Penal Issues (2006->) septembre 2004

LEAVING SCHOOL, A NEW FORM OF JUVENILE DEVIANCE ?

par Maryse ESTERLE-HEDIBEL,

Maryse ESTERLE-HEDIBEL, researcher at the CESDIP and lecturer at the Institut Universitaire de Formation des Maîtres (teacher training school) of the Nord-Pas-de-Calais Region, discusses her research findings on "School-leaving before age 16, a study of processes (Roubaix, Nord)". The study was conducted between 2001 and 2003 in response to a call to tender by the French Ministry of Education, the Justice Department, the Délégation interministérielle à la Ville (a government agency promoting urban reform) and the FASILD (Fonds d’aide et de soutien pour l’intégration et la lutte contre les discriminations, a fund favouring integration and anti-discrimination policies). Financing : FASILD, Nord-Pas-de-Calais region and CESDIP.

Although the question of truancy and dropping out is as old as public schools themselves, it is now viewed as a major social problem and tends to be formulated increasingly in the terms of the debate on security and fear of crime. With secondary education now extended to the masses, the goal being to have 80% of each generation reach the high school diploma (baccalauréat) level and all students at least a BEP or CAP level (according to the 1989 guidelines), dropping out before age 16 becomes all the more visible. The truth is that the consequences of dropping out are more serious today than they were when there was practically full employment and many youths left school without any diploma but had no difficulty in finding a job. To be employed nowadays, a relatively high qualification is required, and the social and vocational prospects of students who quit school without a diploma and/or before age 16 are quite poor. Moreover, dropping out is viewed as all but a problem of law and order, if not to say of public safety : what becomes of youngsters who are not in school, and therefore not under control ? Are they at risk of becoming delinquents, or exposed to dealings of all sorts, as they roam the streets, unprotected ? Are their parents accomplices, and therefore liable to sanctions for allowing their children to lack assiduity or drop out of school ? The dropping out scene is transferred, then, from schools to the (deprived) neighbourhood, with truant or dropout youths labelled as belonging to those "dangerous classes" requiring closer control. In the 1980s, the theme of academic failure was replaced by dropping out which is at the intersection of three assumptions, closely entangled in the public debate : growing fear of crime and insecurity, increasing and increasingly young juvenile delinquency, and the extension of "violence" of all sorts. In public debate and in institutional discourse, attention then focused on the psycho-social characteristics of young dropouts, so as to identify one or several typical profiles, with emphasis on "deliberate" exits and on the student’s individual responsibility for the process, which raises the question of "maladjustment" to school.

 

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