Magazine article Times Educational Supplement

The View from Here - France - What Is the Moral of This Lesson, Class?: Opinion

Magazine article Times Educational Supplement

The View from Here - France - What Is the Moral of This Lesson, Class?: Opinion

Article excerpt

In his first "big idea" as French education minister, Vincent Peillon plans to restore the teaching of morality in class more than 40 years after its abolition. Introduced at the end of the 19th century, morale laique - the teaching of morality that is free of religious trappings - was dropped from the curriculum in 1968, the year of the Paris Spring, when students joined workers in revolt against the state.

But Mr Peillon, who used an interview with the newspaper Le Journal du Dimanche to announce his intentions, is convinced pupils once again need guidance to "distinguish good from evil". The minister insisted he was talking not about a moral order, but about "knowing your duties as much as your rights". "Secularism is not about simple tolerance, it's not about 'anything goes'," he said. "It is a set of values that we have to share. To be shared, these values need to be taught and learned and we need to rebuild them among France's children."

To no great surprise, Mr Peillon's proposal has divided French opinion, among teachers and parents as well as politically. Figures of the Left inevitably tread delicate ground when suggesting that others be taught about morality, and this thought was not lost on Luc Chatel, education minister in Nicolas Sarkozy's previous conservative government. Invoking one of the most wounding analogies in French public life, Mr Chatel accused Mr Peillon of imitating the words of France's wartime collaborationist leader, Philippe Petain. He said that the new minister's pronouncements were a faithful, frightening echo of Petain's pledge, on the fall of France in 1940, to seek the "intellectual and moral re- education" of French youth. …

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