Public education’s third life ? The 1990 – 2000 revival

by Frédéric Chateigner, lecturer in political science at University Institute of Technology (IUT), Tours

“Public education is resurging”: this observation is omnipresent yet does not qualify the rhythm of the comeback, nor its general rules. Professor Chateigner proposes to examine the three key moments of the revival of public education. In the years leading up to this revival, it appears that the public education movement is conceived as finished, though unfulfilled.

The first interval extends from 1995 to 2002. As of 1996, three initiatives ensure the revitalization of the public education movement: 1) the “public education” program launched by the city of Strasbourg; 2) a series of conferences at the Sorbonne university, followed by the Offre publique de réflexion (OPR) task force on public education organized by the Ministry of Youth and Sports (MJS); 3) the establishment of the ATTAC foundation as a public education movement. With regard to the first initiative, it is the entire region of Alsace that supports the municipal efforts of Strasbourg (the region’s capital); this territory is fertile ground for the development of the public education movement. As for the second program, the MJS offered its facilities – Fédération française des maisons des jeunes et de la culture – to the movement; however, these centers functioned with little visibility. Finally, the ATTAC association – for a public education movement eager to act – was founded by Bernard Cassen, the former director of Le Monde diplomatique. Cassen attempted to reconcile the academic world from which he stemmed with the public education movement, making a case for political involvement and interest. ATTAC, which was born shortly after the Plural Left’s conception, serves as a “political amateur space” for open conversation.

In addition to these impassioned initiatives, the movement benefited from the support of prominent political leaders, namely Catherine Trautmann, mayor of Strasbourg, and Marie-George Buffet. Buffet, Ministry of Youth and Sports and member of the communist party, is eager to expand her Ministry’s field of action from sports to a social movement, and thus in favor of the public education movement. Trautmann’s agenda gives priority to the development of public education in underprivileged neighborhoods. However, this first wave of regeneration is short lived. The Strasbourg program is terminated after the defeat of the socialist party in 2001 in municipal elections. Both the Strasbourg and MJS programs did not gain much traction and failed to make the most of their resources.

As a result, the public education movement came at a standstill on a local and national level. The movement persists in certain regions where the left is in power, for example in Meurthe-et-Moselle, Pyrénées-Atlantiques, Finistère, and Paris. This network of isolated efforts principally consisted of discussions with public education associations, and never amounted to the articulation of a doctrine (as did the OPR) or criticism regarding the movement. Furthermore, interest in re-launching the OPR was expressed: 1) with the added “social” dimension, the “Offre civile de réflexion sur l’éducation populaire” within the “Education populaire et transformation sociale” group, which gathers professionals in the youth-education and cultural sectors, hailing from communist-lead regions. This group met between 2004 and 2007, and though short-lived, its legacy remains on its associated website updated with radical perspectives on public education.
2) with the extension of the OPR through the CNAJEP (Comité pour les relations Nationales et internationales des Associations de Jeunesse et d’Education Populaire) in 2002. This initiative establishes a “charter on public education” which is adopted in 2005. This publication prompts an increase in interest with regard to public education, despite a common arena to discuss the movement’s future.

Following the departure of Cassen in 2002, tension grew within ATTAC between advocates of a cartel-organization and those of an association with independent bodies. Internal instabilities led to the departure of Cassen’s successor, Jacques Nikonoff, and surfaced as diverse leftist voices when the time came to elect a new president in 2007. However, simultaneously to these struggles, new public education movements emerged, namely the UP (Université populaire) de Caen group, which acted in support of university reforms. Thus, between 2006 and 2007, the third revival initiative embodied by the ATTAC organization, came to a severe halt. Subsequently, two sub-groups within the ATTAC legacy were formed. The first claimed the necessary partnership with politics, through a repolitization of artistic productions in cultural policy (Cassandre/Horschamp magazine, or even Michel Onfray’s UP Caen initiative). In 2008, Nikonoff established the Political Movement of public education (M’PEP), a partisan (left) political force. The Left Front (Front de Gauche) abundantly relied on public education movement during its campaign in 2012 presidential elections. In 2013, the M’PEP is renamed the Political movement for public emancipation.

The second subgroup was more reticent to engage with politics: the “I love éduc pop” (diminutive of “public education”) and “100% éduc’ pop” movements. founded in 2009 and led by Mikaël Garnier-Levalley, exemplified the youthful, humorous, and community-based orientation of the ecumenical subgroup. Other movements include the Jeudi Noir, Génération précaire, and Act’up, as well as new unions (CFDTS, Fédération des associations générales étudiantes). This second subgroup approaches with caution a redefinition of the historical understanding of “public education”. Furthermore, a new proposal to increase government participation in the revitalization of the movement is made: Garnier-Levalley serves as a consultant to the Ministry of Youth, Sports and Associative life.

As such, Chateigner studies the evolution of the term “public education” most notably throughout a period of revitalization efforts led between 1990 and the early 2000s.