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Emma Novak '22

Reform, Religion, and Republicanism? The "Three Rs" of Education in Third Republic France

The French Third Republic (1870-1940), following France’s defeat in the Franco-Prussian War (1870-1871), made primary school students and instructors into the unlikely protagonists of a state nationalization campaign. In the 1880s, Minister of Education Jules Ferry overhauled education policies across the French empire through the “Ferry Laws.” In France, secularization, enforced through education, reshaped rural tradition by removing the Catholic Church as a form of social mooring. In French colonial Algeria, schooling reinforced the colonial power structure and demonstrated French bias against Muslim students, while also reflecting tensions between French settlers and the state. In each locale, families and municipal administrations questioned and countered the state through active and passive resistance while evaluating the consequences of the Ferry Laws for their lives. Ferry’s stated goals for primary education belied an implicit national agenda evidenced by the execution of education policies in different settings.