Paris (CNSNews.com) – As the new school year begins in France, every classroom in the country is required to display a French flag, a European Union flag, the words of the national anthem, and the French motto “Liberty, Equality, Fraternity.” The requirement arises from a proposal designed to instill patriotism, but stoked controversy in some quarters.
Other changes confirmed in recent days by Education Minister Jean-Michel Blanquer include measures aimed at tackling school violence – including threats directed at teachers – putting environmental and sustainable development at the heart of learning, and the enshrining in law of a right to go to school without being harassed.
The call for the national flag to be displayed in every classroom from kindergarten to high school originated with Republican lawmaker Éric Ciotti, who put forward the proposal at a time when the National Assembly was discussing education legislation early this year.
The Assembly adopted the proposal, but added the obligation to display the E.U. flag as well, alongside the French one.
Lawmakers also decided to make it mandatory to have the lyrics of the national anthem and the national motto appear in every classroom in public and private institutions, from primary to high school.
During the discussions in February, Ciotti argued for the need “to love France, and to have the French people love France from the earliest age, to develop their patriotic feeling.”
He said doing so would help to counter “the multiple plagues that threaten our country.”
In the aftermath of the terrorist attacks in Paris and other cities in 2015, schools organized a minute of silence to remember and honor those killed or affected by the attacks. Ciotti recalled that the education ministry received reports of more than 200 incidents in which students caused disruptions during those minutes of silence.
In one elementary school classroom in a Paris suburb, it was reported that 80 percent of students had refused to observe the minute of silence. At a school in the city of Lille in northern France, as the silence was being observed a fourth-grade student was reported to have threatened to shoot and kill his teacher. Other incidents were reported across the country.
Ciotti’s proposal drew some criticism. “Schools are not military barracks,” said Michel Larive, a lawmaker with the leftist movement Rebellious France. Larive said he supported having respect for the country, but did not want to embrace “nationalism.”
One Republican Party proposal rejected by lawmakers was a requirement that schools raise the national flag daily, and sing the national anthem at least once a week in class.
The other proposals were debated in both chambers before their adoption in early July.
One complaint raised by some schools relates to the cost of having the displays in every classroom. An organization representing school principals, SNPDEN, said in a statement that with an average of 70-80 classrooms per school, the cost of flags and laminated copies of the national anthem would be significant.
A radio station estimated the cost at $46 per flag and $13 per poster of the national anthem.
But Blanquer suggested that handwritten posters and drawings of the flags would suffice.
Education has often been a contentious issue in France, a country with 12.5 million students and 871,000 teachers, as well as around 207,550 individuals serving apprenticeships.