Teaching of Morality Reintroduced in the French Educational System

Ministère de l'Éducation Photo: en/wikipedia.org/ peter17

Ministère de l’Éducation
Photo: en/wikipedia.org/ peter17

Jean Jaurès, former leader of the French Socialist party, wrote 131 years ago, “There cannot be civic teaching without morality. Because morality is that which concerns the dignity and respect of humanity.” A century later, this idea remains relevant.

Vincent Peillon, Minister of National Education, expressed his vision for a secular morality to be conveyed to students in the classroom. Since the teaching of morality in schools has been a long-standing debate in France, the Minister asked three different “consciences” to prepare a report outlining three viewpoints. Alain Bergounious, historian and general inspector of National Education, Laurence Loeffel, professor of the philosophy of Education, and Rémy Schwartz, Councillor of the State, wrote the report entitled “Secular Morality: For a Secular Teaching of Morality.” The report introduces tracks and propositions to reintroduce a morality inspired by the values of the Republic, but which would not be a “morality of the State,” according to Peillon.

After receiving the report on Monday, the Minister of National Education introduced his recommendations: at the start of 2015, all students from elementary school to the baccalaureate will have the teaching of morality incorporated into their schedules.

Peillon stressed the cross-disciplinary nature of morality, indicating that although it does touch many topics covered in the classroom, there will be an hour devoted entirely to the teaching of morality starting in 2015. For students in primary and middle schools, this teaching could be a minimum of one hour and eighteen hours annually for high school students.

The inclusion of civics and morality is not a new concept – since 2008, new scholastic programs have included some teaching of the subjects in theory. However, if they are even introduced into the classroom, the integration of morality is left largely up to the instructors.

The report therefore suggests a rewriting of the civic education programs, with the goal of highlighting the formation of moral judgment and the ethic dimension of civic education. While a specific course of study in morality will not be introduced to higher education, two modules must be created to formally train teachers in the teaching of morality and secularity.

The secular teaching of morality must stress basic values, including dignity, freedom, equality, solidarity, secularity, the spirit of justice, respect, etc., but the role of their practice is equally as important as the theory. More specifically, participation in extracurricular activities can also teach the students about the practical application of the moral teaching.

As for the evaluation of moral teaching, the authors of the report remain very cautious on the issue. It is clear that morality cannot require the same validation as other disciplines. In other words, it does not seem imaginable to add a test to the diploma or the baccalaureate, requiring the students to obtain a passing grade in order to complete their studies.

Yet another issue is the question of avoiding two pitfalls – the risk of stifling freedom of opinion, and avoiding the appearance of imposing a moral of the state. While it may seem to be an imposition of the State, the Minister made it clear that this was not the case.

Overall, the return of morality to French education could potentially shake the entire educational system, which presently remains largely constructed on a culture of performance and selection.

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