Samuel Paty murder: One year on, what impact has the teacher’s killing had in French schools?

Nov 24, 2021 by

Some teachers admit they are choosing their words very carefully.

A year on from a teacher’s brutal murder in France and the aftershocks are still being felt.

Samuel Paty, a history and geography teacher at a school in the suburbs of Paris, was beheaded near his place of work on October 16, 2020.

His attacker, a young radicalised Chechen refugee called Abdoullakh Anzorov, was later shot dead by police.

Two weeks earlier, Paty had shown caricatures of the Prophet Muhammad during a lesson on the freedom of speech.

Police later charged a girl after her complaints allegedly sparked an online campaign against Paty, which caught the attention of Anzorov. The girl told her father that Muslim students in Paty’s class were asked to identify themselves. She later admitted not being present in class on the day of the lesson in question. Other students were charged with identifying Paty to his murderer in exchange for money.

Michel Euler/Copyright 2020 The Associated Press. All rights reserved.
People gather on Republique square in Paris on Sunday Oct. 18, 2020, to pay tribute to Samuel Paty and defend freedom of speech.Michel Euler/Copyright 2020 The Associated Press. All rights reserved.

‘Now I’m weighing up every word’

Speaking anonymously to the Libération newspaper earlier this week, colleagues of Paty reported being “afraid” on a daily basis.

“There is not a morning when we don’t think about him,” said one teacher. “I walk past his class with a heavy heart,” said another.

After the attack, an emergency medical and psychological unit received 207 people — students, parents and staff — in one week, according to the local education authority. An “academic listening unit” also spoke to more than 120 staff and students of the school.

Teachers also described how “complicated” it was for them to get back into the classroom after the attack, or to deal with pupils.

“The fact that a pupil was indicted was a real blow to me. He was a pupil I liked a lot,” one teacher said. “I looked at them differently, I wondered ‘was he not involved in the attack?'”

This fear has had an impact on how they teach.

“We’re going to avoid certain subjects that could be controversial,” one of them explained. “We don’t know what the pupils might say.”

Another said: “Now I’m weighing up every word.”

A closed-door gathering is planned for Friday in the school to commemorate the slain teacher.

‘We will never forget’

In the wake of the tragedy, France’s education minister Jean-Michel Blanquer announced in October 2020 a strengthening of moral and civic education (EMC), which succeeded civic education in 2015 and addresses concepts as diverse as secularism and freedom of expression.

But the number of hours devoted to this teaching, most often provided by history-geography teachers, has not increased: one hour per week in elementary, shared teaching with history-geography at college and a hour every two weeks in high school.

“We talked a lot. For some, we cried a lot, but nothing has changed,” said Bruno Modica, spokesperson for Clionautes, an association of history and geography teachers.

“As every time we have a dramatic event, there is a multiplication of initiatives (…) But concretely, in my college, we lack a history-geography teacher,” said Benjamin Marol, a history teacher in Montreuil, Paris.

Ahead of the commemorations, the SNALC union for teachers questioned whether enough had been done in the year since Paty’s murder to prevent a repeat.

“After a large rally at the Place de la République, a national tribute, a minute’s silence in our schools and establishments and posthumous medals, what is left concretely? Has there finally been a real awareness at the level of the state, the ministry? Is everything being done to prevent such an act from happening again?” it asked in a statement. “These are the questions that the administration has a duty to answer.”

It said that Paty had “defended the values of the Republic: freedom of expression, secularism, the development of critical thinking in our future citizens” only to be faced with “slander, disinformation, extremism, radical ideology, the will to harm, the uncontrollable and uncontrolled aspect of social networks that spread hatred at great speed.”

“We hope that the justice system will shed light on the responsibilities of each party,” it added. “We will never forget.”

Secularism, a concept enshrined in the French Republic, is particularly thorny issue to discuss, teachers said in the run-up to the anniversary of Paty’s death.

“It’s something extremely complicated, which is in fact the subject of a conflict of interpretations,” said Pierre Kahn, professor emeritus in education sciences at the University of Caen, who coordinated the group of experts responsible for drafting EMC programmes.

Vincent Magne, a history and literature teacher in a vocational school in Troyes, explained that “depending on the profile of the students we have, we sometimes have to weigh up the words”.

Roses Nicolas/ABACA/Roses Nicolas/ABACA
Samuel Paty rememberedRoses Nicolas/ABACA/Roses Nicolas/ABACA

Paty remembered

The family of Samuel Paty will meet France’s prime minister Jean Castex and President Emmanuel Macron on Saturday.

The meeting with Castex will take place in the morning during the tribute ceremony at the Ministry of Education, in the presence of Blanquer. A plaque will then be unveiled.

The family will then be received, in the afternoon, at the Elysee Palace by Emmanuel Macron.

A minute’s silence will be held on Friday in tribute to the teacher in all schools. There will also be “an hour of lessons which will give rise to an exchange around the memory of Samuel Paty”, the teaching teams being free of “the way in which they want to organise this exchange”.

Source: Samuel Paty murder: One year on, what impact has the teacher’s killing had in French schools? | Euronews

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