Cross weekly: Why did you decide to take an interest in ESL?
Jeremy Fontanieu: When I started as an Economics and Social Sciences (SES) teacher in Seine-Saint-Denis, early school leavers quickly became more interested in me than I had come to them. We imagine the classic pattern of a student who gradually misses classes and eventually disappears from the company altogether. But this form of academic failure is only the tip of the iceberg. The second part, more invisible and more pernicious, concerns students who continue to come to class, but in the way they approach school, intellectually and mentally, they are no longer there. A form of resignation sets in and that quickly revolted me.
Rachid Zerrouki: For my part, this work is a continuation of my teaching in the adapted section of general and professional education (Segpa). Statistical studies show that a third of Segpa students drop out before entering high school. We often cite a lack of motivation to explain these lapses, but when we lift the iron curtain of academic difficulty, we discover tragedies, insecurities, illnesses, and life paths marked by adversity.
How do you view school in France today?
RZ: The French school cannot respond to social inequalities. She reproduces them. This is systematically proven by the studies of the international program for monitoring student results (Pisa), which are carried out every three years in OECD member countries. In Segpa – which is the professional stream for which selection takes place at the end of CM2 – most students come from humble backgrounds, children of immigrants and young people with difficult life paths.
JF: The finding of a lack of equal opportunities highlighted by sociologist Pierre Bourdieu’s work in the 1960s remains unchanged. On the other hand, I find it particularly cruel that elements of the government’s language continue to perpetuate the myth “When we want, we can”. Not only is meritocracy a chimera, but this discourse guilts the children of the most popular classes by telling them: “If you can’t do it, it’s your fault. »
Are you addressing this sociological reality with your students?
RZ: It can be very violent to explain to students the social determinisms that burden them. We know, for example, that a quarter of the homeless are former children placed in a social institution. This statistic is too hard for a 13 or 14 year old living in a hostel to hear. I don’t deal with it personally.
JF: In the SES program, social structures are themselves the object of study. It is therefore about the existence of inequalities and their causes. For students, dealing with concepts such as class habitus or social reproduction can be very symbolically violent.
Similarly, you observe the meritocratic “myth”, but your teaching methods are very different. Can you tell us more?
JF: The position we take in the Reconciliations project is the result of an observation: students have an unfortunate tendency to use the freedom they have and squander their potential. They commit small adolescent stupidities that lead to tardiness, forgetting the subject matter and especially not repeating lessons at home. The rigor we show is aimed at reducing bad habits and making use of extremely untapped abilities. Social inequalities must not become an excuse for a lack of work. That’s why we are uncompromising in sanctioning late arrivals and incomplete assignments, and have introduced weekly assessments in the form of multiple-choice quizzes to ensure that students learn every day. As soon as students see an improvement in their results, they join the project. It is a virtuous circle in which they regain the appetite for effort.
RZ: Our methods differ because our audiences are different. In the past, my students very often encountered academic difficulties and repeated failures. Because of this contradictory connection with school, it is not important to have a discussion based on rigor and hard work. In order to stimulate the appetite for knowledge that resides within them, I need external sources of motivation. Affect is one of them. It may come from a desire to please one’s parents, a need for social recognition, or a special bond with a teacher. As I follow my students through their years in college, the bond that develops over time is of course a pedagogical lever. He pushes them not to let me down and to follow me in the challenges I present to them.
JF: The worst thing for education would be to think that there is a miracle formula. The Reconciliations project corresponds to a specific context. Its success reveals above all that pedagogical freedom is the basis of the fight against early school leaving.
What is the role of parents in their children’s academic success?
J.f.: My main observation during the first few years was that I couldn’t do it on my own. That’s why I asked for the help of my students’ families. I needed a relay at home to ensure they would work properly outside of class. The project we lead is based on joint education. We need to put families back at the center of the game and send them a message of hope. No parent says no when a teacher calls them at the beginning of the school year and asks: “Does that tell you we’re joining forces to help your child succeed? » They feel connected and this connection triggers new possibilities.
R.FROM.: Too often, discussions with families are limited to bad news. However, failure at school is also violent for parents, as it is common for them to have experienced a difficult relationship with school in their youth. On the other hand, from a sociological point of view, we know that monitoring school attendance is a gendered task that largely depends on mothers. Sometimes they are lonely and experience their children’s school difficulties in their bodies. I think that there is a lack of effort on the part of the institution to include these parents and that the mutual distrust that arises leads to a lack of continuity of education.
However, in recent years, digital tools have been introduced to connect with families.
RZ: It is a positive step, but these means of communication are not inclusive enough. If Pronote (software for managing school life, interface between teachers, administration and parents, editor’s note) has become commonplace, its use remains complicated for many parents who are illiterate or for whom French is not their mother tongue.
J.f.: Distribution of the tool is not enough. We must invite and initiate its use. The school imagines that in working-class neighborhoods all parents are digitally comfortable and have a smartphone. it’s bad. At Drancy we communicate with families using our personal phones through weekly text messages and phone calls. Our method works because there is a strong personal commitment on the part of the teachers. But in reality, this success is a matter of ingenuity.
R.FROM.: Moreover, this observation regarding digital technology is the same for teenagers. There is a significant gap between the availability and use of IT tools between the most disadvantaged pupils and children from richer social categories. Using your phone to increase your cultural capital, take online courses or document is not easy. It is learned. At the same time, access to entertainment via the phone can increase the phenomenon of early school leaving in case of excessive numbers.
Do you expect the situation to improve? What would be your recommendations to combat failure in school?
RZ: The question of the values that the school wants to convey is inevitably connected to the human and material resources that are allocated to it. Lack of funds is synonymous with lack of ambition. Nevertheless, a lot of elements about school leaving have been collected in recent years. Micro colleges and relay classes are interesting avenues to explore. In this context of “bonding”, closeness to families seems to me a radical need.
JF: Personally, I have little hope for structural changes and I don’t think anything really positive will happen in the next five years. However, on a more local scale, our project shows that it is possible to find solutions that work through trial and error and discussion among colleagues. This fruitfulness can only take place in a material framework that allows it, and in a context where the teaching profession is socially and financially more valued.
RZ: Very recently, although not all, far from it, we can see a rather welcome change of tone. Hearing from the mouth of the current Minister of Education that schools are not fair to the poor is new. A few months ago, such a statement would have seemed dissident. We must now find means to remedy this state of affairs.