Home Education French Constitutional vetoes language immersion in public schools

French Constitutional vetoes language immersion in public schools


French MP Paul Molac, at a demonstration for the teaching of Breton, in April.
French MP Paul Molac, at a demonstration for the teaching of Breton, in April.Baptiste Roman / Hans Lucas / AFP

There will be no language immersion in schools in France. The Constitutional Council on Friday annulled a key article of the law for the protection and promotion of regional languages. The article allowed teaching in the native language in public schools in regions where Breton, Catalan or Basque is spoken. The law supposed an educational revolution in a nation founded on linguistic uniformity and centralism. The Constitutional Court halted the attempt and recalled that the fundamental law proclaims: “The language of the Republic is French.”

The joy of the militants of the regional languages ​​and of some of their speakers did not last long. If they had believed that one day teaching in languages ​​other than the dominant one could be equated in France with that of Catalan or Basque in Spain, the dream immediately evaporated.

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On April 8, an unusual window had opened. That day, Parliament adopted the law that, in its article 4, gave the possibility, but not the obligation, to offer immersive teaching in school. That is, predominantly in a language other than French and in centers where the main language of communication could end up being other than French.

The Constitutional Court closed the door to this option. The body in charge of ensuring the constitutionality of the laws refers to article 2 of the fundamental law, which establishes that French is the language of the Republic. And it deduces that, in the relationship between the Administration and individuals, these “cannot claim (…) the right to use a language other than French, nor be obliged to such use.”

Breton deputy Paul Molac, author of the law and member of the small group Liberties and Territories, severely judges the decision of the Constitutional Court. “They are French nationalists, people who cannot stand that a French is not at the same time of French culture,” he told El PAÍS. “For them it is a question of principle: the French must crush everything.”

Not that the demand for immersion is massive. Of the 12 million pupils in the French school system, some 170,000 are taught in their regional languages. And of these, a small minority attend private schools where immersion was practiced, hitherto unregulated.

No one was clear about what immersion in France meant; in any case, a model like the Catalan was inconceivable, even with the new law. What it was, according to the ley Molac, It was to offer the option in some schools, and whenever the parents and educators requested it. The proportion of subjects in the regional language was left open.

“I, in the law, said that more than 50% could be done in regional languages ​​in public education,” clarifies Molac, who fears that the Constitutional decision will end up affecting private schools where immersion governs, such as centers of the Diwan network in Brittany.

The Constitutional Court, in the same decision, declared legal grants to private schools that teach the regional language, but vetoed the use of non-French spellings in civil status documents, such as the ‘ñ’ of the Breton name Fañch. The argument is the same as that of immersion: admitting that individuals use a language other than French in their dealings with the Administration and the public service violates Article 2 of the Constitution.

The decision, as a whole, represents a victory for centralism over regionalism, currents that have divided France at least since the revolutionary years of the late eighteenth century when Jacobins were pitted against Girondins. The former prevailed. And both political centralism and linguistic uniformity in the name of equality and the abolition of the privileges of the Old Regime ended up being considered essential for national cohesion and the construction of the Republic.

Regional languages ​​were on the brink of extinction or extremely precarious. But neither the Girondist idea nor regionalism disappeared completely. Its most recent manifestation was the adoption five weeks ago of the law of regional languages, today partially liquidated. “For them,” says Deputy Molac, referring to the members of the Constitutional Assembly, “the school must serve to format the citizen. They think that it is the State that makes the citizen, and not the other way around ”.


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