Segregated schools: The most pressing issue in Quebec

The year is 2012 and Quebec’s schools are segregated.

Most of the people seeking to lead Quebec this year not only plan on keeping existing segregation, but making it more comprehensive.
The Parti Québecois, in keeping with their operating principle that Quebec society is constantly under siege by ‘les autres’, has proposed, amongst other draconian measures, that Francophone and Allophone Québecois must attend Francophone CÉGEPs, barring them from attending the five Anglophone counterparts.

As you might expect, the justification for such invasive and autocratic maneuvers is that they think too many students are attending said institutions, which presents a clear and present danger to the long-term viability of the French language in Quebec.

What they’re not saying is that all this is based on the assumption that the French language and culture of Quebec is in fact threatened at all. There’s no objective information or statistical data to back up their claims, but no worries, the PQ has an answer for that.

They say it’s hard to measure, and they claim data proving the opposite is flawed or insist that we’ll be assimilated if we don’t act now. They say that it’s just part of their larger plan, which includes hiring many more people to work at the Office Québecoise de la Langue Francaise (the language police).

They’re using the politics of fear, which works with an unenlightened electorate. Curious, given that accessible post-secondary education is designed specifically to broaden horizons, heighten critical thinking skills, and enlighten the masses. If I didn’t know any better it seems to me that this is a very well thought out plan designed specifically to limit the educational opportunities of Québec’s post-secondary students.

The Anglophone CÉGEPs have comparatively large Francophone and Allophone student populations—some will lose substantial numbers if this goes through, enough perhaps to force school closures. For example, Vanier, Champlain Regional, and Heritage colleges may have no choice but to close, and this in turn will only serve to limit opportunities for Anglophones living outside Montreal.

On the other side, Francophones and Allophones who did their primary and secondary schooling in French (as the law stipulates) will in turn not be able to freely choose which language they wish to be educated in at the collegial and university level. Not only would this plan limit access to all three groups, but we must remind ourselves that we are restricting the choices of adult students—voters. These are people who are expected to enter a competitive and global job market in which multi-lingual proficiency is a major asset.

So let’s see. The plan is punitive and restrictive, it may cause both school closures and subsequent over-crowding (which could eliminate post-secondary opportunities for Anglophones outside Montreal), and will further serve to prevent students from pursuing instruction outside their mother tongue. This will only serve to handicap future generations of Franco-Québecois and Allophone students, and in my opinion this will be detrimental to our economic viability and strength.

Unlike the imaginary threats to the linguistic and cultural stability of seven million French-speaking Québecois, this is a threat to the socio-cultural viability of the Anglo-Québecois minority, and will further entrench the group as third-class citizens.

Perhaps worst of all, extending official educational segregation into the realm of the CEGEPs further discourages inter-cultural dialogue between the two minorités-majoritaires and pushes a state-sponsored opinion that Quebec society and culture is defiantly monolithic. Does PQ leader Pauline Marois expect this will encourage higher rates of immigration? I should think not.

And what’s the root cause of this bullshit? School Segregation. Public education at the primary and secondary levels is linguistically and socio-economically segregated in Québec. Bill 101, the legislation defining the place and role of French in Québec society dictates that all Francophone and Allophone children attending mandatory public schools be educated in French. Students whose parents were educated in English in Québec may attend an Anglophone school.

But if an Anglophone parent sends their child to French public school, the child loses the right to choose later on.

As you might expect, this has resulted in shrinking Anglophone school boards and multiple school closures, while the Francophone school boards are generally over-crowded and lack the funds to build new schools. Years of vicious political vitriol have made it nearly impossible for the diverse boards to coordinate between each other to solve their inter-related problems. Not too long ago, a proposal to share space in older urban schools to prevent closure (and sustain public education in the City of Montreal) was rebuffed by the PQ-allied Francophone teacher union. ‘Impossible, it would never work’ it was said.

Not unless you have money of course. It shouldn’t surprise you either that increasing numbers of middle and upper class parents simply send their children to the growing number of private schools which, as you might expect, can easily teach both languages and guarantee fluency in both by high-school graduation. A few suburban Anglophone boards are permitted to offer French immersion programs for Anglophone students so as to make them officially bilingual (such was my case), but English immersion for French students is forbidden. Thus, linguistic and socio-economic segregation.

It disturbs me to no end that this year, like every other election year, our apparent leaders refuse to acknowledge that the children of tomorrow should not grow up with their parent’s prejudices, and that they should be given every opportunity to excel wildly.

Children can be taught two languages at once, and doing so simply makes them far smarter than unilingual children. They’re also more open, accepting of differences. It would remove the impetus to send so many children to private schools, which in turn could foster greater societal egalitarianism. Not to mention it would further allow school boards to be united, resources and costs to be streamlined and further guarantee North America’s only predominantly bilingual workforce.

Suffice it to say that ending public school segregation in Quebec may have long term and lasting positive effects on the entirety of our society, and may help us put some of the unending political issues of our day finally to rest.

But until we acknowledge this root problem, we’re stuck living in the past, in a world looking to the future for our salvation. There’s a point at which being independently-minded dives off into petty obstructionism and obstinate, self-centered isolation. If I have anything to fear it is that we crossed that line so long ago we have no chance of ever finding it again, and the world will push on without us.

*Photos from Wikipedia under Creative Commons license

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