Quebec’s Bizarre Segregated School System
In 1969, just a couple of years after the United States government had to send in the army to protect black students being integrated into Little Rock, Arkansas schools in spite of the violent opposition of a certain segment of the white population, the municipality of Saint-Léonard on the Montreal island went through it’s own episodes of violent riots over the integration of minorities.
The only difference is that in the case of Saint-Léonard, the white, French-speaking, majority was rioting against segregation, not in support of it.
Québec’s segregated school system is as old as Canada. It was a compromise of sorts between the Protestant industrialists of Montreal and the all powerful Catholic clergy who agreed that the province would have two completely separate and independently run school systems : one Protestant, one Catholic, which with time morphed into French and English-language systems. The dual school systems were constitutionalised in 1867 and, to this day, Québec is the only Canadian province constitutionally obligated to maintain « separate but equal » schools.
The Parti Québécois did it’s best in 1977 to create modern integrated system for all children, regardless of their origin, religion or home language. Bill 101 established that all of Québec’s children would from now on study and receive their education in French, the majority’s language.
Except for Québec’s English-speaking minority, of course, who’s right to it’s own parallel school system was protected. To this day, anyone who has studied at least one year in an English school somewhere in Canada is allowed to opt out of the majority’s school system.
This, of course, is rationalised on the principal of some supposed right of children to receive education in their language.
That’s interesting because, at least in Montreal, the majority of English-speaking youth are not studying in English at all!
According to the English Montreal School Board as many as three out of four primary school students spend most of their schoolday in classes taught in French. The so-called “core” program where the majority of classes are taught in English is the least popular of all the school board’s options and is being abandoned by parents who demand immersion and billitteracy curriculum for their children.
Even Québec’s stuffy English Private Schools that only a generation ago prepared kids in penny loafers to rule the world in English are now falling over themselves to provide rich people with the French the publicly-funded system can’t afford. The students of Westmount’s Selwyn Housenow spend between 50% and 80% of their class time studying in French and have even added a French verse to their school hymn! (Which, I belive, was the number 3 demand in the FLQ manifesto.)
Outside Montreal the situation is even stranger with many English schools having a majority of French students and very few actual Anglos exercising their right to receive an English-language education in Québec. In Québec City close to 60% of the students in English schools are Francophones. This is possible because French-speaking, or for that matter, any family that has obtained a certificate of eligibility to English schools through, for example, a mixed marriage, can keep passing the privilege along to further generations until the End of Time.
(For example I posses one of the fabled Certificates of eligibility even though I was raised in a French-speaking household because my father was an alumni of the very English Lower Canada College. Had I exercised that right, I would have been able to pass it on to my descendants, regardless of the language they speak at home, as long as at least one kid from every generation studied for at least one year in an English school somewhere in Canada.
I, however, decided not to follow my father’s footsteps in the land of crew cuts (and also shattered my mother’s dream that I would study with the Jesuits of Brébeuf College like Pierre Elliot Trudeau) and once the ultra-nationalist unionized separatist teachers of l’École Notre-Dame-de-Grâce primary school were done thoroughly brainwashing my young impressionable mind, I decided to go to a multicultural French-language public High School instead.
So my family no longer belongs to the elusive society of the eligible…)
Hey, it’s not that it’s a bad idea for Québec’s English-speaking kids to take classes in French. What’s profoundly bizarre is the concept of English-speaking children immersing themselves in French in schools with no French kids two blocks away from an actual French school…
As even the Montreal Gazette reported, the result is technically bilingual kids who don’t know any French people and who are uncomfortable ordering a burger in French at McDonalds.
On the French side there is growing tension between proponents and opponents to the kind of bilingual programs that have become common on the English side. While there is a lot of demand for them, opponents feel that the French schools’ mission of integrating immigrants into Québec society, especially in Montréal, could be seriously compromised if more English was introduced in the schools.
As a result, many French-speaking families in Montreal are massively abandoning the public school system for private schools that offer, among other things, better English classes. Between 2001 and 2006 the number of students in Montreal’s private schools leaped by 30%.
All this together leads to a profoundly dyslexic school arrangement. Immigrants to Québec are now intergrating themselves into Québec society in schools with no French-speaking Québécois, while Québec Francophones send their children to private schools. Montréal Anglos are building their own parallel French school network with no French students while Francophones in the rest of the province are keeping an English school system alive even though there are no more actual English-speaking students.