Mirages of the colonial school

What were the motivations of the French colonizers in opening schools in the Maghreb and Africa?? This study, serious despite some shortcomings, shows how the superiority complex ended up sweeping away the meritocratic ideal and dreams of diversity.

Colonial school is a serious and useful summation on the history of the French colonial school. The problem is posed from the introduction: what were the motivations of the colonizers in opening these schools?? Part or illusion of Christian philanthropy, republican humanism, meritocratic ideal? The work demonstrates that these currents, indisputable at the beginning of history, will gradually break down under the pressure of racial superiority increasingly deployed within the framework of European colonization, based on a desire to dominate the populations of the Empire.

The rise of racism

Carole Reynaud-Paligot's work follows the chronological development of the increasingly accentuated divorce between school and racism, divided into phases delimited by successive colonial policies: the promising beginnings, with the lasting illusion of fusion of racesdear Faidherbe in French West Africa (AOF) then Jules Ferry in Algeria. The latter chose, for a moment, to favor the Kabyle experience of modernizing a school unworthy public and non-denominational Arab-French.

These ideas are relentlessly undermined as the increased presence of settlers, then the arrival of their families under the Third Republic, opposes the trends progressive of arab kingdom civilization still alive under the Second Empire. Algeria then becomes the republican laboratory of this demotion in relation to a possible diversity racial in primary and secondary education. In the colonies, the almost exclusive objective of practical and professional education reserved for the natives triumphed. African resistance to this trend is especially active in Senegal, thanks to the presence of the four communes under French law since 1917.

In the 1930s, the continuation of the rise and peak of scientific racismthe conviction is strong, among French officials, of the psychological determinism limiting the intellectual capacities of the colonized. All this, which it is important to couple with the later work of Delphine Peiretti-Courtis on the making of racial prejudice specifying the context scientist of the period, is supported by extensive and solid documentation.

Tintin in the Congo, original edition (later redacted).

Interest and gaps

The flow of the work is quite descriptive, but the common thread is solid and constantly followed. The French players in educational policy are very well presented and characterized. We would have liked to know more about African actors, even if the task is more difficult. There were many of them AOF and in Senegal and their role was not negligible. Everything related to XIXe century is exciting and often new; THE XXe century suffers a little from being better known.

The study begins with Senegal recovered from the British in 1816. We could have wished for a few words on what preceded it, since the French settled in Saint-Louis du Senegal in the middle of the XVIIe century and that generations of Creole city dwellers settled there. So we weren't starting from nothing.

The most in-depth parts of the work concern theAOF since its beginnings, Algeria and secondarily Tunisia in North Africa and, in a less detailed way from an archival point of view, Indochina and Madagascar. On the other hand, French Quatorial Africa, whose destitute appearance contrasts with the efforts made in AOF, is only allowed half a page (p. 336). However, there are quite a few thesis works on the issue in France, as well as in Gabon and the Congo.

The book is both very rudimentary and disarming with certain gaps. The footnotes are numerous and precise, but nothing is said about the research method and sources. Passed for the absence of bibliography at the end of the volume, since the footnotes remedy this. On the other hand, the absence of a table of acronyms leaves the reader guessing where the archives come from, numerous and useful, but with elliptical references for the uninitiated. We find indifferently CAOM (Overseas Archives Center, which has become for several years ANOMlocated in Aix-en-Provence), but also, less intelligible, references to the Fund RSTNF/ Indo or even Mi obviously from the microfilms of the Archives of Senegal duplicates Paris. In short, a summary presentation of the archive funds consulted, obviously numerous, would have been welcome for the somewhat disconcerted reader.

On the other hand, the works are well listed, even if some classics are missing, such as the old, but still unequaled, book by G. Wilson Johnson on Senegal or the work of Pascale Barthlmy on the “Ecole Normale des Filles de Rufisque”. The multiple reports resulting from the conferences held during the International Colonial Exhibition of 1931 are hardly mentioned, and that of the Guernut commission launched by the Popular Front, no more explicit. That said, the documentation is generally complete and solid.

The result is a serious synthesis, essential for any historian of colonization. It stopped in 1940, when the colonized began to deracialize their educational system.