Loïc Szerdahelyi, lecturer at Lyon 1 University, edited the book “Quelle égale pour l’école”. A book that takes stock of the place of school in the emergence of gender equality in our society. He is answering our questions.
Equality education is a topic widely discussed in our society. Does this mean that there is a real awareness? That the policies put in place implement sufficient “modalities” to achieve this?
The political question is at the center of the book. By asking the question What equality for the school? this collective book promotes the articulation between the educational and the political. The idea is to go beyond the legitimate concern of the “how to do – how to teach in equality? » to switch to “why/for what – what equality project do we want to support? “.
In the chapter “Errors in Franco-Swiss educational equality policies” written by Sigolène Couchot-Schiex and Isabelle Collet, the authors question educational equality policies in a targeted manner, in particular their evolutions, their contributions, their limits. In light of this text, I can answer your question in two ways.
We must first recognize an awareness, a political will to support the goal of equality. Political reflection has evolved by moving from the statement of the principle to proposals for action, concrete implementations. In this sense, we can observe a succession of conventions signed since the 1980s, where the issue of gender equality is central. Currently, the Interministerial agreement for equality between girls and boys, women and men in the education systemwhich runs from 2019 until 2024, supports initiatives such as: the training of all staff in equality, the fight against sexist and sexual violence or even the orientation towards a greater diversity of training courses.
Another way of looking at things leads me to answer you that it is not that simple. One can rightly question the recurrence of these agreements, since they are generally signed every five years. Admittedly, there is a need to update according to the evolution of knowledge. But isn’t this also the sign of a certain inefficiency, of a political display whose actions only partially manage to reach their target? It is the challenge of the book to put this aspect in tension through the articulation between the political and the educational on the question of equality.
You talk about “unconditional equality” and “conditional equality”. What is the shade?
These expressions come from the work of Réjane Sénac in political science and are in line with the conclusions of research carried out in the sciences of education.
Indeed, the school produces and reproduces conditional equality. We speak of “equality under conditions” when the practices – at different levels – move away from the republican principle supposed to ensure equality without distinction of sex, social class, ethnic origin, sexuality. In this context, equality is conditioned according to principles of justification and negotiated in relation to what it can generate as added value. In his chapter ” For a more egalitarian mix », Nicole Mosconi shows for example that « equal opportunities at school means conditional equality of academic results and behavior consistent with the standards of school life, which amounts to imposing a utilitarian ethic of performance “.
Hence the idea of taking a step aside and moving towards unconditional equality. The expression is perhaps a bit controversial, as Marie Duru-Bellat observes at the conclusion of the book. Unconditional equality is a political horizon of structural and relational non-domination. It is a question here of positioning oneself between what is and what could be, of considering the students in what unites them, of considering them as similar. The different chapters of the book highlight several principles of action to promote unconditional equality. The first, as I said, is to bring the educational and the political into tension. Another principle would be to favor transformative practices over corrective practices. An example of corrective practice in EPS exists when the goal in team sports earns 3 points if a girl scores, 1 point if it’s a boy. This type of practice explicitly aims to correct an injustice – materialized by the fact that girls score less often than boys – but implicitly reproduces gender assignments because girls can only score as girls. They are thus integrated for the same reason that meant that they were not before, namely: their sex difference. Several works show that these corrective practices take the risk of freezing the differences, of essentializing them. On the contrary, transformative practices aim to upset the gender order, the social order as it reproduces inequalities.
Today, within the school institution, is there a real mobilization for a successful mix, for an egalitarian school where everyone’s place is not linked to their gender?
There is obviously a mobilization at the level of actors and actors in the field. I am thinking in particular of the educational projects and experiments in progress, revealed by the professional networks. I am also thinking of equality referents since the inter-ministerial agreement in which the education system operates today establishes a network of resource persons at ministerial, academic and local level. The prospect is to deploy them in an even finer way within the establishments.
A central point of reflections on equality is that mixed students are not strictly speaking assigned to their birth sex, with “naturally” feminine or masculine qualities. This way of reasoning does not correspond to the complexity of the experiments. The idea is therefore to reconsider the power relations in situ. To come back to the example of PE, in a class, there are athletic girls and boys who are not. Reasoning in terms of girls/boys therefore does not correspond to the reality of the pathways because in PE, a sporty girl may be dominant over a non-sporty boy.
The book invites in this sense to cross, articulate the categories of analysis – of sex, class, sexuality… – to invent new ways of functioning. The challenge is to gain in creativity to get out of the gender binarity that structures practices.
Interview by Lilia Ben Hamouda
” What equality for the school » published by l’Harmatan, Knowledge & Training collection