Culture-Blind? Parental Discourse on Religion, Ethnicity and Secularism in the French Educational Context

Jan. 20, 2008

Source: European Educational Research Journal, Volume 7 Number 1,  2008, pages 74-88.

This article examines policy mediation and adaptation in a context where religious, ethnic and other cultural identities are not officially recognised in the public sphere but considered part of the private sphere. French educational policy is firmly rooted within a secular Republican framework which relies on a colour-blind approach to promote equality.

The article draws on 53 interviews with parents in Greater Paris, which were undertaken as part of a comparative study of urban parents’ values and attitudes regarding education and school choice, conducted in collaboration with the London Institute of Education in 2004‑05.

The focus is on parents’ perceptions of religious and ethnic diversity at school, and the interview data is contrasted to the Republican ideology dominant in official rhetoric. What is seen playing across and through these interviews is how the range of discourse available to parents is embedded in and constrained by cultural, political and educational traditions and values.

However, far from endorsing official rhetoric wholesale, many parents question, adapt and mediate secular Republican ideals, raising the issue of the relevance and durability of the French model of integration.

Updated: Mar. 23, 2008