We, parents of students at the French high school in Turin, denounce the barbaric act of a fanatic who took the life of a teacher, in order to suppport our institution which transmits the values of secularism and freedom expression. We are united with the teachers in pain.
Letter to teachers (Jean Jaurès, 1888)
You hold the intelligence and soul of children in your hands; you are responsible for the homeland. The children in your care will not only have to write and decipher a letter, read a sign on a street corner, add and multiply. They are French and they must know France, its geography and its history: its body and its soul. They will be citizens and they must know what a free democracy is, what rights confers on them, what duties the sovereignty of the nation imposes on them. Finally they will be men, and they must have an idea of man, they must know what is the root of all our miseries: selfishness in multiple forms; what is the principle of our greatness: pride united with tenderness.
They must be able to picture to themselves in broad outline the human species taming little by little the brutalities of nature and the brutalities of instinct, and that they disentangle the main elements of this extraordinary work which is called civilization. . We must show them the greatness of thought; we must teach them respect and worship of the soul by awakening in them the feeling of the infinite which is our joy, and also our strength, because it is through it that we will triumph over evil, darkness and of death. What! All this to children! –
Yes, all of that, if you don’t want to just make spelling machines. I know what the difficulties of the task are. You keep your schoolchildren for a few years and they are not always diligent, especially in the countryside. They forget the little they learned about the summer in the winter. They often have, on leaving school, deep relapses of ignorance and laziness of mind, and I would pity those of you who have great ambition for the education of the children of the people, if this great ambition did not require great courage. […]
Knowing how to read well, the schoolboy, who is very curious, would very quickly, with seven or eight books chosen, an idea, very general, it is true, but very high on the history of the human species, on the structure of the world, of the earth’s own history in the world, of France’s own role in humanity. The master must intervene to help this first work of the mind; he doesn’t have to say a lot, he doesn’t have to do long lessons; it suffices that all the details he gives them clearly add up to an overall picture.
From what we know from primitive man to man today, what a prodigious transformation! and how easy it is for the teacher, in a few lines, to make the child feel the incredible effort of human thought! […] So I say to the teachers, to summarize myself: when on the one hand you have taught the children to read thoroughly, and when, on the other hand, in a few familiar and serious talks, you have spoken to them about the great things that interest human thought and conscience, you will have done without difficulty in a few years the complete work of educators. In every intelligence there will be a peak, and on that day many things will change. ”