Politics - Far Right courts teachers in France

1st November 2013 at 00:00
National Front backs new group calling for traditional schooling

When the controversial politician Jean-Marie Le Pen led the French National Front, he did nothing to disguise his distaste for the teaching profession, calling them "the teacher rabble".

But in 2011, Le Pen's daughter Marine took over and made a show of kicking out the party's more conspicuous racist elements, rebranding it as a mainstream nationalist organisation. Emboldened, she has now set out to woo the teaching profession by lending her support to a new "collective" for teachers, which has strong links to her party.

The Collectif Racine (which means "root") claims that the education system is in a state of "complete bankruptcy" and is calling for a return to old- fashioned schooling that will ensure children learn the basics.

Its members - some of whom are standing as candidates for the National Front in local elections - argue that the system has been in decline since the 1970s. They want to reinstate the authority of teachers and introduce a more selective system.

Teaching unions reacted angrily to the launch of the group, saying it was part of a strategy to give the National Front a makeover in the eyes of teachers and other civil servants. But the founders of Racine denied that the party was racist, a description they called a "media myth". The National Front was merely standing up for republican principles, they said.

The group will help Ms Le Pen put together her education manifesto for the 2017 presidential election.

Alain Avello, a philosophy teacher and founding member of the collective, said it was wrong to suggest that no teachers sympathised with the National Front.

"You cannot deny the ideological reticence at the heart of the teaching world," he said. "But Marine Le Pen recognised in 2012 the misunderstanding that existed between the National Front and teachers for several years.

"Today, the ideological barriers are coming down and our aim is to make people understand that the National Front has, without any doubt, become the only real party attached to the fundamentals of the republic."

He added that interest in Racine was growing. The collective had 300 members and had received a large number of messages of support on social media, he said.

School leader Valrie Laupies, another founding member of the collective, is an adviser to Ms Le Pen and is running for mayor in the town of Tarascon in the south of France.

But it is clear that Ms Le Pen has a long way to go to convince teachers in significant numbers: in the 2012 presidential election, she garnered 18 per cent of the first-round vote but only 5 per cent of teachers voted for her.

Despite considerable efforts to cleanse the party of skinhead and neo-Nazi elements, Ms Le Pen is still running on a vehemently anti-immigration ticket, and has been criticised for voicing opposition to the spread of Islam in France.

Christian Chevalier, general secretary of the SE-Unsa teaching union, told France Info website, "As an educator, you cannot lend your support to a party that is xenophobic, and is unwilling to accept difference and good community relations."

Sebastien Sihr, general secretary of the SNUipp teaching union, added: "If Marine Le Pen is relying on the isolation and falling status of teachers, her rhetoric will not chime much with them. They are too attached to brotherhood and welcoming children, whatever their origin."

He also said that the collective's policies - which include introducing separate academic and vocational streams for students from the age of 14 - were "retrograde".

A press release from the education division of the Unsa union federation added that Racine was "a tiny group of a handful of reactionary teachers". It warned that the project was part of a strategy to seduce teachers and increase the National Front's legitimacy.

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