Let’s Think About the Future

So it looks like the over-loaded Commission scolaire de Montréal (CSDM) has asked the struggling English Montreal School Board (EMSB) if a ‘co-habitation’ initiative, wherein two of the province’s largest school boards will seek to actually put students in the segregated language streams in close proximity with one another, is feasible. The plan would be to run French schools in the excess space of EMSB schools in the city and first-ring suburbs, allowing Anglophone and Francophone public schooling to continue serving many urban neighbourhoods from under the same roof.

Quel horreur…

Now nothing’s yet carved in stone, but I find it remarkable that the CSDM has come to such a conclusion. Not too long ago such an idea would have been unthinkable. In fact, twenty years ago the PSBGM made such a proposal to help keep some schools in Cote-des-Neiges open. It was rebuffed. Perhaps times and attitudes have changed. I’m optimistic this may lead to more than just sharing some important neighbourhood institutions. I’m hopeful that this eventually leads to integration of the boards and the end of segregated schooling in Montréal.

There’s a practical economic issue at play here I’m sure all parties are very much aware of. Mayor Tremblay is keen to continue residential development within the city and first-ring suburbs, attracting new residents, but families in particular, closer to the urban core. Good public schools are part of the allure of living in the city, and because both boards face diametrically opposed enrolment problems (and their subsequent effects on funding, staffing and space/resource allocation) neither the EMSB nor CSDM are overly attractive, and there can only be so many private schools for a given market. Ergo, should the boards decide to embark on a co-habiting solution, the total student population can be more evenly distributed and urban schools can be re-invigorated. In addition, if this space-sharing agreement is worked out and brought to its logical extent, it will ultimately translate into increased operational efficiencies and a better return for the local tax dollar.

1920s perspective of what was then the High School of Montreal

And perhaps this is step one towards integration of the city’s linguistic boards. If they can share a building, they can share a library, a cafeteria, a gym, sports teams, staff etc. Doing so will allow the boards to cooperate on establishing more comprehensive education solutions for multiple schools and by extension provide neighbourhood stability and promote higher urban land-value. It’s high-time we re-invest in public education in such a fashion that we also remove the barriers keeping us from getting the highest possible return for our investment.

It’s 2012 and it seems as though we’ve finally come up with the most obvious solution beneficial to both school boards. A win-win situation we could have implemented forty years ago if not for the myopia of the political ‘leadership’ of the day. I’m certain that Ms. De Courcy’s plan will meet with some opposition from the hardcore péquiste community, but hopefully the majority of the school-tax paying among us, regardless of mother-tongue, will endorse it and welcome the change.

Now imagine if we abolished the linguistic boards altogether, and simply accorded school boards per city or region. We would endeavour to maximize efficiency and educate our children collectively, principally in French and with a focus on the culture and society of Québec, but with the aim to ensure complete bilingualism as a cornerstone of our local education system. Children can learn multiple languages early on without any detrimental loss to their capacity to master one specific language. Considering the pervasiveness of English in North American media and the fact that we all share in a responsibility, as Québecois, to succeed in preserving the French language here, as an element of our culture, then we should strive to ensure our public system can effectively do just that. Why settle for anything less.

Aerial perspective of FACE School in the 1970s

It’s not just that we could save a bunch of money, keep schools open, increase residential land value and the stability and vitality of urban communities, reduce crime and the drop-out rate, reduce class sizes and sew the seeds of racial and cultural-linguistic harmony, but that we can collectively make money off it as well. The full integration of Montréal’s linguistic boards will result in a generation of children fluent in both English and French, well versed in Québecois cultural and social studies. We can make French attractive to youth by capitalizing on the fact that it a) makes them unique in a North American context and b) prepares them for a future where they’ll feel comfortable interacting on a global level. This will draw corporations, NGOs and all manner of international agencies to our city, not to mention lead more children into the post-secondary sector. Being able to speak multiple languages is hard, but not impossible, and mentally rewarding inasmuch as its challenging. We need to instil in our children a desire to speak both languages perfectly, and to prefer French, so that we instil in them a desire to overcome challenges and follow-up on their curiosities.

It’s long-term economic strategizing, fundamentally. It’s also advantageous socio-culturally speaking too.

Now if only we can manage to stop over-analyzing our separate pasts and start thinking about our collective future…

7 thoughts on “Let’s Think About the Future”

  1. I meant market as in letting parents pick their school, without restrictions. Currently only Anglos can do that.

  2. Re the market – absolutely not. I’m working off the following principle: no child is responsible for the situation they’re born in to. So as far as I’m concerned it’s unethical to be able to pay for education at any level. The whole reason why public education systems were developed was so that there would be a societally-bound equalizer, a tool that would allow people to gain social mobility simply by applying themselves academically. Moreover, as public education developed, it was recognized that the school was more than just a place to learn, but a vital point of connection between the public and the government. When you give people the option of paying for education, you take them out of the group of concerned parents actively engaged in community affairs, and in turn the people who can afford to advocate for the continued improvement of public education are no longer part of the equation. Schools and communities suffer as a result. All children in a given socio-geographic area should be educated equitably, and if we could one day ensure that all the children of Montréal were educated by the same, excellent, public school system, we could greatly reduce social inequity in the process. Market forces will result in the continued gutting of the public education system. I’ve never heard a more asinine and idiotic statement as ‘I don’t have kids, so why should I pay school taxes’. The ignorance of such a statement, I feel, underlies the sentiment private schools ultimately capitalize on.

    Re Jean Naimard, he’s a professional troll, and I wouldn’t take his ‘comedic’ vitriol seriously, nor as an indication of broad sentiment in Québec. You’ll see a pattern emerge in his writing style that over-emphasizes rhetoric and expressions common to the FLQ, which is partly why I think he may be some kind of performance artist.

    As to why they should merge, well, it’s economically disadvantageous as is. Multiple boards for a single city? It’s anachronistic. A city such as ours, with social-cohesion and cultural integration already so much in place, ought to have a single public school board. It means more bang for our buck vis-a-vis school taxes. Moreover, it would be advantageous for all children in Montréal to be capable of speaking both English and French and, further, to be taught to appreciate Québecois culture. There’s a common linguistic bond – multilingualism – which is only going to become more and more important in the future.

    Also, if the French public schooling system is suffering (largely as a result of severe over-crowding) while the English system is continuously closing down perfectly good schools, I’m sorry, the simplest and most advantageous solution is to spread out the students evenly, with am emphasis on proximity to home so that public schools can become the community anchors they once were. Hopefully, co-habitation would lead these boards to look at all their collective problems and endeavour to create solutions for each other.

    At the end of the day, there’s just no good reasons to continue education segregation in Montréal. Fixing this will develop a rapprochement of the ‘two solitudes’. If we can make this happen today, tomorrow will look a lot brighter.

  3. The Emsb is a great school board, churning out fully bilingual kids who excel academically. And of course this happens with teachers and principals welcoming the help of parents and volunteers.

    Now why would the Anglo board want to get mixed up with the antagonistic mess that is the CSDM?

    When you’ve got people like @jean Naimard who openly advocate for segregation, when students at French schools are punished for speaking anything other than French, when the English education even in IB schools is laughable… Not to mention the ludicrously high dropout rate… Maybe it’s time to suggest shutting down the French system and letting the English take over instead.

    Or maybe we should just eliminate the rule of blood when it comes to education and let the market decide…

  4. Oh, sheesh. Westerners who “freak out” at cereal boxes? Is this 1962? Next you’ll be telling us you can’t be served in French at Eaton’s.

    And the reason the children of immigrants were “anglicized” was often because the predominantly Catholic French schools, pre-101, weren’t exactly opening their arms to Asians, Jews, Buddhists, blacks, Protestants, etc. Sad, but true.

  5. Check out the record of the old BILINGUAL Greenfield Park Dissident (Catholic) School Board. It was impressive, academically AND culturally. Even more impressive when you consider that GPK’s pretty much a working class suburb. But they dismantled the board, and split the schools up along linguistic lines, which theoretically made sense, I guess. BUT result was that the French schools got sucked into the large, ineffective Longeuiel French board, and the English ones went into a sprawling English school board that stretched south to the American border (because of course Anglo parents don’t mind a two-hour drive — one way — to attend a school board meeting).

  6. Taylor,

    I enjoy your blog, though often find your ideas somewhat ‘fanciful’ (in a good way). But when it comes to language+education, good god, are you ever on the money. Our system’s inability to achieve 100% bilingual proficiency would be seen as a complete and shocking failure in Holland, Germany, or anywhere in Scandinavia. Keep it up.

    -DB

  7. Law 101 was passed to preserve the french language and, by extension, the french culture of Québec.

    One of the side-effects was to galvanize the french into no longer thinking themselves as inferior beings, as 220 years of english telling us that we were just shit, good for nothing, incapables of running our own country and destined to be poor made quite a lot of french people believe it.

    You still find those people in the army, working in Air Canada or Canadian National.

    Those people also sent their kids to english school, so their new english kids will no longer be second-class citizens.

    This, of course, was the most potent anti-french weapon (after anglicizing the immigrants) the english have used against us.

    This is why the french are barred from sending their offspring to english schools.

    Despite more than 30 years of law 101, there are still people who are colonized enough to think that the english are the best, and they would want their offpring to become english.

    The proximity of english people in french schools is a very, very serious threat, given how kids are easily impressionable.

    If the english are having trouble with their schools, let them solve their problems themselves.

    We, the french, can certainly solve our school problems without having to mix people.

    The obvious solution, of course, is to close all english schools, but nobody (not even me — and I’m pretty radical) would go for that.

    Another solution would be that the english behave like any other minority in the world, and send their offspring to french schools.

    This way, they will have the coveted bilingual offspring that will beat the shit out of the western morons who freak out at the french on their cereal boxen.

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