Attacks on secularism: is the school uniform a bulwark? or “a fantasy”?

The proposal comes up at regular intervals in the public debate when the difficulties of National Education are mentioned. Imposing a “uniform” or “common dress” on students would be, depending on where one is on the political scale, a means of enforcing secularism or an instrument promoting equality, or even the fight against harassment. school.

In this return to school 2022, the proposal resurfaces on the right and on the far right. The three contenders for the presidency of the Republicans, Éric Ciotti, Bruno Retailleau and Aurélien Pradié are in favor of it. On Monday, during the debate organized on LCI, the deputy for Lot even got a little carried away by extending his proposal to the university. He went back on his proposal two days later.

Now published monthly, figures for attacks on secularism in the school environment provide grist for the mill of the supporters of the common dress. In October, a new increase was recorded, 720 reports, against 313 in September. It is now rare not to see the Minister of National Education, Pap Ndiaye, being challenged by right-wing parliamentarians on topical questions to the government on the resurgence of the wearing of abayas and qamis in schools.

“We now see the insidious battle waged against the Republic in schools”

The school uniform is an old antiphon of the right. The Minister of Education of Nicolas Sarkozy, Xavier Darcos had proposed in 2003. We also find the idea in the program of François Fillon in 2017.

For Jacques Grosperrin, LR rapporteur of a commission of inquiry in 2015, on the loss of republican landmarks in schools, the idea should no longer make you smile. “When I proposed it at the time, it made people laugh. We now see the insidious battle waged against the Republic in schools. Kids manipulated by adults claim that the laws of religion are superior to the laws of the Republic. Unfortunately, the minister, Pap Ndiaye is extremely shy on this subject and unlike Jean-Michel Blanquer, he has no clear position”. But Jacques Grosperrin does not speak of a “uniform” that is too “caricatural” for his taste, “what I propose is an establishment uniform”. “It would have a triple effect: to eliminate the problem of visible signs, to smooth out the differences between the pupils and to bring a notion of belonging to a team to a project, to a school”.

The idea is also popular on the far right. Arrived in force at the Assembly in the last legislative elections, the RN deputies have registered in their parliamentary niche, a bill, which will be examined in January, aimed at establishing the uniform in public schools. During the last presidential election, far-right candidate Éric Zemmour promised the restoration of the wearing of blouses in primary school.

“Equality through school uniforms is magical thinking”

“The uniform has never been compulsory in public schools, it’s a fantasy”, recalls the sociologist of Education, François Dubet. The historian, Claude Lelièvre, questioned on the subject last year by Ouest France, specified: “At the time, textiles were very expensive, so most schoolchildren put on a blouse to avoid getting stained with their pen” . As for the uniform in college and high school? “These were posh schools, which sought to distinguish themselves. It was not so much for questions of equality, ”he underlined.

“Equality through school uniforms is magical thinking. We often take the example of ultra-chic English private schools where the uniform is in the colors of the establishment. It’s as if, in France, we were doing a study on educational equality using the example of Henri IV. We don’t have that uniform tradition. You can’t invent one. You have people who are nostalgic for a school that has never existed in France”, considers François Dubet before adding: “Besides, the debate in Great Britain is whether the veil worn by certain pupils should be in the colors of the establishment.

The divided presidential majority

Pap Ndiaye is more than cautious on the subject. The minister recently affirmed that the uniform could not be “an answer which would make it possible to resolve the question of secularism”. The Renaissance group of the Assembly is however considering the advisability of filing a text aimed at imposing “the wearing of a common school uniform” but in the name of “equality” and against “school harassment”.

Guest of the program “Extra Local”, on Public Senate, the Secretary of State in charge of Youth, Sarah El Haïry said she was in favor of setting up a working group on this issue at the National Assembly. “The uniform allows you to have a cohesion, behind there is unity, the feeling of belonging to a collective, the fact of transferring the marks of the debate between young people and thus temporarily erasing social differences”, said she explained.

In the Senate, the boss of the RDPI senators of the presidential majority, François Patriat indicates that the question has not been addressed within his group. And to hear it, there is no rush. “That there is a debate is good. But it is a subject of the far right and the right. Don’t come across as defensive. Otherwise we suggest that the RN is asking the right questions and that we do not have the answers. I understand that parliamentarians are sensitive to the arguments of their constituents, but studies have not shown that the uniform was effective in combating harassment and attacks on secularism,” said the senator from Côte d’Or.

Attacks on secularism: is the school uniform a bulwark? or “a fantasy”?