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French Items from 2013:                                         to enlarge a photo, click on it

The de Gaulle legacy   The Polygon Landscape  Oradour-sur-Glane   Genre   French Intangible Cultural Heritage    Burying a General     The Marseillaise  Secular Charter   French intervention  Non   France has unqual education    French snub Google 

The de Gaulle legacy
There was a joke that Harry made up (or something). A man is explaining to a French visitor the parties and their ideology in his country. He outlines the 5 main parties and a half dozen tiny ones, and asks if he has been clear and understandable. The Frenchman said he was clear, except he hadn't said which party was the Gaullist. To the French there is always a Gaullist party but it is not called that.
“Under the presidential system created in 1958 by Charles de Gaulle, French parties have become - in essence - promotional machines for the uber-ambitious. The left - with its collective traditions - struggled with this idea but succumbed. The right has always had less of a problem. Thus the Gaullist party (it had various designations) was the vehicle of de Gaulle; the UDF was Valery Giscard d'Estaing's; the RPR Mr Chirac's. And the UMP - from 2004 when he took it over - was Nicolas Sarkozy's.” Gaullism is characterized by conservative, nationalistic, centralized government by a strong president. It is a thread that has run through these parties.
This is what makes French politics so fluid. Parties come and go, break in half, merge, change their political message. They have a half life of a few decades. The socialist PS, now in office under Hollande, is only about 40 years old – a model of stability.
Sarkozy lost the last election; there was a vote for his replacement; it was almost a dead heat; there was a nasty fight about cheating. Now the UMP has split in half (UMP and RUMP). Maybe just for a while or maybe the two halves will not get together.


The Polygon landscape
The firing range is a curious example of reused landscape that accumulates the various features of the Berrichonne countryside. The range: parts show the heath scrubland that existed before plowing, parts are influenced by today's urban pressure, and parts show history in between. It is a paradox of nature deserving protection in the shade of a firing range. The photo shows the two sides of a road with the polygon and its control point building on the left and normal farming on the right.


The firing range of Bourges occupies 30 by 10 kilometers, called the polygon, between the Departmental Route 976 and the National Route 76 which is typical high plain landscape showing layers of reuse.
Frequency used military territory, which is periodically "frozen" during operations or fire testing of equipment and is not tilled, remained as was it initially was when taken by the military, that is heath and woodland. The polygon has a unique face of what was the Champagne Berrichonne: sheep heath and woodlots, a wooded plain.
It is a secret landscape, regularly confiscated by the military during periods of activity. It can not be photographed. It has control points where access can be restricted. This forces complex detours for those that live and work in the area. The area is punctuated by explosions and rumbles that add to the noise from the Avord air base.
The range is on a gently rolling plateau, cut by the lower valley of Auron and its tributary the Craon. Where cultivated, the plain is a patchwork of different colored plots fringed by trees near Bourges, gradually becoming open grain fields and then heath forest, as it moves east. To the east of the Auron valley, landscapes are dominate with ancient oak and maple, fields and dry calcarious grasslands on the plain and wet meadows in the valleys. Meadows and moors are surrounded by woods.
In the east the forest is dramatically changed by the recent replacement with pine and spruce and the spread of poplar in the Auron valley. Views from the RD 976 show devastation by pine caterpillars and the limits of a policy of monoculture. There is a move to a mixed plantation that combines pine and deciduous, standard mixed with coppice forests. The maintenance and enhancing biodiversity are essential to the balance all of these landscapes. The meadows and moors deserve a measure specific protection for they are the last existing examples in this agricultural region. Finally, there needs to be a limit to poplars in the valley Auron.
House building on the edge of the polygon has changed the look of the landscape. Housing is needed for Bourges' suburban spread in the outskirts of villages in the area and for the air base. The photo show how close to the polygon border new building is going on.


The polygon contains nature reserves which have very high protection because they are surrounded by restricted access.
The communes that boarder the polygon are: Avord, Bengy-sur-Craon, Bourges, Cornusse, Croisy, Crosses, Flavigny, Jussy-Champagne, Osmoy, Ourouer-the-Bourdelins, Raymond, Savigny-en-Septaine, Soye-en-Septaine, Tendron, Vornay
It is not all idyllic. For year depleted uranium munitions were made and tested on the firing range.
Betwen 1990 and 2001, around 14000 DU munitions were test fired. The locals were reassured that all DU munitions were fired in specially constructed “sand boxes”. But 120 tones of contaminated debris and 2500 cubic meters of earth, sand and top soil have been removed from the polygon. Many do not eat the boar, deer and pheasants that is shot in the locale.

In June 1944 in a part of France were there was no warfare, Vichy, there was a massacre of 642 people. An SS Panzer regiment surrounded the village of Oradour-sur-Glane, ordered everyone to the fairground and then put the women and children in the church and the men in 6 other buildings. When everyone was locked up, the killing began. After the men were shot, a bomb was placed in the church and the people running out of the church were machine gunned. The bodies of the dead (and some wounded) were then burnt in a large fire. When everyone who could be found was killed, the village was set on fire. Many very disturbing actions were done by the soldiers during this event. How and why did it happen?
The regiment had been ordered to travel to Normandy to be part of the defense against the allied invasion. On their traveling north they were under constant pressure from the Resistance – the Resistance having taken strength from D-day. But this particular village had not been part of any attack on the Germans, and moreover, the soldiers never accused the villagers of helping the Resistance. This regiment was not just any regiment. It was the 'Der Führer regiment of the 2nd SS-Panzer Division Das Reich'. These were very political Nazi soldiers – they were not just trying to win the war, they were trying to destroy the enemies of Germany (Jews, communists and to a certain extent the French). Soldiers never like guerrilla fighters and so the French resistance was a special enemy that was harrassing this division daily. “The SS made blind obedience to orders a virtue and any sign of compassion to their enemies was regarded as a sign of weakness. They were fanatics, who showed no mercy and expected no mercy in return.” This division has recently been brought to France to rest and repair themselves from several years of terrible warfare in Russia. Throughout the war most cases of collective punishment of this type were done by SS units. And this Division had been involved in burning villages and collective killings on the eastern front.
On the June 8, a group of communists (the FTP Resistance) tried to liberate the town of Tulle and almost won when the Das Reich arrived and forced the resistance group to retreat. The SS found died and mutilated German troops and organized a reprisal against the town. They selected 120 men in the town, hung 99 from lampposts and sent the rest to labour in Germany.
The next day the Das Reich was ordered to help another garrison in Gueret but were sent back because they were not needed. The commander of this group drove ahead of the soldiers and was kidnapped by the resistance about 10 miles from Limoges. This commander, Kanpfe, threw out some papers as a clue that he had been taken. He was killed by the Resistance. During that day another officer and driver was kidnapped but they escaped and made their way to Limoges. The Germans came to believe (falsely) that Oradour-sur-Glane was the source of the kidnapping and that Kampfe was probably held there. The regiment under Diekmann was sent to find Kampfe or if he was not in the village to hold some villagers until he was found. It seems that Diekmann did not attempt to follow these orders but simply set out to kill the whole village. His commander was shocked at his actions and said he would be court-martialed. But he was not relieved of his command and he died in battle on June 29. The crime was then ignored and no one was charged.
The French tried a group of the soldiers that were in France in 1953. They were from Alsace or prisoners of war and therefore living in France. None were officers. It caused a uproar because people either thought the sentences were way, way to lenient or way, way too harsh. One of the officers, Barth, was jailed for war crimes in East Germany in 1983. Barth never expressed any regret.
It now seems that Gerlach was held in Oradour-sur-Vayres when he was kidnapped and that is where the solders should have gone. And on the way to Oradour-sur-Glane they learned that Kampfe had been found dead.
The village was never lived in again. De Gaulle decided to leave it as it was as a memorial. In 1999 a museum was added to the site. A new village with the same name was built nearby. More people died then actually lived in the village because visitors and people in the farms surrounding the village were caught up in the killing. Only seven villagers survived the massacre: six men and a woman, all of them more or less severely injured. About fifteen other inhabitants of the village were able to escape the Germans before the massacre started or evade the roundup by hiding. There is a ceremony in the ruined village every year.
A rusty burned car in the village Oradour-sur-Glane. It was the car of Doctor Desourteaux, a Peugeot model 202.


The linguist Mark Liberman reports that the French are starting to use the word genre in a new way. It is used in English when talking about films and the like and in French means sort, kind or type. But the new usage is like the English slang like. Liberman calls it a discourse particle and he knows his parts of speech.
Je suis genre rarement enervé. - "I'm like rarely upset"
… en ce moment, non seulement j'ai du mal à avoir accès au net, mais en plus je suis genre super occupé. - "… right now, not only am I having difficulty getting access to the net, but also I'm like super busy."
Et je suis, genre, ouais, quoi encore? - "And I was, like, yeah, what again?"
He said there is even a facebook page group "Pour ceux qui disent 'genre' 36 fois par phrases" - "for those who say 'genre' 36 times per sentence"
Oh, the Academy will not like this!

French Intangible Cultural Heritage
UNESCO has a List of the Intangible Cultural Heritage of Humanity. Here is the French inscriptions so far:
The gastronomic meal
The gastronomic meal of the French is a customary social practice for celebrating important moments in the lives of individuals and groups, such as births, weddings, birthdays, anniversaries, achievements and reunions. It is a festive meal bringing people together for an occasion to enjoy the art of good eating and drinking. The gastronomic meal emphasizes togetherness, the pleasure of taste, and the balance between human beings and the products of nature. Important elements include the careful selection of dishes from a constantly growing repertoire of recipes; the purchase of good, preferably local products whose flavours go well together; the pairing of food with wine; the setting of a beautiful table; and specific actions during consumption, such as smelling and tasting items at the table. The gastronomic meal should respect a fixed structure, commencing with an apéritif (drinks before the meal) and ending with liqueurs, containing in between at least four successive courses, namely a starter, fish and/or meat with vegetables, cheese and dessert. Individuals called gastronomes who possess deep knowledge of the tradition and preserve its memory watch over the living practice of the rites, thus contributing to their oral and/or written transmission, in particular to younger generations. The gastronomic meal draws circles of family and friends closer together and, more generally, strengthens social ties.
Craftsmanship of Alençon needle lace-making
The technique of point d’Alençon is a rare technique of needle lace-making, practised in the town of Alençon in Normandy in north-west France. Alençon needle lace is unusual because of the high level of craftsmanship required and the very long time that it takes to produce (seven hours per square centimetre). The pieces of openwork textile using the technique are used for decorative purposes in civil and religious life. The piece is made up of design elements held together by a finely stitched net. Its process comprises a number of successive stages: drawing and pricking of the design on parchment, creating the outline of the design and the background netting, then the typical stitching of the patterns, shading with filling stitches, decorating with designs, and embroidering to create relief. Then the lace is removed from the parchment with a razor blade; trimmed and, finally, the filling stitches are polished with a lobster claw. Each Alençon lace-maker knows how to complete all the stages of the process – knowledge that can only be transmitted through a practical apprenticeship. To fully master Alençon needle lace-making requires seven to ten years of training. The learning method relies on a close relationship between the specialized lace-maker and the apprentice, and is exclusively based on oral transmission and practical teaching.
Equitation in the French tradition
Equitation in the French tradition is a school of horseback riding that emphasizes harmonious relations between humans and horses. The fundamental horse-training principles and processes are guided by non-violence and lack of constraint, blending human demands with respect for the horse’s body and mood. Knowledge of the animal itself (physiology, psychology, anatomy) and human nature (emotions and the body) , are complemented by a horseman’s state of mind that combines skill and respect for the horse. Fluidity of movements and flexibility of joints ensure that the horse participates in the exercises without coercion. Although practised throughout France and elsewhere, the most widely known community is the Cadre Noir of Saumur, based at the National School of Equitation. The common denominator among riders is the desire to establish close relations with the horse, build mutual respect and work towards achieving ‘lightness’. Cooperation between generations is strong, with respect for the experience of older riders, galvanized by the enthusiasm of younger riders. The Saumur region is also home to instructors, horse breeders, craftspeople (saddlers, boot-makers), veterinary services and blacksmiths. Frequent public displays and galas hosted by the Cadre Noir of Saumur help to sustain the visibility of equitation in the French tradition.
Compagnonnage, network for on-the-job transmission of knowledge and identities
The French Compagnonnage system is a unique way of conveying knowledge and know-how linked to the trades that work with stone, wood, metal, leather, textiles and food. Its originality lies in its synthesis of varied methods and processes of transmitting knowledge: national and international educational travel (known as the ‘Tour de France’ period), initiation rituals, school-based teaching, customary learning and technical apprenticeship. The Compagnonnage movement involves almost 45,000 people, who belong to one of three groups of compagnons. Those aged 16 years or over who wish to learn and/or develop their skills in a given profession can apply to join a Compagnonnage community. Training lasts on average five years, during which apprentices regularly move from town to town, both in France and internationally, to discover types of knowledge and ways of passing them on. To be eligible to transmit this knowledge the apprentice must produce a ‘masterwork’, examined and assessed by the compagnons. Compagnonnage is popularly perceived as the last movement to practice and teach certain ancient craft techniques, to deliver true excellence in craft training, to closely integrate the development of the person and the training of the worker, and the last to perform trade initiation rites.
Cantu in paghjella, a secular and liturgical oral tradition of Corsica
The paghjella is a male Corsican singing tradition. It combines three vocal registers that always enter the song in the same order: a segonda, which begins, give the pitch and carries the main melody; u bassu, which follows, accompanies and supports it, and finally a terza, the highest placed, which enriches the song. Paghjella makes substantial use of echo and is sung a capella in a variety of languages including Corsican, Sardinian, Latin and Greek. As both a secular and liturgical oral tradition, it is performed on festive, social and religious occasions: in the bar or village square, as part of liturgical masses and processions and during agricultural fairs. The principle mode of transmission is oral, largely through observation and listening, imitation and immersion, commencing first as part of young boys’ daily liturgical offices and then later at adolescence through the local Church choir. Despite the efforts of its practitioners to revitalize its repertoires, paghjella has gradually diminished in vitality, due a sharp decline in intergenerational transmission caused by emigration of the younger generation and the consequent impoverishment of its repertoire. Unless action is taken, paghjella will cease to exist in its current form, surviving only as a tourist product devoid of the community links that give it real meaning.
Aubusson tapestry
A centuries-old tradition, the craft of Aubusson tapestry consists of weaving an image using processes practised in Aubusson and a number of other localities in the Creuse region of France. This craft produces mainly large decorative wall hangings but also rugs and pieces of furniture. Aubusson tapestry can be based on an image in any artistic style, prepared by a paper ‘cartoon’ (template) designer. Weaving is done manually by a lissier, or weaver, on a loom positioned horizontally, working on the reverse side of the tapestry, and using yarns that are hand-dyed in house. This process is time-consuming and expensive. The Aubusson tapestries are a gold standard throughout the world, to the extent that Aubusson has become a common noun in some languages. The production of tapestries in Aubusson and Felletin provides enough work for three small businesses and ten or so freelance artisan weavers, thus creating a significant volume of related work (wool production and spinning, marketing, by-products, museum, exhibitions and tourism). To stabilize the level of activity and avoid breaking the line of transmission, the interest of the young must be stimulated and this heritage promoted.
Scribing tradition in French timber framing
The purpose of the scribing tradition is to master in three dimensions the design of a complex wooden building. This traditional expertise runs counter to modern standardization by emphasizing the role of the builder in the construction process and giving a creative impulse to the structures themselves. Scribing is a combination of the graphic processes used in France since the thirteenth century that make it possible to express accurately through the design the actual volumes of a building, its interlocking, and the characteristics of the wooden components. It was taught as a special subject quite distinct from the theory and practice of architecture. Through this process, the carpenter can determine all the components before they are built, however complex they are, and thus be sure that all the assemblies will fit together perfectly when the timber frame is built. Carpenters who are members of trade guilds recognize the scribing tradition as having a symbolic and initiatory meaning that remains a secret. The art plays a crucial role in the value system of the Companions of the Tour de France, for example. Special training in scribing is available in several dozen training centres, guilds and businesses.
Processional giants and dragons in Belgium and France
Traditional processions of huge effigies of giants, animals or dragons encompass an original ensemble of festive popular manifestations and ritual representations. These effigies first appeared in urban religious processions at the end of the fourteenth century in many European towns and continue to serve as emblems of identity for certain Belgian (Ath, Brussels, Dendermonde, Mechelen and Mons) and French towns (Cassel, Douai, Pézenas and Tarascon), where they remain living traditions. The giants and dragons are large-scale models measuring up to nine metres in height and weighing as much as 350 kilos. They represent mythical heroes or animals, contemporary local figures, historical, biblical or legendary characters or trades. St. George fighting the dragon is staged in Mons; Bayard, the horse from the Charlemagne legend, parades in Dendermonde; and Reuze Papa and Reuze Maman, popular family characters, parade at Cassel. The performances, often mixing secular procession and religious ceremony, vary from town to town, but always follow a precise ritual in which the giants relate to the history, legend or life of the town.
Giants and dragons enliven popular festivals where they are the main actors at least once a year, as each effigy has its specific feast day. They act out historical scenes and dance in the streets to the accompaniment of fanfares and costumed people. The crowd follows the procession, and many participants help in the preparations at different stages of the festival. The construction of a giant and its ongoing maintenance require months of work and know-how in many techniques given the range of materials used. Although these expressions are not threatened with immediate disappearance, they do suffer from a number of pressures, such as major changes to town centres and increasing tourism, leading to the detriment of the popular, spontaneous nature of the festival.

Burying a General
France still has problems with its past. Algeria for example has not healed in France. The army tried to bury a general and had a two year battle that ended last winter.
Marcel Bigeard was one of the country's most decorated generals: some wanted the state to have nothing to do with his burial and others want him to have full honours.
He rose from the lower ranks, enlisting in 1936, during the war and was captured by the Germans but escaped to join the Free French Army in North Africa. He received training in England and was parachuted into France in 1944 to lead the Resistance in the Pyrenees. He received medals for bravery and became a Captain. At the end of the war, he was sent to French Indochina in a parachute battalion. He gained a reputation in the defense of Dien Bien Phu. He was captured when it fell in 1954 but was returned to France after 3 months and became a Colonel. Finally he was sent to Algeria. He was called “Lord of the Atlas Mountains” for his feats against rebels in 1957. He, along with other officers, have admitted to widespread use of torture in the Algerian campaign. He called it a “necessary evil”. Surviving victims of torture testify to his personal involvement which he denied.
The Human Rights League said if the government praised the General, “it would amount to elevating torture to a military discipline worthy of being honoured by the state.” His detractors launched a petition to stop official recognition of his burial. The petition claims, “The name of Bigeard is synonymous with the most detestable practices of the French Army.”
On the other hand the head of the General Bigeard Foundation said, “I am outraged that people should dispute the right of a soldier of his stature to rest among his comrades.” Veterans voiced their support for a proper resting place.
First there was the idea of scattering his ashes where comrades lie in Dien Bien Phu but the Vietnamese Government refused permission. The plan to inter him in Les Invalides in Paris was reversed because of public outrage. Finally it was decided to bury him in the Indochina Memorial in Frejus in southern France. And so, the ceremony was held with the Minister of Defense in attendance. It was sort of a proper but second-class burial for a general. The Algerian polarization in France has not been eased.

The Marseillaise
It is very unusual for a country's nation anthem to be sung in other countries but the French anthem belongs to the world it seems. It is the anthem of revolutions. Because it is so connected to the French revolution, it was not always the French anthem. It was banned under Napoleon I, Louis XVIII and Charles X. But the style, the marching anthem, was copied around Europe even if the original was frowned on.
It was written by Lisle for the defenders of Strasbourg against attack by Prussia and Austria. But it made its mark when the volunteers in Marseille learned it and marched and sang it all the way to Paris and entered Paris in 1792 singing it. From then on it was called the Marsiellaise.
It became the official anthem 2 years later in 1795. Napoleon changed the anthem when he became head of government (perhaps he was less keen on revolution then). It was reinstated for a few months in 1830. In 1879 it was restored and has remained the anthem of France ever since.
As you can see from the words, it is a 'going into battle song'.

French lyrics

English translation

Allons enfants de la Patrie, Arise, children of the Fatherland,
Le jour de gloire est arrivé ! The day of glory has arrived!
Contre nous de la tyrannie, Against us tyranny
L'étendard sanglant est levé. (bis) The bloody banner's raised (repeat)
Entendez-vous dans les campagnes Do you hear, in the countryside
Mugir ces féroces soldats ? Roaring those ferocious soldiers?
Ils viennent jusque dans vos bras They're coming right into your arms
Égorger vos fils, vos compagnes ! To cut the throats of your sons and women!
Aux armes, citoyens, To arms, citizens,
Formez vos bataillons, Form your battalions,
Marchons, marchons ! Let's march, let's march!
Qu'un sang impur Let an impure blood
Abreuve nos sillons ! Water our furrows!
Que veut cette horde d'esclaves, What does this horde of slaves,
De traîtres, de rois conjurés ? Of traitors and conjured kings want?
Pour qui ces ignobles entraves, For whom are these vile chains,
Ces fers dès longtemps préparés ? (bis) These long-prepared irons? (repeat)
Français, pour nous, ah ! quel outrage Frenchmen, for us, ah! What outrage
Quels transports il doit exciter ! What fury it must arouse!
C'est nous qu'on ose méditer It is us they dare plan
De rendre à l'antique esclavage ! To return to the old slavery!
Aux armes, citoyens... To arms, citizens...
Quoi ! des cohortes étrangères What! Foreign cohorts
Feraient la loi dans nos foyers ! Would make the law in our homes!
Quoi ! Ces phalanges mercenaires What! These mercenary phalanxes
Terrasseraient nos fiers guerriers ! (bis) Would strike down our proud warriors! (repeat)
Grand Dieu ! Par des mains enchaînées Great God ! By chained hands
Nos fronts sous le joug se ploieraient Our brows would yield under the yoke
De vils despotes deviendraient Vile despots would have themselves
Les maîtres de nos destinées ! The masters of our destinies!
Aux armes, citoyens... To arms, citizens...
Tremblez, tyrans et vous perfides Tremble, tyrants and you traitors
L'opprobre de tous les partis, The shame of all parties,
Tremblez ! vos projets parricides Tremble! Your parricidal schemes
Vont enfin recevoir leurs prix ! (bis) Will finally receive their reward! (repeat)
Tout est soldat pour vous combattre, Everyone is a soldier to combat you
S'ils tombent, nos jeunes héros, If they fall, our young heroes,
La terre en produit de nouveaux, The earth will produce new ones,
Contre vous tout prêts à se battre ! Ready to fight against you!
Aux armes, citoyens... To arms, citizens...
Français, en guerriers magnanimes, Frenchmen, as magnanimous warriors,
Portez ou retenez vos coups ! You bear or hold back your blows!
Épargnez ces tristes victimes, You spare those sorry victims,
À regret s'armant contre nous. (bis) Who arm against us with regret. (repeat)
Mais ces despotes sanguinaires, But not these bloodthirsty despots,
Mais ces complices de Bouillé, These accomplices of Bouillé,
Tous ces tigres qui, sans pitié, All these tigers who, mercilessly,
Déchirent le sein de leur mère ! Rip their mother's breast!
Aux armes, citoyens... To arms, citizens...
Amour sacré de la Patrie, Sacred love of the Fatherland,
Conduis, soutiens nos bras vengeurs Lead, support our avenging arms
Liberté, Liberté chérie, Liberty, cherished Liberty,
Combats avec tes défenseurs ! (bis) Fight with thy defenders! (repeat)
Sous nos drapeaux que la victoire Under our flags, shall victory
Accoure à tes mâles accents, Hurry to thy manly accents,
Que tes ennemis expirants That thy expiring enemies,
Voient ton triomphe et notre gloire ! See thy triumph and our glory!
Aux armes, citoyens... To arms, citizens...

Secular Charter
cartoonThe French government has just published the Secular Charter which will be posted at the entrance to every school in the country. Here is the pre-publication version of the charter and its translation.

1. La Nation fixe comme missions premières à l’École, non seulement de transmettre des connaissances, mais aussi de faire partager aux élèves les valeurs de la République. La République est laïque
2. La France est une République indivisible, laïque, démocratique et sociale. Elle assure l’égalité devant la loi, sur l’ensemble de son territoire, de tous les citoyens. Elle respecte toutes les croyances.
3. La République laïque organise la séparation des religions et de l’État. L’Etat est neutre à l’égard des convictions religieuses ou spirituelles. Il n’y a pas de religion d’État.
4. La laïcité garantit la liberté de conscience à tous. Chacun est libre de croire ou de ne pas croire. Elle permet la libre expression de ses convictions, dans le respect de celles d’autrui et dans les limites de l’ordre public.
5. La laïcité permet l'exercice de la citoyenneté, en conciliant la liberté de chacun avec l’égalité et la fraternité de tous dans le souci de l’intérêt général.
6. La République assure dans les établissements scolaires le respect de chacun de ces principes. L’Ecole est laïque.
7. La laïcité de l’École offre aux élèves les conditions pour forger leur personnalité, exercer leur libre arbitre et faire l'apprentissage de la citoyenneté. Elle les protège de tout prosélytisme et de toute pression qui les empêcheraient de faire leurs propres choix.
8. Elle leur assure l’accès à une culture commune et partagée.
9. Elle permet l'exercice de la liberté d'expression des élèves dans la limite du bon fonctionnement de l’école et du respect du pluralisme des convictions.
10. Elle implique le rejet de toutes les violences et de toutes les discriminations, garantit l’égalité entre les filles et les garçons et repose sur une culture du respect et de la compréhension de l’autre.

11. Il appartient à tous les personnels de transmettre aux élèves le sens et la valeur de la laïcité, ainsi que des autres principes fondamentaux de la République. Ils veillent à leur application dans le cadre scolaire.
12. Il leur revient de porter la présente charte à la connaissance des parents d’élèves.
13. Les personnels ont un devoir de stricte neutralité: ils ne doivent pas manifester leurs convictions politiques ou religieuses dans l’exercice de leurs fonctions.
14. Les enseignements sont laïques. Afin de garantir aux élèves l’ouverture la plus objective possible à la diversité des visions du monde ainsi qu’à l’étendue et à la précision des savoirs, aucun sujet n’est a priori exclu du questionnement scientifique et pédagogique.
15. Aucun élève ne peut invoquer une conviction religieuse ou politique pour contester à un enseignant le droit de traiter une partie du programme.
16. Les règles de vie des différents espaces scolaires, précisées dans le règlement intérieur, sont respectueuses de la laïcité. Il est interdit de se prévaloir de son appartenance religieuse pour refuser de se conformer aux règles applicables dans l'École de la République. Dans les établissements scolaires publics, le port de signes ou tenues par lesquels les élèves manifestent ostensiblement une appartenance religieuse est interdit.
17. Par leurs réflexions et leurs activités, les élèves ont la responsabilité de faire vivre ces valeurs au sein de leur établissement.

1. The Nation sets the primary missions of the School, not only to impart knowledge, but also to share with students the values of the Republic. The Republic is secular.
2. France is a Republic indivisible, secular, democratic and social. It guarantees equality before the law, over its whole territory, of all its citizens. It shall respect all beliefs.
3. The secular Republic organizes the separation of religion and state. The state is neutral with regard to religious or spiritual beliefs. There is no state religion.
4. Secularism guarantees freedom of conscience for all. Everyone is free to believe or not to believe. It allows the free expression of his beliefs, respecting those of others, within the limits of public order.
5. Secularism allows the exercise of citizenship, reconciling the freedom of everyone to equality and brotherhood in the interest of the general welfare.
6. The Republic provides schools that respect of each of these principles. The School is secular.
7. The secular school offers students the conditions to form their personality, exercise their free will and make the learning of citizenship. It protects them from proselytizing and pressure that would prevent them from making their own choices .
8. It gives them access to a common and shared culture.
9. It allows the exercise of student's freedom of expression within the proper functioning of the school and respect for pluralism of beliefs.
10. It involves the rejection of all violence and all forms of discrimination, guarantees equality between girls and boys and is based on a culture of respect and understanding of each other.
11. It is the duty of all staff provide students with the meaning and value of secularism, as well as other fundamental principles of the Republic. Their application in the classroom is ensured by staff.
12. It is staff's responsibility to bring this to the attention of charter parents.
13. Staff have a duty of strict neutrality: they should not express their political or religious beliefs in the exercise of their functions.
14. Lessons are secular. To ensure students the most objective possible opening to the diversity of worldviews and the extent and accuracy of knowledge, no subject is a priori excluded from scientific and educational questions.
15. No student may invoke a religious or political belief to challenge a teacher's the right to teach a part of the program.
16. The rules of life in different school areas, as specified in the rules, are respectful of secularism. It is forbidden to exercise religious beliefs in order to refuse to comply with the rules in the School of the Republic. In public schools, the wearing of signs or dress by which pupils overtly manifest a religious affiliation is prohibited.
17. By their thoughts and activities, students have the responsibility to live these values in their institutions.

How does this differ from the PQ proposals in Quebec? - not much. I see the following differences:
  1. This is not a new idea in France; the country has been proud to be secular for a couple of hundred years. Quebec was firmly in the hands of the Church until recently, so it is a newish idea in Quebec.
  2. The French rules apply only to education and the rules for other institutions will be written separately (if at all). The Quebec rules apply to the whole public/government sector.
  3. The rules can be easily amended if necessary in France but not in Quebec where it is framed to need an overwhelming vote amend it.
  4. The French rules are in keeping with the history of France. The Quebec rules need a rider that the bill that it “must be interpreted with due regard for Quebec’s historical heritage and the fundamental values of the Quebec nation”. The Church in Quebec has always hidden behind the heritage and values of the Quebec nation – ie the descendants of the original French settlers of Lower Canada. This charter is unlikely to touch the Catholic Church in Quebec, just other religions. France is not and never has been 'multicultural'. 
  5. The rest of Canada view the Quebec law as an unusual and unwelcome law, not in keeping with multiculturalism but with purely political motivation. It appears to be meant to win an election rather than actually become law because it has been proposed so late in the government's life. The French equivalent was proposed early in the life of the government.
  6. In Canada, the charter is unconstitutional according to many legal experts. In France, it is not.
I like the idea of secular government, but I am not holding my breath. I am waiting for someone to be fined for a dog collar or a nun's habit in either country. I don't get around much but I can't remember seeing any nuns in habits in the 7 years I have been in France. Maybe the Church is not pushing its luck. However, I would be very surprised if there were no such nuns. And I would be surprised if they were stopped by police for wearing a habit. I doubt that the police would want to push their luck either. Probably we have an old and quiet truce. However, I find the idea that Muslim head scarfs are somehow 'in your face' but the headgear of nuns in not, very telling.

French intervention
Before the Russia-US plan took intervention in Syria off the table, I was a bit surprised when newspapers and magazines started calling Hollande 'Obama's new puddle'. It implied that France was following an American led, and my impression was that France had been trying to whip up an invasion of Syria for some time. I ran across this description:
“France has been a fierce Assad regime critic since the civil war began. French President Francois Hollande said on Friday that a military strike on Syria could come by the following Wednesday. He told the daily newspaper Le Monde that he supported taking "firm" punitive action over the alleged chemical attack near Damascus and said he would work closely with France's allies. After reports of the attack, French Foreign Minister Laurent Fabius said the situation could be handled "in other ways" than through the UN Security Council. France was the first Western power to back the Syrian National Coalition as the Syrian people's legitimate representative. In May, France and Britain successfully campaigned for the EU's arms embargo to be lifted in order to supply rebel fighters.”
That fits with my memory – first France, then Britain and then America were trying to pull the rest of the world into action. Britain sort of fell back when parliament would not back the government on it. Then the Americans backed off. But France was still a bit hawkish but now kept a low profile. The Russians had to send someone to convince the France that invasion was not on.
Why would France be so eager to attack Syria? I have a theory. France is often militarily involved in former colonies and protectorates, in fact, that is where almost all of its military effort goes. It is like they think, “if anyone needs to help (or to discipline) one of our former empire members, it should be us.” They seem anxious to get in there before anyone else does. For an otherwise peaceful country, the French army spends a lot of time and effort in African former colonies. Syria was their protectorate.
Perhaps the British do the same and I just don't recognize it as much. Russia is certainly ready to step in with any former member of the USSR. Empires take a long time to completely disappear.

As well as saying 'no' to genetically modified organisms, France has now said 'no' to fracking. The constitutional Council has validated the law that bans the use of fracking hydraulics to explore or exploit petroleum and shale gas. The law had been challenged by the Schuepbach company of Texas with two mining licenses in southern France. The law canceled their licenses.
The company argued that geothermal hydraulic fracturing was not covered and therefore oil and gas fracking was being discriminated against. The court said, "The drilling methods differ both in the number of wells required, by the nature of rocks subjected to hydraulic fracturing, as well as the characteristics and conditions of the products added to the water."
The company also argued that there was a restriction on freedom of undertaking, breach of the rights of ownership and an unjustified use of the precautionary principle. These were dismissed. The court believed that the legislature "has pursued an objective of general interest to protect the environment."
The oil lobby is busy trying to get the various political parties to change their stand on fracking.
Another bill that has been passed with support from most parties is a ban on Amazon and other on-line booksellers practicing bulk discounts and free shipping. Amazon immediately said it was illegal to regulate the price of books under European competition law and to fix a market to the detriment of one player. But France had an 'out', the cultural exception, under which France can have subsidies, quotas, tax breaks etc. that support the French culture. The view in parliament and the general public is that the free market won't protect the French language and culture and so the state must do so. For 30 years this has worked well. But on-line marketing has taken its toll. The government has criticized Amazon in the past and this may be payback for Amazon reporting all European sales through a Luxembourg holding company to avoid French corporation tax, and for the free delivery. Amazon replies that it is legal. The French say the Amazon's view of the free market is not the French view. The French government has a duty to protect small towns and villages but protecting their local stores which they consider essential to preserve the culture of small villages. Britain and France used to have about the same number of small independent book stores but now Britain has only a third of the French number.

France has unequal education
The PISA survey has just been published (International Program of Student Assessment). The situation looks like the French schools are not made for all as they are supposed to be. They are made for the elite and neglect less privileged children. This round focused on mathematics in 15 year olds. France came in 25th out of 65 countries. It had an average score for one of the 34 OECD countries. This is not what France is feeling shocked about. The problem is that if only students from advantaged backgrounds are counted France would be 13th and if only the disadvantaged students were counted it would go down 20 places to 33rd. This gap has never been greater for France.
Too many students do not have sufficient skills to pursue studies and participate in society in a productive way. The numbers and skill level of the elite have remained static while the scores went down for the bottom group. The gap is widening. This inequality is most striking for mathematics rather than science and language. Other countries have made good progress in creating more equality but France has falling the other way.
France must follow the led of several Asian countries, Germany, Italy, Poland and Turkey and change priorities so that resources go where they are needed, giving more to those who start with less, according to the OECD spokesperson. This is especially true for children from immigrant families. For them, even after correction for socio-economic background, they show math scores substantially lower than non-immigrant children, almost the equivalent of a lost of a whole year of study. There is even a lowering in second generation immigrant families.
What are the problems? There was a questionnaire with the monitoring. It is not disliking math as France students are more than average interested in math. There is an anxiety, lack of confidence, lack of perseverance in the face of problems. This anxiety is more prevalent in children with disadvantaged backgrounds. This anxiety is also higher in girls rather boys and with math specifically.
The government has pointed out that it has been working on this problem and will continue to attack this inequality. People may not have confidence in this response. The programs for primary schools are under review and this time (unlike a previous reform) teachers are being asked for their opinions. Teachers are not happy and the government is recognizing this. This is the third redesign of programs in 10 years. The 2008 programs are were especially poor – too heavy, too technical, too old fashioned – and have been challenged on the form and substance. Also the school year has been shortened and at the same time whole areas added (computers, history of arts, civic/moral ed, road safety, more foreign languages, etc.) Actual education has been added to kindergarten which many feel is detrimental to the point of kindergarten which is socialization. These shifts in content, style and expectations have been very hard on teachers.
The 'going back' in time seems to me similar to what is happening in the UK under Gove, against great opposition from teachers, and may have to be reversed as is now happening in France. But the turning back to older times is reassuring to the public – they like the idea but not the result. It seems especially popular with conservative voters.

French snub of Google
The French Minister of Culture, Aurelie Filippetti, canceled her inauguration of The Google Cultural Institute, and sent a junior minister instead to do the honours. Some think this was just a little way to point out that the French have a beef with Google. They are not going to be 'bought' with the world's physical home for the Institute even if their best museums along with the rest of the world's best museums are involved in the project. Google seemed to think that France would like them more if the Institute building was in Paris. But the French government does not like companies that don't pay taxes in France by legal sleights of hand. And they make that clear whenever they have an opportunity. They also disapprove of that they call cultural predation. For example it is annoying that a user has to have a Google email account in order to use the Institute's on-line facilities. This is in light of the information that Google stores on g-mail users and the inroads into the business of email services such of Wannado. They also disagree with Google about how to interpret piracy and copyright. France is not happy with companies that use an American interpretation in a European context – it really, really annoys them. It is obvious that the Minister was going to do the inauguration until her cabinet colleagues asked her to distance herself from Google. “Despite the quality of the projects concerned, I don't wish to appear as a guarantee for an operation that still raises a certain number of questions.”, she said to explain her last minute withdrawal.