a key to stimulating citizen participation?

The high abstention rate in the two rounds of the presidential election raises the question of changing the way the institutions work, or even moving to a Sixth Republic. This should also raise the correlative question of the functioning of the Republican school so that it effectively educates citizens to participate in the political life of the country.

Read more: Understanding young people’s abstinence in five questions

Even before the presidential elections that have just taken place, the “Public Policy Review Committee” has submitted an important information report, registered on March 8 this year with the Presidency of the National Assembly, on “Public Policy Evaluation favor of of citizenship”. It was already a real alarm cry.

The general comment: “Young people’s dissatisfaction with politics is significant. It affects both political parties and institutions and leads to a relativization of the importance of democracy. It results in different practices: abstinence on average ten points higher than the rest of the population. An interim vote »

The report identifies an ambition that is clearly present in the 2013 secondary programmes: “an ambition for citizenship that has developed significantly both in its themes and in its methods: two essential axes with moral and civic education (EMC) and media and information literacy (MIL); and at the same time the development of school democracy”. But the report strongly points out that the “assessment is under the texts: learning from debate avoided, transversality of education not present, school democracy rarely effective […]† Disappointed college and high school students tend to turn away from the authorities of school democracy.

“Simultaneous” mode, “mutual” mode

One of the two factors explaining the disappointing results of “moral and civic education” is therefore, according to the report, “the marginalization of school democracy”. The work of Ms. Géraldine Bozec (mentioned by name), whose research focuses on civic education and its effects, effectively demonstrates that pupils retain the feeling of not being heard in the school environment, as the participation bodies that have been developed during these years have disrupted the balance of power between adults have not changed and students.

In this regard, it should be clear that this state of affairs is the legacy of a long and strange history which tends to endure… During the first half of the 19and century, the two pedagogical “modes” which then contested the leadership of the school (namely the “simultaneous mode” of the Brothers of the Christian Schools and the “mutual mode” of the Association of Primary Education for Political Obedience) clearly considered liberal) that their way of organizing school should be homologous to the type of society they wanted and supported.

Read more: Learning differently: the “peer class” experience

The “simultaneous mode” of the Brothers of the Christian Schools – in which a master imparts the same knowledge to all students at the same time – appears to the protagonists as the actual “mode”, in its organization and its pedagogy, of a theocratic conception of society, which of the ultra-royalists who want to restore the old regime, an absolute monarchy of divine right. Their first virtue is clearly obedience. The others are regularity, humility, modesty. It’s about disciplining, disciplining yourself. Magisterial authority is central to this ambition and system.

Working in small groups was central to the mutual education that was in vogue as early as the 19th century.
PC Klaestrup (1820-1882)/Wikimedia

The “mutual mode” of the Primary Education Association is seen by its protagonists and explicitly described as the pedagogical expression of liberalism and constitutional monarchy. There the classes bring together students of different ages and levels, and the most advanced students assist the teacher, play the role of mentors and pass on their knowledge to small groups of their comrades. As early as 1816, the Bulletin of the Association for Primary Education thus states:

“One would look in vain elsewhere for a truer picture of a constitutional monarchy; the rule, like the law, extends to everything there, dominates everything and if necessary would protect the student from the monitor and from the master himself. The teacher represents the monarch. He has his general observers (disciples) who, like his ministers, rule under him; these, in turn, are assisted by certain instructors. In the shadow of this truly governmental organization, the mass of students has their rights as does the nation.

The “mutual mode” takes its name from the place it gives to “monitors”, students who direct the instruction of other students. “Merit” is rewarded with access to the different monitor positions; which also opens up the possibility to participate in some children’s juries. In cases of serious misconduct, the master sets up a jury (consisting of the most distinguished students among the instructors) that is responsible for investigating the trial and pronouncing the sentence.

This is also what cannot be admitted by ultra-royalists, by the adherents of absolute monarchy by divine right. Lamennais rebels: “It distorts the very idea of ​​power by transferring command to childhood” […] Getting children used to command, delegating to them the magisterial authority, is this not taking the opposite position of the old education, is this not transforming every school into a republic? †

Civic experience at school

The paradox is that the republican school will clearly function with a power of the teachers closer to the “absolute monarchy” of the Brothers of the Christian Schools (or to the “enlightened despotism” dear to the dominant current of enlightenment philosophy) , then the “Constitutional Monarchy” and Liberalism of the Society for Elementary Instruction.

It is nevertheless quite significant that the question is rearing its head again in the “new education” movement. When, for example, at the beginning of the XXand century, one of its most eminent initiators (namely Adolphe Ferrière) tries to emphasize a “conscious and thoughtful” conception of a new education “as yet ill-defined and incompletely specified” by pointing out some thirty characteristics, it is remarkable that in point 21 the evocation of the “system of the school republic when possible” and in point 22 “in the absence of the integral democratic system”, the “constitutional monarchy”.

Beatrice Ensor, Ovide Decroly, Pierre Bovet, Édouard Claparède, Paul Geheeb and Adolphe Ferrière, at a conference of the International League for New Education.
Ensojer on English Wikipedia Photographer unknown, via Wikimedia

Langevin-Wallon’s famous 1947 Plan, which outlines a global reform of education in the liberation, opens the chapter devoted to this question with a very characteristic quote from Paul Langevin:

“School teaches the child about social life and especially about democratic life. Thus arises the notion of the school group with a democratic structure in which the child participates as a future citizen and where the basic civic virtues can be formed in him, not through lessons and speeches, but through life and experience: of responsibility, accepted discipline, sacrifice for the public interest, coordinated activities and where the different experiences of “self-government” will be used in school life”.

And the text of the Plan Langevin-Wallon explains that moral and civic education must be accompanied by practice in the school environment, the school that offers students “a tailor-made society” where they have respect for others, a sense of responsibility or a taste for initiative. . “Every citizen, in a democratic regime, is placed in professional life, faced with a double responsibility: responsibility of the leader, responsibility of the executor. It will therefore be necessary for school activities to be organized in such a way that everyone has alternate responsibility for direction and implementation. †

Well, it must be said, seventy-five years later, these topics are (more than ever?) on the agenda. Should we put an end to the organization of the Vand Republic essentially more Bonapartist than republican, and to have an ad hoc organization of the republican school for that where everyone is effectively trained to be “co-sovereign”?

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