A year after a teacher’s brutal murder in France and aftershocks is still felt.
Samuel Paty, a teacher of history and geography at a school in the suburbs of Paris, was beheaded near his workplace on October 16, 2020.
His attacker, a young radicalized Chechen refugee named Abdoullakh Anzorov, was later shot by police.
Two weeks earlier, Paty had shown caricatures of the Prophet Muhammad during a lesson on freedom of speech.
Police later charged a girl after her complaint allegedly triggered an online campaign against Paty, which caught Anzorov’s attention. The girl told her father that Muslim students in Pathy’s class were asked to identify themselves. She later admitted that she was not present in class for the lesson in question. Other students were accused of identifying Paty as their killer in exchange for money.
‘Now I weigh every word’
In an anonymous interview with the Libération newspaper earlier this week, Pathy’s colleagues reported that they were “scared” daily.
“There is no morning when we do not think of him,” said one teacher. “I walk past his class with a heavy heart,” said another.
After the attack, an emergency medical and psychological unit received 207 people – students, parents and staff – in one week, according to the local education authority. An “academic listening unit” also spoke to more than 120 employees and students at the school.
The teachers also described how “complicated” it was for them to get back into the classroom after the attack, or to deal with students.
“The fact that a student was prosecuted was a real blow to me. He was a student I liked a lot,” said one teacher. “I looked at them differently, I wondered” was he not involved in the attack? “
This fear has affected how they teach.
“We will avoid certain topics that may be controversial,” one of them explained. “We do not know what the students can say.”
Another said, “Now I weigh every word.”
A closed gathering is planned for Friday at the school to celebrate the killed teacher.
‘We will never forget’
In the wake of the tragedy, in October 2020, France’s Minister of Education Jean-Michel Blanquer announced a strengthening of moral and civic education (EMC), which succeeded in civic education in 2015 and addresses such diverse concepts as secularism and freedom of speech.
But the number of hours devoted to this teaching, which is usually provided by history-geography teachers, has not increased: one hour per week in primary school, shared teaching with history-geography in college and one hour every other week in high school.
“We talked a lot. For some we cried a lot, but nothing has changed,” said Bruno Modica, a spokesman for Clionautes, an association of history and geography teachers.
“Like every time we have a dramatic event, there is a variety of initiatives (…) But concretely, we at my university lack a history teacher in history,” says Benjamin Marol, history teacher in Montreuil, Paris.
Ahead of Remembrance Day, the SNALC teachers’ union questioned whether enough had been done during the year since Pity’s murder to prevent a recurrence.
“After a big rally on the Place de la République, a national tribute, a minute of silence in our schools and facilities and posthumous medals, what is left concrete? Has there finally been a real awareness at the state, ministry level? Everything is being done to prevent that such an act happens again? “it asked in a statement. “These are the questions that the administration has a duty to answer.”
It said that Paty had “defended the values of the republic: freedom of speech, secularism, the development of critical thinking among our future citizens” only to face “slander, misinformation, extremism, radical ideology, the will to harm, uncontrollable and uncontrolled aspect of social networks such as spreading hatred at great speed. “
“We hope the justice system will highlight each party’s responsibilities,” it added. “We will never forget.”
Secularism, a concept rooted in the French Republic, is a particularly thorny issue to discuss, teachers said ahead of the anniversary of Pity’s death.
“It’s something extremely complicated, which is actually the subject of a conflict of interpretation,” said Pierre Kahn, Professor Emeritus of Educational Sciences at the University of Caen, who coordinated the group of experts responsible for developing EMC programs.
Vincent Magne, a history teacher and literature teacher at a vocational school in Troyes, explained that “depending on the profile of the students we have, we sometimes have to weigh the words.”
Samuel Paty’s family will meet with French Prime Minister Jean Castex and President Emmanuel Macron on Saturday.
The meeting with Castex will take place in the morning during the tribute ceremony at the Ministry of Education, in the presence of Blanquer. A plaque will then be presented.
The family is then received in the afternoon at the Elysee Palace by Emmanuel Macron.
A minute of silence will be held on Friday to pay tribute to the teacher at all schools. There will also be “one hour lessons that will give rise to an exchange around Samuel Pyth’s memory”, where the teaching teams are free from “how they want to organize this exchange”.