A sociologist’s eye on Georges Rouault High School in the nineteenth district of Paris

It was nice to have another experience in a High school in the nineteenth district of Paris twenty years after I had left my Georges Melies High School as a teenager. Three things struck my sociologist eye in the twenty first century high schools of the nineteenth district of Paris.

Staff in the High School

At Georges Rouault High School where I worked this year as a supervisor, the staff did not undergo big changes when compared to ten or twenty years ago. Especially the teachers; still the same kind of austere people who think society as a whole owe them something for the work they are doing in schools located in deprived areas. To some extent the teachers have become even worst; they no longer teach for the sake of teaching but rather to pay the bills. We must admit that teaching has become by excellence along the years the cushy number in France. Unlike in the U.K for example, teachers in France are civil servants. At Georges Rouault High School, teachers are today a tighter group protecting their interests and advantages at the stake of the improvement of the education system that could benefit the pupils. On top of that, the students are often dismissed from the classes with no reason as to why. I cannot count how many times I have had children this year coming to the study room because they had been dismissed from the class by their teachers. Sometimes in the study room I could count more than six children from the same class, all dismissed from the same lesson. No doubt that for some of the children at Georges Rouault High School the study room had become their regular classroom and the supervisors their teachers.  These children through the teachers’ technique of dismissal where in the school denied the right to learn and study just because they had their caps or coats on or just because the teachers for some reasons did not want them in the classroom

Teens in the High School

Social cohesion between different pupils is another detail that struck my sociologist eye. Complicity between the different pupils from different age groups, as well as social or ethnic backgrounds is still obvious as at my time. However it is clear that nowadays kids who’ve got parents of my age have a better understanding of their diversity. Within the Black African and Northern African community, diversity is more seen as a wealth and no more as a shame. If a picture of my last year at Georges Melies High School back in the late eighties reveals that as a black boy I was kind of a minority in my class and in the school; in the same school today the minority group has turned into a majority and the former majority one into a minority. This statement is also true for all state schools in the nineteenth district of Paris and Georges Rouault is no exception to the rule. At Georges Rouault High School more than 80 percent of the kids are of African descents. As the assimilation process has been reversed, the whites hide their whiteness and tend to act more black or African and Muslim like the majority group. It is thus that Christopher for example who was in year nine and of white French Christian descents would often swear on the holy Qur’an not because he had adopted Islam as his new religion but because he wanted to be like and act as the majority group in the school. Black and Northern African children at Georges Rouault also tend to have better behaviour not to say perfect when the adult they have to deal with appears to be from their own ethnic and social background -as it was the case with some supervisors like me. This makes me think that part of the misunderstanding between the children and the adults in French schools today may come from social and cultural gaps between staff and children. In other words identification has an important role when it comes to transmission of knowledge; which also means it is necessary for the children to identify themselves to the adults teaching or guiding them. Living in a society marked with racial and economic discrimination, most children in the nineteenth district of Paris need positive models they can identify with. And, one of the problems at Georges Rouault High School is that if more than sixty percent of the children are black, just one teacher out of forty five is of the same colour and social cultural background as the majority of children. This of course does not really help identification of pupils with their teachers. The lack of models and identification with the teachers could be held as partly responsible for the incivilities in the classrooms.  Besides, the better the teacher knows and understands the social and cultural environment of the children he has the duty to educate, the better it appears his message is transmitted and the more authority he has.

Photo of the writer back in the late 1980’s
At Georges Rouault High School, the pupils are no longer the same; more than a decade has passed and altered the habits and customs of the children though it still remains the same teenage call and cry they utter in vain. The third thing that struck me in that experience is a funnier one. Teens nowadays tend to some extent to react as adults. If kids of my generation secretly fell in love and would never ever admit it for fear of being considered a tender and weak boy or girl by the whole district; it seems that those from the twenty first century openly display their love affairs.  At Georges Rouault High School nearly every single pupil seems to have a partner. Driffa -a teenage girl from year nine- would often tell me about her different love affairs. Her definition of love remains, however, awkward which could explain the reason why she had more than four boyfriends during the same academic year. Like in the French Big Brother Show-Loft Stories-, at Georges Rouault High School, it seems that everyone is going out with everyone. %%%

Working as a supervisor in this type school is seen by many as a hard and ungratified job. However, I have decided to work one more year there, if my application is accepted. Not that I cannot find something else or that I absolutely need money; but because I think that being involved with children of ethnic minority backgrounds is the best way of doing politics in order to  challenge racism and discrimination in France. Working as a supervisor makes it easier to take the time to understand the pupils in order to answer their very needs.

By Sitafa

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