Podcast: Teaching French values, Covid in the Pyrenees and the Plague in Marseille

Audio 29:19
Spotlight on France episode 41
Spotlight on France episode 41 © RFI

As France reels from the brutal murder of teacher Samuel Paty, teachers weigh in on their role in transmitting French values, notably laïcité. A visit to a town in the Pyrenees Orientales, which until recently was something of a Covid-free haven. And the fateful day in November 1347 when the Black Death docked in Marseille.


Teachers were understandably shaken by the beheading of Samuel Paty, and it's raised questions on how to talk about freedom of speech and expression in class. One of the fundamental roles of French public school is to transmit French values to students, and many teachers see that as part of their job. But there is sometimes a disconnect between the way a value like laïcité, or secularism, is defined on paper and the shape it takes outside school. Teachers have to reconcile that. Rachid Zerrouki (@rachidowsky13) who teaches in a special education section of a middle school in Marseille, and wrote about his experience in the book Les incasables, shares his thoughts on teaching laïcité to his students. And Julie Van Rechem (@Chouyo), a history teacher in Paris, talks about walking a fine line when showing her students the controversial Charlie Hebdo caricatures. (Listen @0'00")

The small, picturesque town of Céret down in the south west corner of France came through this Spring's first coronavirus wave virtually unscathed and continued enjoying the blue skies, mount Canigou and proudly celebrating its Catalan culture. But as the number of infections has risen dramatically in the Pyrénees-Orientales départment to which it belongs, it now has a night time curfew and its bars and cafés are closed. Local people are struggling to accept the restrictions but determined to carry on connecting to one another. (Listen @18'10'')

In April, France's health chief, Jérôme Salomon, compared the Covid-19 pandemic to the 1347 Black Death pandemic in Europe. It's a heavy comparison because the plague ended up killing, by some accounts, up to half the continent's population. It came in via Marseille, on 1 November 1347, and spread from there, before quarantining was introduced. (Listen @15'25'')

This episode was mixed by Cécile Pompéani.

Spotlight on France is a podcast from Radio France International. Find us on iTunes (link here)Google podcasts (link here), on Spotify (link here), or your favourite podcast app.

Daily newsletterReceive essential international news every morning