Talking about secularism at school in 2021: the forum theater track

Consecrated by the 1905 law on the separation of churches and state, secularism is a founding value and an essential principle of the French Republic. It is always confronted with the development of requests for cultural and religious plurality, but also requests for equality, in particular addressed to schools.

Many events have intruded in recent years into the space of neutrality drawn by this model: debates around the wearing of religious symbols, the issue of teaching religion at school, debates on halal food in canteens, observation of ethnic discrimination at school … Then came the shock of successive terrorist attacks, attack versus Charlie hebdo to the assassination of Samuel Paty on October 16, 2020.

Beyond the institutional responses and the multiplication of texts, laws and practices in the school, it is clear that many teachers are destitute, faced with insufficient and unsuitable initial and continuing training.

How to talk about secularism at school, how to train teachers around this lively question?

Secularism and otherness

Let us first dwell on the recent communication campaign ministerial on secularism. Does it really help to clarify the terms of the current debate or does it muddy the waters? We spot students in class, at the swimming pool, in sports lessons, at the library, at recess and we read: “Allow Milhan and Aliyah to laugh at the same stories. This is secularism ”,“ Do everything so that Imrane, Axelle and Ismail think for themselves. This is secularism ”, or even“ Allowing Sacha and Neissa to be in the same bath. This is secularism ”.

We do not see education professionals on these posters. Would secularism therefore be a question that concerns only pupils – in a central way children of immigrant origin, the chosen characters mostly referring to it? The message then reassigns these students to their identities … Students who we also know are less well treated by school.

We have known for years that, under the effects of the social and cultural specialization of the territory, discrimination, inequalities and injustices mark even more the school experiences of children of immigrants, such as the testimony of researchers.

Finally, this poster campaign on secularism for the start of the 2021 school year obliterates the central concepts of secularism, which are freedom of conscience and the neutrality of public authorities. It also relays the denial of the plural affiliations that have punctuated the French nation, suggesting through the use of images and first names that the School must standardize … And that diversity must exist only in the private sphere.

Let us remember that freedom of thought, conscience and religion is a fundamental right, enshrined in numerous national and international texts. At European level, the major text in this area is undoubtedly Article 9 of the European convention of human rights :

“1. Everyone has the right to freedom of thought, conscience and religion; this right implies the freedom to change religion or belief, as well as the freedom to manifest one’s religion or belief individually or collectively, in public or in private, through worship, teaching, and the performance of rites. “

“2. The freedom to manifest one’s religion or beliefs may not be subject to restrictions other than those which, provided for by law, constitute measures necessary, in a democratic society, for public security, for the protection of order, health or public morals, or the protection of the rights and freedoms of others. “

Confront representations

If the teachers do not appear on the posters of the communication campaign of the ministry, the formation in secularism which is felt to them is essential especially since it is about a “socially alive question”. The reduced scope of this article does not allow for the analysis it deserves. But we will put forward a tool, the artists’ university, set up at CY PARIS University, which renews the approach.

Symposium organized by the Bonheurs laboratory on April 17 and 18, 2019.

This experimental device mobilizes the experiences of the subjects thanks to the artistic form to build and reinvent the modalities of a “living together” in the school establishment, by appropriating secularism. It is an experimental method of training teachers (trainees and statutory teachers) whose object was to think differently about the relationship to otherness produced by music in a new “learning space”.

All the actors were invited to discuss work and / or educational practices around secularism, based on original forms of exchange: scientific communications, extracts from shows, meeting with artists, dialogue with singers, documentary, theater-forum, presentation of measures implemented in schools but also social centers and legal protection of young people. This hybrid research-training project questions the “imbalance” situations that certain school situations can generate.

In a republican mode anchored on the abstraction of a citizen without belonging, and in a school form which is its incarnation, when the dialogue struggles to open, the moralizing injunctions are often ineffective. It was therefore a question of proposing a device where the words of the pupils like those of the professors are heard by means of a mediation by the artistic form.



Read more: Secularism: how do children perceive it?


The theme of “music to think about secularism: can the music of diversity constitute learning levers? By diversity music, we mean all the musical forms that are confronted in one way or another with questions of otherness: rap, reggae, popular songs, etc.

The educational challenge was to use the objects of adolescent culture “to think, to learn living together while allowing teachers to move away from the injunction to relativize their own way of apprehending the” culture of the ” other ”by a role of“ spect-actors ”.

The principles of forum theater, through the experience of a troupe in Montpellier (France 3 Occitanie, 2017).

Before the two days, thirty devices were worked on together by researchers and professionals for a year. It could be the making of a film by students, the implementation of self-narrative devices through rap or song through biographical workshops, designed to give meaning to secularism. Some students were able to write and record a CD with a rapper.

During the two days, beyond a meeting-debate with the artists and a classic scientific colloquium, the theater-forum was used as a mode of self-expression for the trainee teachers and the students. Developed in the 1960s by Augusto Boal, in the favelas of São Paulo, this technique allows subjects to improvise from problematic situations of reality. The scenes are played in front of an audience who will debate the situations. Enough to open up new perspectives in a secure environment, allowing the circulation of speech.

High school students and young people from a neighborhood center, mostly from postcolonial migrations, and a group of teachers from the INSPE (beginners or in post) thus performed scenes inspired by their daily experience of secularism.

By offering two interpretive models, the socialization of narrative experiences through theater is conducive to understanding and interpreting one’s own experiences and those of others. Each group then listens to the narration produced by the other group but also by the audience (pupils, students, educators, parents, daycare centers, principals, inspectors, researchers, artists, etc.).

Engaging students in a confrontation of their representations with those of their peers and those of their teachers is favorable to the development of their point of view, because they are immediately considered as full interlocutors, participating actively in the process. process of appropriation and construction of knowledge.


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