† We didn’t see it coming This is the unanimous reaction in the educational world after the appointment of Pap Ndiaye as Minister of National Education. It is true that this historian who specializes in the history of America and minorities and who holds the position of director of the Palais de la Porte Dorée and the Immigration Museum, was rather “left” and was not a specialist in educational issues.
Why was he appointed? Should we see a turning point in education policy or a political skill to calm the world of teachers?
Everything will depend on his room for maneuver to face the immense challenges and emergencies that await the school from the start of the next school year.
† Pissing on the embers †
When Jack Lang was appointed after the episode of Claude Allègre to face the outrage it had caused, the first thing he said to his cabinet was: ” I’m appointed to piss on the embers †
One can rightly ask whether Emmanuel Macron did not have the same logic in mind when measuring the damage caused by his minister Jean-Michel Blanquer. As a good strategist, he told himself that the “wow effect” would work and that Pap Ndiaye’s name would focus and distract attention, serve as a scarecrow for the far right and quiet teachers.
It is successful on all these levels, even if many teachers wonder what this esteemed person went to do in this mess…
Alibi or symbol?
Ultimately, the new minister can only be an alibi: change his name so as not to change his policy.
For the students of my suburban high school, it is not anecdotal to know that a minister of the Republic has the same name and color as several of them.
But his name is a symbol in itself. For the students of my suburban high school, it is not anecdotal to know that a minister of the Republic has the same name and color as several of them.
Given in an interview to World in March 2021, after his appointment to the Palais de la Porte Dorée, Pap NDiaye explained that he was willing to risk being an alibi:
† This risk is entirely secondary compared to the importance of opening a route. If a child of African descent sees the director of the Palais de la Porte-Dorée on television and reads my name, typically Senegalese although I am French, he may say : “Hey, there’s something new, and it’s a cultural establishment, it looks interesting…” To use the American lexicon, we need “role models† †
Najat Vallaud Belkacem already fulfilled this function: to embody the values of the Republic instead of inculcating them as his predecessor tried to do, that is not nothing!
The same Najat Vallaud-Belkacem writes in an open letter to Pap Ndiaye: “ As for me, I believe that you are neither a scarecrow nor an apostate, and that it is up to you to be more than a symbol. †
Behind the beautiful formula, the question is clearly asked: what is the latitude?
As a teacher I tend to trust a priori. And I’m wary of cynicism, a cancer that teachers too often suffer from.
But the education projects announced by Emmanuel Macron may give way to the pessimism of reason. In particular rewarding teachers on the basis of merit or increasing the administrative autonomy of institutions.
The appointment of the rector and former director-general of school education (2017-2019) Jean-Marc Huart as head of cabinet was certainly imposed by the Elysée. This could raise concerns that room for maneuver is low, especially as it is part of the Blanquer “network”.
But we can also assume that it is mainly a high-ranking official who adapts to decisions (otherwise we would speak of a “servant of the State”). Perhaps he can put his very good knowledge of the system at the service of an evolution of the policies pursued, even if this policy will undoubtedly be Emmanuel Macron’s in the first place.
Emergencies and problems
Has the president taken the measure of teacher malaise — such as that of hospital staff? If he’s obsessed with public accounts, we can doubt it. Yet we see that in one case, as in the other, there is a serious recruitment problem that will have a severe impact on two essential public services in the coming months.
Before we think about tomorrow’s school, we have to heal it first
The decline in teacher recruitment, albeit partly related to the reform of their training, is mainly due to the loss of prestige and purchasing power of this profession. An unconditional revaluation is essential! Before thinking about the school of tomorrow, it must be cured… This condition is essential for the school and its teachers to agree to reform and evolve.
We must also restore the power to act, to listen and to trust, as opposed to the Blanquerian technocratic disdain. Because the big challenge is to rebuild the Republican pledge. The French school is one of the most unequal educational systems in the world, one of those where social origin plays the greatest role in academic success.
To solve this problem, which entails great social tension, the exfiltration of the best into “paths of excellence” and the myth of meritocracy cannot suffice. To achieve this, we do not need an ‘alibi’ minister, but a political leader who takes up this challenge.
It is up to the minister and the president to raise it.