Mr. Chamoux, a slow-moving, jovial man, has been here 20 years and seems to know each student by name. Under a crucifix in his cramped office, he extolled the virtues of Catholic schools. “We practice religious freedom; the public schools don’t,” he said. “We teach the national curriculum. Religious activities are entirely optional.”
“If I banned the head scarf, half the girls wouldn’t go to school at all,” he added. “I prefer to have them here, talk to them and tell them that they have a choice. Many actually take it off after a while. My goal is that by the time they graduate they have made a conscious choice, one way or the other.”
Defenders of secularism retort that such leniency could encourage other special requests, and anti-Western values like the oppression of women.
“The head scarf is a sexist sign, and discrimination between the sexes has no place in the republican school,” France’s minister of national education, Xavier Darcos, said in a telephone interview. “That is the fundamental reason why we are against it.”
Mr. Chamoux said he suspects that some pupils (“a small minority,” he said) wear the scarf because of pressure from family. He acknowledged that parents routinely demand exemptions from swimming lessons for daughters who, when denied, present a medical certificate and miss class anyway. Recently, he said, he put his foot down when students asked to remove the crucifix in a classroom they wanted for communal prayers during Ramadan, which in France ends on Tuesday.
The biology teacher at St. Mauront has been challenged on Darwin’s theory of evolution, and history class can get heated during discussions of the Crusades or the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. In 2001, after the Sept. 11 attacks, some Muslim students shocked the staff by showing glee, Mr. Chamoux recalled.
The school deals swiftly with offensive comments, he said, but also tries to respect Islam. It takes Muslim holidays into account for parent-teacher meetings. For two years now, it has offered optional Arabic-language instruction — in part to steer students away from Koran classes in neighborhood mosques believed to preach radical Islam.
When Zohra Hanane, the parent of a Muslim student, was asked why she chose Catholic school for her daughter, Sabrina, her answer was swift. “We share the same God,” she said.
But faith is not the only argument. Even though Ms. Hanane, who is a single mother and currently unemployed, struggles to meet the annual fee at St. Mauront of 249 euros ($364) — unusually low, because the school receives additional state subsidies and has spartan facilities — she said it was worth it because she did not want her children with “the wrong crowd” in the projects.
Tuesday, September 30, 2008
French Muslim students find have in Catholic schools
From the NY Times
Posted by W at 9:53 AM