LAST month I called the Directrice (headmistress) of our local public nursery school, which my second daughter attends, to discuss enrolling my son. For my two daughters, born in 2013 and 2015, the custom in France was to send them to school at three years old, or you could wait a year. Or you could, and I did, pick them up for lunch at 11:30 every morning and they could spend the afternoon at home.
My son is a different case. Born at the end of December 2018, he will be only two at the start of the 2021-2022 academic year in September. I wished to discuss the possibility of starting in January 2022, when he will be three. Or perhaps he could even begin in September 2022.
I wondered what the Directrice might advise. She had a certain credibility with me because when French children were allowed back to school in May 2020, she called me personally to urge me to bring my four-year-old back. I expressed my fears about masks and dystopic chalk circles marking out social distancing, and she said kindly, ‘The children are happy to come back, I promise you! They like school.’ And it was indeed the case. My girls were overjoyed to go back (the masks in primary school and for nursery school staff didn’t emerge until October 2020).
I was therefore surprised that when I brought up the idea of my son starting school in January 2022, her voice rose shrilly, and she said: ‘It is mandatory that he start school in September.’ In instinctive reaction to her officiousness, I balked. ‘We plan to send him half day as his sisters did.’ ‘You cannot do that,’ she replied with the same rising panic in her voice. Now the conversation had totally changed, and confused and shaken, I snapped back: ‘It’s my child, and his father and I decide what is good for him. School all day for a child in Petite Section (three years old) is for working parents. It’s not for the child.’ I don’t remember how the conversation ended.
I assumed that she was having a bad day. I didn’t realise until weeks later that in 2019 former Prime Minister Edouard Philippe and French Education Minister Jean-Michel Blanquer changed the law for early education, not only making it mandatory at three (and at two for those children born at the end of the year like my son) but making the full day (8.30am-4.30pm) mandatory. If you wish your child to attend Petite Section half day, you must write a letter by certified mail to the Head of the School, obtain their agreement, and they will send on the letter to the ‘Inspector of National Education’, whomever that is, to obtain their agreement. If you do not receive a negative response within 15 days, you may consider your proposition for your own young child’s daily schedule is acceptable to the authorities.
Decisions regarding the day-to-day routine of our two-year-old is thereby passed entirely into the hands of our Benevolent State, the same Benevolent State which masks six-year-olds for seven hours at a time every day at school and which has recently neatly bypassed the May 10 decision of the National Assembly to reject the notorious pass sanitaire (health pass) by rewording the law and getting it passed during the night of May 11, at which time I would add, neither of the two opposition leaders, Jean-Luc Mélenchon and Marine Le Pen, were present. (Why weren’t they present? Another article for another day. But one reason why I would not vote for Le Pen with any enthusiasm in 2022).
The State has allowed a possibility of escape for families to request to educate their children, up to the age of 16, at home, but following Macron’s recent hullaballoo about ‘separatism’ and his efforts to curb Islamic extremism this measure will be allowed only in the case of precise eventualities such as physical illness or living too far from a school. Macron and his advisers do not understand that someone who grows up in a family with a respect for Sharia law over French law (and culture) will not be moved by what he or she is forced to listen to in public school. For better or for worse, the family remains the building block of the society, however much social engineers on the Left would like it otherwise.
I have felt a fondness for Jean-Michel Blanquer over the past couple of years. Stalwart in the face of identity politics, he has refused the use in schools of the ridiculous ‘inclusive’ French language used by French companies (‘étudiant.es’) and recently called hard Left student activists ‘fascist’ because they wished to organise without the participation of white people. He kept the primary schools open over the past year in the face of immense public pressure to close them (unfortunately it has been a different story for junior high schools, high schools and universities). Masking the children, which continues to infuriate and horrify me, is the ransom he pays the Covidists. My daughters have enjoyed an experience in French public education totally free of the pernicious LGBT agenda and race-baiting that haunts American and British education (though there has been a light touch of militant environmentalism, depending on inclinations of the teacher).
This shockingly authoritarian measure has resulted in almost no media attention, which is why I didn’t understand the Directrice’s shrill tone on the telephone. The State has determined that my husband and I, the parents of this little boy, have no right to determine his daily schedule. We, who are currently raising three polite, happy, bilingual, French public school-educated children in a child-centred, screenless, loving household, full of classic literature and fairy tales, breastfeeding, dolls, cello lessons and gentle disorder culminating in whole chapters of Tolkien at bedtime, are now asked to pass our baby through the window of the crèche, to be redressed in the habillement of the State so that he can benefit from an institution for seven hours a day, surveyed by soldiers of the State (who are probably more familiar with Disney and Greta Thunberg than Tolkien) instead of being in his comfortable home.
‘We are good parents,’ I wail desperately to my husband. I shriek at him about translating our letter into dry French legalese, of which I am incapable. He must explain that our little boy was born with Pierre Robin proto-syndrome (a small chin) and is subject to ear infections. I have never so greatly regretted my years of Francophilia, nourished by urban Leftie snobbery and my residual American East Coast University anti-Americanism, which trained me to regard everything European as elegant, sophisticated and gloriously superior to crude American materialism. I have never wanted so badly to live freely in an American suburb, preferably in a Red State, as I do today.
We French citizens have watched our most basic freedoms being eroded over the past two years. Sometimes they throw us a bone, like last week when restaurants were allowed to open outdoor terraces (with limited occupancy) for the first time since October. People flocked outside, and it changed the ambiance of the city, lifting a pall that has hung over it since October. Our benevolent overlords have even extended our curfew to 9 pm, and a video circulated on social media of police wielding machine guns clearing people off the terraces.
Of course, a couple of weekends ago, a manifestation for Palestine went ahead despite official interdiction resulting in transport closures and street violence in northeastern Paris. Likewise, I know that Macron’s government understands that it is much easier to impose its will on the law-abiding Bonin family: I would be surprised if police go knocking door-to-door in Seine-Saint-Denis, yanking two-year-olds from the arms of their veiled mothers or sending in RAID teams to bust Muslim schools. They reserve their muscle for people drinking beers on terraces with friends after 9pm or loving parents who prefer a gentle introduction to the strictures of the Petite Section at a public institution.
Our powerlessness over our children’s early education, depriving us of our right as parents to determine the conditions around the end of their babyhood, underlines to me that French people no longer have control over the most intimate decisions of our personal lives. We will write our letter, obsequious and dry, and pray that the authorities will allow us to raise our third child as we wish.