The school for freedom, against obscurantism

October 23, 2021

(Open letter to the media by two Ministers of Education)

As several media outlets around the world have recently reported, children’s books, including Tintin and Lucky Luke, were burned and then buried in Ontario, Canada, in a “cleansing by fire ceremony” because they portrayed a negative and erroneous image of indigenous peoples”.

For too long we have witnessed the excesses of the ‘cancel culture’, an ideology and method imported directly from certain American university campuses and which is far removed from the values of respect and tolerance on which our democracies are based. The banning of personalities, shows and conferences, the harassment on social media, the censorship, the subjugation of science to ideology, the erasure of history and even the burning of books are all assaults on freedom of expression and civic sense, which take us back to the most obscurantist times of our Western societies.

Through its excesses and outrages, this movement constitutes a fertile ground for all the extremes that threaten the cohesion of our societies. The refusal to question one’s beliefs and certainties, to be confronted with or even just exposed to opposing points of view, bears witness to a worrying decline in the democratic spirit. What is the source of this growing discomfort with debate and dialogue, which are at the heart of our deliberations as citizens, and therefore of our democracy? What is the cause of this loss of reference points, which leaves our fellow citizens vulnerable to radical currents stemming from a deleterious militancy that is out of touch with our realities? This phenomenon affects France as much as Quebec.

Faced with this observation, it is more necessary than ever to reflect on the role of education in democracy. We have a duty to prepare our youth to exercise an active, respectful and enlightened citizenship. A citizenship that leaves room for debate, for the opinions of others, for the confrontation of ideas and for the questioning of all our beliefs.

Without a counterweight to the pernicious influence of the culture of intolerance and erasure, the democratic values – freedom of expression, equality, secularism – that bind us together will inevitably be weakened. The erosion of the pact that unites the national community is at stake.

As France’s Minister of National Education, Youth and Sports and Quebec’s Minister of Education, we want to guarantee young people a common foundation of knowledge, skills and principles based on universal values. We want to preserve this foundation on which our democratic societies are built.

This is why we strongly and convincingly affirm that school, the primary bulwark against ignorance and obscurantism, must be the privileged place for the construction of a common shared civic project.

Quebec and France will organise a meeting of young people to debate these issues alongside intellectuals. We must fight at all costs against the radicalisation of positions and against the culture of intolerance and erasure. We must continue to fight for democratic dialogue as a form of peaceful civic conversation that cannot exist without freedom of opinion and expression.

It is not by renouncing who we are or ignoring where we come from, as the ‘killers of memory’ profess, that we can celebrate progress and look to the future.

Jean-Michel Blanquer


Jean-François Roberge

*** Translated with and verified by Michel Virard

Michel Virard