?

Sébastien Urbanski: It seems essential to many of the education personnel interviewed to be able to discuss, including in the event of disagreement between them, to categorize difficult situations linked to secularism or discrimination in order to act as best as possible. Teachers are constantly arbitrating. Is this really racism, a desire to be provocative, a clumsy word conducive to deploying educational work? Should we sanction or continue the educational work? The interpretation of facts is central and the collective dimension of the teaching profession is crucial to them. Each time, it’s about finding the right solution at the right time in a specific place.

Françoise Lantheaume: Questions linked to secularism, discrimination and racism cannot be decided by circular, contrary to what politicians think. They demand debate. Where there is the possibility of a discussion on how to do best, the problems that may arise are resolved relatively easily, while in other places, where these virtuous dynamics are less present, incidents considered minor elsewhere can become adults. This observation establishes a strong divide, beyond geographical territories, between establishments where cooperative, collective and collegial work can occur and others.

Can we nevertheless draw a geography of the tensions linked to discrimination and/or secularism?

Sébastien Urbanski: The specificity that struck us the most is that of rural areas where racism can be prevalent in places, with comments that can be shocking and cannot always be challenged head-on, because this would obliterate the educational work, which requires a bond of trust, including to deal with these questions. The geographic variable is crucial here.

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