Posts Tagged ‘marois

Pauline Marois’ Quiet English Revolution

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In 1988, just before South Africa’s Apartheid regime was about to expire its last foul breath, an antiapartheid organization called the South African Council for Higher Education put out a small comic book designed to help young black children to learn English.  The book was immediately banned by the all-white ruling minority.

Were blacks forbidden to learn English under Apartheid?  Quite the contrary.  English and Afrikaans, the languages of the white minority, were the sole official languages of South Africa in those days while the languages spoken by the black majority had no legal status.  English and Afrikaans were the languages of government, public services and of secondary education, even for blacks.

The novel on which the comic book was based, Down Second Avenue by the exiled South African writer Ezekial Mphahlele, had been freely available in South Africa for three decades.  Even the comic book version of the author’s account of his youth in violent and racist Pretoria had been published before.

Why was the government scared of this edition?  Because it was a textbook.  Because it was a tool designed to get young black kids to reflect on injustice and racism, in their master’s language…

Young blacks were taught English during Apartheid, but they were taught using textbooks from England about white preppy boys in London.  Books that perpetuated the image of English as the language of power, and the corollary, that power rightfully belonged to the English.  Their reality: black, multilingual and poor was foreign.  Defective.

Down Second Avenue: The comic turned that on its head.  It taught Blacks the language of power so they could use it to discuss their reality and to empower themselves.  They could even use English, as other textbooks eventually did, to teach you black kids about the multilingual reality of Africa and the importance of protecting and empowering African languages.

This is where Pauline Marois comes in.

Ignoring the extremely violent opposition from a certain wing of the Parti Québécois and the even more hysterical cries of madness from the Federalist A-list – who seem to share a belief that almighty English will destroy Québec and must at all costs be kept out of the hands of common people – this week Pauline Marois once again proposed that certain classes in Québec high schools, perhaps history, geography or even math, be taught in English.

This is (almost) a brilliant idea.

Parents have been demanding better English classes and immersion and this is a very positive step, especially for families in the regions who don’t have as much exposure to English as Montrealers.

But Pauline Marois’ truly revolutionary idea, which is also the most controversial, is her twice repeated suggestion that History, be thought in English.  Her not-so-great idea is to teach math in English.

Why is it a good idea to teach History in the international language of science and not math? Precisely because we would spontaneously have it the other way around.

Currently, History is taught in French.  French becomes the language of the past, of our heritage, of the Plains of Abraham defeat and the failed referendums.  English on the other hand is taught as a second language necessary for travel, technology, modernity and international fraternity (as it is always naively portrayed in US and Western-made textbooks).

With Marois’ proposal, English would become the language used to explore the past of French-Canadians, but also their successes, the Quiet Revolution and the ongoing struggle to protect French-language culture in North America.  Geography class would become a place to discuss, in English, the linguistic and cultural diversity of planet Earth and the international vitality of the Francophonie, a language that as never had more speakers than it has today.

All this without threatening the overall predominance of the language of Joseph-Armand Bombardier in all other subjects, including the all important sciences.

Teaching History in English would significantly improve the access of Québec kids to English without making them captive of the stereotype that reduces French to the status of heritage language while making English the only language of the modern world outside.

The South African comic book simultaneously helped blacks learn the language of power, but also exposed how that language was a tool of their oppression.  In the same way, teaching History and geography in English would give Québec kids access to the international language of business and scholarship, but also some perspective on where Québec belongs in this global multilingual world.

Enough perspective to ask questions like:

If English really is the magic amulet that automatically opens the doors of modernity, technology and wealth, then why aren’t the Philippines the richest country in Asia?  And why isn’t Japan the poorest?

Discuss.  In English.

Written by angryfrenchguy

November 24, 2008 at 12:10 am

The End of the Parti Québécois

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René Lévesque did not want the political party he founded to be called the Parti Québécois. His choice was the much less emotionally charged and very descriptive Parti Souveraineté-Association and it is apparently very reluctantly that he accepted the choice of the party members. He did not want his party to be the party of a people. He wanted it to be the party of a people’s project.

The essence of this project and what made it a model from Scotland to Catalonia was that you could create a country for a historical and cultural community while protecting a strictly legal atheistic deaf-dumb and blind definition of citizenship.

It seems we have lost this notion of citizenship. Mario Dumont’s action Démocratique du Québec became the official opposition by correctly identifying a real discomfort in the francophone population and positioning himself as the defender of Québec’s “identity” and “values”.

Because of its very narrow victory many forget that the Liberal party narrowly escaped annihilation at the last election. Its francophone supporters were massively jumping over to Mario’s ship. In the end, only the Anglophone minority’s stubborn refusal to participate in democracy and their soviet-style support of the party with the most red on its logo allowed the Liberals to win the most seats in the election with less than 20% of the francophone vote.

After the election Liberal Jean Charest formed a cabinet with only one self-described member of the Anglophone community even though half of the votes that elected him were from the Anglos and other minorities. The Liberals new priority was to shed its image of Parti des Anglais and position themselves as defenders of Québec’s “identity” and “values”.

During the last election campaign, only André Boisclair chose to stand above this very real dividing of votes along ethnic lines. René Lévesque latest successor, Pauline Marois, has decided to turn her back on this principled heritage of her party’s past and decided that the party’s future was to become another party defending Québec’s ‘identity’ and ‘values’.

All three parties are no waiting for the Bouchard-Taylor Commission to tell them exactly what are these values they are defending.

If they had not panicked, the Parti Québécois could have realized that they actually had an ideal position in the current political climate. First of all, they had and irreproachable record when it came to the protection of Québec’s rights.

Second, while the Liberal’s and Mario would have been arguing about who was the “real” spokesperson of the Québécois, the PQ could’ve turned to voters and said: “Listen, we won’t try to tell you who you are or what your values are. We will give you the tools for these values, whatever they may be, need to not only survive, but thrive. We will give you an independent country.”

By removing from her party’s program any obligation to actually do anything about independence, like holding a referendum, Pauline Marois has relieved sovereignists of their “duty” to vote for the PQ. Just like the Liberals could count on the rock solid base of Montreal’s Anglophone community to deliver 15 to 20 ridings even in the worst of times, The PQ had its own hardcore base of indépendantiste who would have supported them through the darkest hour. These voters will now feel free to vote for any party that they feel can best defend Québec’s ‘interests’. And I don’t think many of them feel that is Pauline Marois’ Parti Québécois.

In an era of identity politics and cultural polarization, it seems the only thing the Parti Québécois has got going for it is it’s name. René Lévesque would not be proud.

Written by angryfrenchguy

October 3, 2007 at 9:48 pm