(Paris, France) Little French people have never worn a uniform at public school. But the Macron government marked the start of the school year by announcing that this could soon be the case, in the wake of the controversial ban on the abaya. An idea that leaves experts skeptical and those mainly concerned doubtful.
In the streets of Paris, on this Monday morning in September, students of all ages rush to get to class on time. Jeans, jogging pants, skirts, dresses and tank tops mix together in the scorching heat that is already setting in. All colors, all styles.
Here, the plan of the Minister of Education, Gabriel Attal, reinforced by the President of the Republic, Emmanuel Macron, to experiment with a unique outfit in schools – announced for the start of the school year – is going badly.
In a bright yellow ensemble, Zohra waits for the clock to strike 8 a.m. The young girl is in third grade at Montaigne high school, in 6e Parisian district. “My mother told me about this information. I’m against. I prefer to choose my own clothes. It’s private, normally, the way we dress, it’s not normal for them to try to impose an outfit on us. Especially if they want us to wear skirts. I do not like. »
The announcement of the uniform trial came just days after the ban on the abaya in schools.
This long dress worn by young Muslim women is seen by the government and some school leaders as a religious sign, and therefore contrary to secularism.
The debate monopolized attention on the eve of the start of the school year. The same day, only 298 students out of 12 million schoolchildren presented themselves with an abaya in front of their classroom doors. They were ordered to remove it. “To answer the question of wearing the veil or the abaya among young women, should we introduce uniforms? I think it’s magical thinking,” says François Dubet, sociologist of education and professor emeritus at the University of Bordeaux.
Zohra, the high school student at Montaigne high school, is Muslim and was shocked by the decision to ban the abaya. She doesn’t wear one herself, but it “makes her sad for a friend who wears the hijab.” “Our clothes are also a way of showing who we are. Here, it’s a middle school, we have to show that there are also blacks, Arabs and that we have our identity,” she explains.
Especially the girls ?
For the moment, the contours of the experiment are not yet clear. In an interview given to the French media Hugo Decrypts, Emmanuel Macron mentioned the idea of a unique outfit: “jeans, t-shirt and jacket”. A bit different from the suit, the suit or the pleated skirt that we imagine when we think of the uniform.
“Alas, it is mainly girls’ clothing that we try to regulate,” laments Marie Duru-Bellat, sociologist of education.
In theory, it could be interesting. Young people compare themselves. Girls’ outfits are a big topic among teenagers. They tend to criticize themselves about that. The obsession with appearance is harmful for them. But it might be more educational to talk about it.
Marie Duru-Bellat, sociologist of education
It is also because he does not want to be like everyone else that Honoré, a fourth grade student in the same school, hopes that the government’s latest idea will not succeed. In khaki cropped pants and a printed t-shirt, he explains that it is important for him to express himself through his outfit. Raphaël’s opinion is more nuanced. Of course, with a yellow soccer jersey on his back and shoes that recall this color note, the high school student cannot deny his style. But he does not only see disadvantages in the idea of the uniform. “It wouldn’t bother me so much. There are positives and negatives. Already, there would be no more harassment or teasing because we dress in a certain way or because we don’t have the new pair of fashionable shoes. But it’s true that if we all dress the same, we won’t be able to express ourselves through our clothes, and that’s important, especially at our age. »
Erasing inequalities, ensuring respect for the principle of secularism in establishments and avoiding recurring debates on the “decency” of the clothing chosen by students are all reasons given by supporters of the uniform. “It cannot be ruled out that it will have an effect, but certainly not on social inequalities,” says sociologist François Dubet. “There are very precise data which show that French schools are very unequal in terms of performance and social diversity. Schools in rich neighborhoods are richer than the neighborhoods themselves and the parallel is true for poor neighborhoods and establishments. The major problem is therefore finding how to create a bit of school diversity. The uniform is a veil of smoke that hides the real debate. »
And then, it is unlikely that the implementation of the uniform will take place anytime soon, predicts Marie Duru-Bellat. “It’s far too out of step with the realities of youth,” she points out. “We’re not in the army, after all! », Exclaims the sociologist.