State Secularism from the Classroom up: Examining the Role of French Teachers in Carrying out Laïcité Policies
What is most notable about these reforms is that it is primarily ground-level educators – teachers, principals, and others – who are responsible for monitoring students’ adherence to French principles of secular society as they are defined by the national-level Ministry of Education. As a result, there is a distinctly individualized and localized form of personal experience and discretion that plays a key role in the implementation of the Grande Mobilisation. Despite this, the role played by this local level in carrying out state education priorities remains somewhat undertheorized.
I draw on work in critical education and critical policy studies, as well as recent work in critical geopolitics that calls attention to the exercise of state power at an intimate level, to present a framework for how we can understand the role occupied by ground-level educators in the realization of national educational priorities. This is an especially important in the context of governments across Europe that are facing an erosion of their authority from populist nationalism on the one hand, and increasing flows of migrants on the other, and so are responding by doubling down on their insistence on traditional civic values as a marker of belonging.