Attack on a teacher in France: why the murder of Samuel Paty undermines the country’s national identity


The attack on Professor Samuel Paty in the Parisian suburb of Conflans-Sainte-Honorine last week has been a shocking moment for France.Our school, the British School of Paris, is only ten kilometers from the school where the incident took place and it was obviously deeply upsetting for everyone to hear about it.

Indeed, the outpouring of national mourning it has provoked shows how education is considered one of the pillars of French society and how much it represents a huge part of what it means to be French.

Certainly in rural areas but also in most urban areas, teachers have a revered status and therefore the attack really strikes at the heart of France and its key principle of separation of religion from state – with education at the heart of it.

The scourge of terrorism

As the attack took place on the Friday evening of the two-week semester of the public school system in France, educators still have not had the opportunity to officially mark the incident and pay tribute to Mr. Paty.

This will undoubtedly happen once we get back and although we are an international school, we take inspiration from the Ministry of National Education (Ministry of National Education) and therefore if a minute of silence is held, we will of course honor it.

At our school, we are not yet halfway through, but we have not had a chance to get together as a school to talk about the incident among staff or students that we may have had at more usual times.

Overall, however, there is clearly a sense of shock and sadness to the attack. So anyway we can pay tribute, we will when the time is right.

Another sad chapter

The sad reality, this attack is another unwanted chapter in the recent history of the terrorist attacks in France, leaving even deeper scars in the national psyche.

Since the Charlie Hebdo attacks, the country has felt the tension escalate between how society balances core French values ​​of freedom, freedom of expression, and separation of church and state and, as indicated, education is a key component.

This means that there was an underlying fear that schools could one day be the target of an attack.

For example, after the Bataclan attack, we saw a marked increase in the number of soldiers patrolling the streets and registering at schools like ours. Like many schools, we increased our investments in our safety to make sure everyone was as safe as possible.

Of course, this is not unique to France, as many countries unfortunately know all too well the devastation caused by these attacks and the impact they have on a nation.

The role of teachers

The latest attack, however, is another reminder that just as French society believes these atrocities are becoming a thing of the past, new is being committed.

This time it was the fact that a teacher was the target that really shocked so many people. Mr. Paty posthumously received the Legion of Honor, among other reasons, to highlight the importance of educators and their freedom to teach as central to the country’s sense of identity.

All in all, this is another national and human tragedy for France and one that has undoubtedly affected teachers deeply – wherever they are in the world.

Nicholas Hammond is the hdirector of the British School of Paris


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