Last Friday a teacher in France was murdered. He has been decribed in the British press as a history teacher but that is not quite accurate. Here history, geography and civics are taught as an amalgum of subjects. The particular lesson he was giving to a class of 13 to 14 year olds was in the context of the civics module and the subject was freedom of expression. He was not teaching outside the syllabus and he gave students who did not wish to see the cartoons he had brought as support the opportunity not to see them.
The ways in which different countries deal with the difficult and delicate questions, particularly in the field of the philosoply of education. For complex historical reasons the French have chosen to deal with these problems by what is known here as « laicité. » I think the nearest term to that in English is « secularity .» The idea is that school is a place where every one puts aside their religious beliefs and takes part in a common curriculum aimed at teaching the younger generation about citizenship. In other words there is a secular and neutral umbrella over all differences and children are taught about a wide variety of ways at looking at the world, in the hope that as adults they will be equipped to use this knowledge. Everyone has the right to decide for themselves what religion or philosoply will be the basis for their way of life. This decision can only be based on a wide educational experience and not on any form of obscurantism.
Over the past 20 years there has been an increasing amount of interference in the school syllabus by parents and activists who have their own axe to grind. In order not to cause uncomfortable waves of indignation and not to have to assume their responsiblitites the educational heirachy has not supported teachers who have found themselves unable to teach certain parts of the syllabus because of the active resistance of pupils and parents. In the classroom teachers are in difficulty with history, general science, biology, physical education, art and music. Some teachers have been hassled and some have even received death threats . So far, when asking their superiors for help they have been told to be quiet, to self censor and to go away. Anything to avoid controversy and to have a quiet life. This is now likely to change.
I watched the hommage to Samuel Paty at the Sorbonne yesterday. I found it very moving. Hence my post. My personnal conclusion is that as a teacher of music it is my duty to put in front of the children and young people I teach the positive aspects of the arts, and in particular of music. It is not up to me to tell them what to think or what to believe. But it is up to me to teach them to think and to give them the tools with which to reason. The humanities, of which music is a large part should be taught to all children. The wider their base of knowledge the more freedom they will have.
If you say prayers may I ask you to remember Samuel Paty’s family and in particular the five year old little boy who will never see his father again. If you do not say prayers may I ask you to think of this family with compassion. I think we should also not forget the two young boys who helped the murderer to recognise the teacher as he left the school. If they knew what they were doing then we must hope that they will learn differently. If they didn’t fully understand the consequences of their action then they will need help to learn to live with that.
Each of us has our particular philosophy of musical education. I find myself having once more to remember that in a very small way I am responsible for bringing musical beauty beauty into the lives of children and trusting that it will do its humanising work. I just think that is what it’s all about.