ORIGINAL FRENCH ARTICLE: Recalée
by Maurice Ulrich
Translated Monday 27 October 2008, by
The minister of higher education’s reaction to the Oct. 19 national teachers demonstration.
Valérie Pécresse, the French minister for higher education and research, strongly disagreed with yesterday’s national teachers demonstration. She said as much on the radio. The demonstrators’ demands were “unjustified and out of phase.” And she was so bold as to repeat herself: “They are completely out of phase with the real situation in the national educational system, which today is the government’s priority of priorities.” May I say in passing that the number of “priority of priorities” that this government has collected is astonishing. I had recently been led to believe that bailing out the banks and saving capitalism, at the colossal cost that everyone is familiar with, was the priority of priorities. And haven’t we been assured, over the years, that the priority of priorities was purchasing power, or else, at times, housing and the homeless, or else the working-class suburbs, or security, or global warming, or taxes on plastic picnic knives and forks, or yet again the battle against Alzheimer’s disease? And I’ve surely forgotten some... As a matter of fact, the priority would seem to be saying whatever pops into your head, so long as you say it with conviction. OK, so, for Valérie Pécresse it was education and consequently yesterday’s 80,000 demonstrators were out of phase.
Because, all the same, it’s funny how wrong people can be. There you have thousands of teachers who, from their daily experience, ought after all to know roughly what is going on in their schools. There you have 47 teachers’ organizations calling a national demonstration, organizing transportation from the outlying parts of France, and who for days have been discussing what is being done to the schools, and yet, basically, you just can’t figure what it is that has gotten them all hot and bothered.
All the same, how arrogant this government can be!
What scorn for democracy – to refuse to listen, and then forcefully to state such untruths about “the real situation in the national educational system!” The reality is that 13,500 jobs are being axed in 2009. 35,000 jobs have been shed in the junior and senior highs since 2007. 6,000 jobs are going to be cut in the primary schools. Curriculums have shrunk. They are eliminating school districts, which will in fact result in the poorest families finding their children in the toughest and least-equipped schools. The exact opposite of the proclaimed goal – favoring the mixing of social classes – but then that is nothing but a lie. Because what they are doing is completely overhauling the national educational system, with a minimum basic program for your run-of-the-mill pupil and elitist teaching for the others. This is selection according to social milieu, it’s an “autonomy” pushing schools into competing with one another, as is already the case at a number of the universities which have been encouraged to adopt an entrepreneurial style of management.
The same goes for research, which Valérie Pécresse also mentioned yesterday. Personalized management of human resources, the creation of an excellence track with bonuses for 130 associate professors, the questioning of the role of the National Center for Scientific Research (CNRS), whose staff, precisely, are gathering today to express their rejection of these plans... And once again, the minister will certainly tell them that they, too, are “out of phase.”
“Research, innovation and training, these are the jobs of tomorrow and they are therefore an arm against the economic crisis,” Mrs. Pécresse also stated. This is quite true. Or at least it should be. But what is on the horizon is the dismantling of public research to the benefit of profitable sectors; it is aiming for excellence in a few sectors that have been selected for their promise of profitability. This is not an arm against the economic crisis; it is the continuation and the aggravation of the profit-oriented policies that produced the economic crisis. The arms against the economic crisis are being wielded by the workers, the teachers and the researchers who are defending public services and who want public services to play their full role in the service of knowledge, progress, and social progress.
And on this point, the minister has quite clearly flunked out.