Original translation by Sassy
Minute of silence met with misunderstanding, at times contempt, provocation…, a PEN (Priority Education Network) college teacher of the Grenoble Academy tells of her disturbing day.
On the morning of January 8th, our minister notified us by email of our duty to explain the values of the Republic. As teachers, it is our duty to explain the facts to our students, to promote contemplation, to help them understand.
“Why observe one minute of silence for people I never knew?”
My first exchange was with my 5th grade class of 12-year old students. They were very quiet. Except one who asked me: “Why observe one minute of silence for people I never knew?” I found this reaction to be violent. His classmates were also angry. They’re young, certainly more emotional than their elders. I saw this student’s words were not purposeful. He was provoking.
I summarized the events: human beings were killed. To ensure the minute of silence would be observed, I had to ‘take hold of the situation’, or else it wouldn’t have worked. I told them: “Do you realize the victims left home yesterday morning and said to their family ‘See you later’?”
During this moment of silence, I had to rein in those who were amusing their audience through a display of bravado. After the moment of silence, I felt a heaviness weigh down the class so I moved on to another topic. I had just seen a few of my muslim students stand up, head lowered, ill at ease for themselves, their families, it must be hard for those who established the parallel.
As to what happened in my classroom, this provocation, it’s meaningless compared to what some of my colleagues had to deal with. During the minute of silence, in the other classrooms, many students were expelled, some kept on talking, saying horrible things, while others laughed. A muslim 6th grader outright refused to observe the minute of silence. All these students, of ‘devious’ behavior, were sent to the principal’s office and to the school infirmary to be given a lecture no doubt different from that which they hear in their home.
Early afternoon, I attended my 4th grade class. They had just finished a French lesson during which they took part in a lively debate on the subject. They were noisy, agitated. I proposed we continue the discussion. Some said it was a terrible event, calling the terrorists ‘barbarians’. But one student started to express his disagreement. I also noticed another muslim female student sitting at the end of the classroom waiting patiently with her hand held up to speak.
“We will not allow ourselves to be insulted by a drawing of the prophet”
“Madame”, she says to me, “we will not allow ourselves to be insulted by a drawing of the prophet, it’s normal that we exact revenge. It is more than a mockery, it is an insult !”
Contrary to some, this young girl was not mincing her words, she was not provoking. Next to her, one of her friends, also muslim, agreed with her words.
I was upset, I tried to engage on the principle of freedom and freedom of expression. Then, another group of four muslim students became agitated: “Why do they keep on, Madame, since we already had threatened them?”
Many students tried to calm them down while explaining that Charlie Hebdo treated all religions the same way. Their French lesson class teacher had shown them the photos of other religions mocked by Charlie Hebdo. But they react according to what they hear in their home.
A division was created among the students
What distresses me, it’s the fracture this tragic event created in my classrooms which are normally well blended in. The result was a division among the students. Today, the atmosphere was gloomy, particular. This 4th grade classroom, usually sympathetic and dynamic, was suddenly divided into two clans. The sectarians suddenly resurged. And I am frightened for what will follow.
The school system must transmit our values but we are, at times, betrayed by the parents. We teach the children our republican values, but once they are home, they ditch them aside. They don’t trust us, their teachers. They don’t consider us as their allies but as their enemies. As a teacher, you ask yourself what they must think of you, of us – the teachers, us – whose mission is to teach them.
We have before us young citizens that entertain such ideas that we must ask ourselves: “Where are we heading?”