12 million French students remember teacher Samuel Paty

As students return to school today, a one-minute silence was held for the teacher murdered for showing cartoons of the Prophet Muhammad in class

2 November 2020
Tributes for Mr Paty laid out on the ground. 12 million French students remember teacher Samuel PatyTributes to Mr Paty laid on the ground. The teacher will be remembered in French schools today.
By Joanna York

Students returning to school after the holidays in France today (November 2) remembered murdered school teacher Samuel Paty by observing one minute’s silence at 11:00.

Mr Paty was beheaded by an Islamic extremist outside the school he taught in on October 16, after he had shown cartoons of the Prophet Muhammad in class.

After the minute of silence, teachers read a famous text by Jean Jaurès, Lettre aux instituteurs et institutrices (letter to teachers), to their students.

Return postponed in Mr Paty’s school 

The return to school has been postponed until tomorrow (November 3) in the Collège du Bois d’Aulne, where Mr Paty taught. 

Prime Minister Jean Castex and Minister for National Education Jean-Michel Blanquer participated in the one-minute silence in a neighbouring primary school in Conflans-Saint-Honorine, Yvelines.

Schools can give lesson on freedom of expression in coming weeks

Schools were initially going to restart today at 10:00, to give teachers time to prepare a lesson for students in homage to Mr Paty. 

However, it was thought that groups of students might gather outside schools waiting for doors to open and, following recent Islamist attacks in Nice, this was considered unsafe. As such, schools opened at 9:00 this morning, as usual.

Teachers who wish to teach a class on freedom of expression in honour of Mr Paty do not have to do so today, as initially planned, but can do so in the coming week or month, Mr Blanquer specified in a letter.

Read more: France raises terrorism alert to maximum after Nice attack

What does Jean Jaurès' letter, which was read to students, say?

Extracts of a letter Jean Jaurès wrote to teachers in 1888 was read to students in schools, collèges and lycées.

We translate one version of the letter here. 

“You hold in your hands the intelligence and the souls of children; you are responsible for the motherland. The children that have been put in your care not only need to write and decipher a letter, to read an instruction on the corner of the road, to add and multiply. 

"They are French and they must know France, her geography and her history: her body and soul. They will be citizens, they must know that this is a free democracy, which rights they hold, and which responsibilities their sovereignty imposes on them. 

"Finally, they will be men, and they must have an idea of man. They must know that he is the root of all our misfortunes: selfishness in multiple forms. [They must know] the principle of our greatness: pride unified with tenderness. 

"They must be able to draw in large strokes, the human species, mastering little by little nature and brutal instincts, and untangling the main elements of this extraordinary oeuvre we call civilisation. 

"They must be shown the majesty of thought; they must be taught respect and worship of the soul through awakening in them feeling of the infinite that is our joy, and also our strength, because it is through this that we overcome evil, obscurity and death. 

Really? All this for children! – Yes, all of this, if you do not want to simply make spelling machines. 

"I know the difficulties of the task. You keep your schoolchildren for a few years and they are not always diligent, especially in the countryside. They forget in summer with what little they learn in winter. When they leave school they often relapse profoundly into ignorance and idleness of spirit. I sympathise with those of you who must educate the children of a people of great ambition, if that great ambition does not assume great courage.

"[…] Knowing how to read, the schoolchild, who is very curious, will go fast, with seven or eight books chosen, and a very general idea, which is true, of very high in the history of the human species, the structure of the world, the clean history of the earth in the world, the clean role of France in humanity. 

"The teacher must intervene to help with this first work of the spirit; he does not need to say much, or give long lessons; it is sufficient if the details he gives them contribute overall to a picture of the whole. What we know of primitive man and man today, what a prodigious transformation! And, as he is at ease as a teacher, in a few strokes, to make the child feel the incredible effort of human thought!  

"[…] So I say to teachers, to summarise: When part of you has taught children to read fully, when the other part, in informal and serious conversations, has taught them to speak of large things that interest the thoughts and consciences of humans, you will have done, easily, in a few years the complete work of an educator.  

"Every intelligence has a summit, and, on that day many things will change.”

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