Social and minority historian Pap Ndiaye is Macron’s surprise education pick

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Pap Ndiaye, a historian specializing in minorities who currently runs the Museum of the History of Immigration in Paris, is President Emmanuel Macron’s surprise choice to head France’s education ministry.

While most of the top ministerial posts in Macron’s new cabinet that aims to bring the government to legislative elections next month have gone according to script, Ndiaye’s appointment came as a surprise to most observers.

His appointment continues a tradition for Macron of taking on prominent French figures outside politics to head ministries, having named star defense lawyer Eric Dupond-Moretti justice minister in 2020.

Ndiaye is a historian with an international profile, specializing in the social history of the United States and minorities, who was appointed last year to head the Museum of Immigration History.

He will now have to put all his experience and knowledge at the service of the new challenge of national education, which has experienced strong tensions in recent years between his predecessor, Jean-Michel Blanquer, and teachers.

Born outside Paris to a Senegalese father and a French mother, Ndiaye was for many years a professor at the elite Sciences Po university in Paris.

“In the field of history, he is someone who has been innovative and able to show a new way of apprehending the past,” said historian Pascal Blanchard.

“He’s a teacher who knows what it’s like to be in front of a class of students,” he told AFP, adding: “In a diverse society, it’s important to have someone who is attentive to diversity”.

“Field of possibilities”

Ndiaye first gained national prominence with his 2008 book “The Black Condition, an Essay on a French Minority”.

“My goal was to provide arguments and knowledge as robust as possible to young people who lack solid references,” he explained to AFP in March 2021, when he took up his post at the immigration museum.

“It felt like part of my role as a teacher to provide those basics,” he said.

He said at the time that his appointment to the museum should open “the field of possibilities” to young “non-whites”, while stressing that his appointment was due to a long career as an academic.

“I am not blind and do not turn my back on matters of symbol. I also apply the same to the color of my skin.”

In 2019, he was a consultant for an exhibition at the Musée d’Orsay in Paris on black models, and in 2020 he co-wrote a report on diversity at the Paris Opera.

His sister is the eminent French novelist and playwright Marie Ndiaye.

Some on the French left have reacted with astonishment that the famous historian of social change is now in government.

“I’m amazed. I didn’t see it at all in there,” said Alexis Corbiere of the far-left France Unbowed party. He said the “media stunt” would not defuse anger within the French education system.

The SNES-FSU, the main union for secondary school teachers, hailed Ndiaye’s appointment “as a break with Jean-Michel Blanquer in more ways than one”.

But he also warned that education “is not ruled by symbols alone” and that quick responses were needed “especially in terms of salaries”.


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