black hussars or the famous metaphysics of progress

In L’Argent, which he published in 1913 , Charles Peguy recalls his childhood, when he was a pupil in an elementary school which adjoined the “normal” school of teachers in Orleans (South West of Paris). The story begins in 1879.

After the victory of the Republicans, the “Paul Bert” law redefines the “normal” schools founded by Guizot (Louis-Philippe’s minister of education) in 1833. The teachers-trainees taught at Peguy’s school. Peguy described them in these famous terms: “Our young masters were beautiful as black hussars. Slender , tough , strapped , serious and a little trembling in their early and sudden omnipotence.” “Black hussars ! And, indeed , their uniform was very dark , from the shoes to the cap, a civic uniform.” Peguy added that they ” were really the children of the Republic , the infants of the Republic , the black hussars of the severity.” Black Hussars, the cavalry squadron formed in 1793 by the young French Republic, the soldiers of the Year II !

The term “black hussar” will stay and qualifies those who, in the third or the fourth French republic, incarnates the civic mission of educating the people. They are the main stakeholders of the free and compulsory secular education that Jules Ferry laws introduced in the 1880s. All children from France , aged from 6 to 11 benefit from this instruction. Meantime, the labour is allowed for young people older than 12. Others young people can stay at school after obtaining their “certificate of primary studies” (at 11), but they are really few and high school students, as college students, are a tiny minority .

The key education, then , is given in these elementary schools by male teachers and , from the beginning, by female teachers. These teachers are officials showing a moral authority even if they are not rich. And they are part of the Republican elite.

As “normal” schools of teachers are departmental, teachers-trainees have the same social origins than the pupils they will teach. Sons (or daughters) of workers, of small farmers , of small landowners, throughout France , they begin to climb the social ladder without moving further from those around them. In three decades , the French population evolves quickly, gets urbanized, reaches an increasing life expectancy. The French language imposed itself against dialects and languages ​​, sometimes forcibly. Dechristianization gets broader, the general level of education grows rapidly, while the masters embody the project of secularization and “a positivist metaphysics.” ” It was, Peguy says , the famous metaphysics of progress .”

Peguy added in 1879 that “teachers were always ready to shout ” Vive la Republique ! Vive la Nation !”, that they would have shouted so even under the Prussian saber. Because for us, confusingly, the enemy, the whole enemy, the evil spirit, was the Prussians . It was already not so stupid . Nor so far from the truth. That was in 1880. This is 1913. Thirty-three years later. And we returned to this feeling.” End of quote.

In 1914, these teachers go to the front with the pupils they have trained. They pay the same toll as other French to their homeland.


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