If you wish to spice up any random conversation in this town, mention either French Immersion or parking. Never mind talking about the government or taxes, the French Immersion discussion will always inflame passion, or as the French call it, passion. If such heart felt emotion could be channeled toward all of the other problems of the world, we’d have none. The first time I heard somebody say “my daughter is in FI”, I had no idea what that was. It sounds like a wing in a children’s hospital. I’ve had someone stop speaking to me for a while after a rollicking FI debate. They were going on and on about the First Nations people, and in their view how they get things for free, the usual whitey-beats-on-the-Indians talk when I added “Well, aren’t your kids in French Immersion? Talk about milking the system.” Prepare for the shunning. The truth can hurt though. Guelph has plenty of schools. The one down the street from me is sitting empty. Attawapiskat, Ontario has a new elementary school but went without one for FOURTEEN years. Can you imagine the FI parent’s response if that were the case down here?
This week’s Tribune headline, “All options for French Immersion to be focus”, is slightly inaccurate. They never look at ALL options. When it comes to FI, the end result will always be the choice that suits the army of parental elite who are manipulating a public asset and moulding it into a private-ish one. Is there any other name for a system that involves taking over entire schools, relegating the poorer not as clever nit laden unwashed to separate locations or establishing bus routes that might as well have private school logos on the side? Segregation perhaps? When I pass by Ecole John McRae on Water Street, I can’t help but feel that there is some kind of misguided social engineering going on that should not exist within a public system that was designed to provide a well rounded education for every child. If French Immersion is such a great thing, then the entire system should be a FI one. That is the unexamined option, giving it to every kid whether daddy is a professor or a sheet metal worker. Or not at all.
But that would diminish it’s status, non? Your child is no longer that special if every little waif is learning their le,la and les and all of them are left unable to spell correctly in either official language. Mon dieu, we have FOUR school systems in this province funded by public dollars. Each one of them is loaded with administrators who have identical duties with the different boards. The education budget for Ontario is 22.5 billion dollars and I’m still hearing through the vine that some teachers are told there is no money for basic resources such as books or gym equipment. Building special schools for a subset of kids within an existing system only adds to the burden, financial and bureaucratic. How is it I can volunteer with Action Read, a local literacy organization, and be partnered with a guy who has a bona fide high school diploma, BUT HE CANT READ A SENTENCE? He slid through 13 years of a system that completely failed him. A non profit staffed mostly with volunteers should not need to pick up the slack, over and over again. It’s great that they do but somebody needs to address the root of the problem. Tout suite.
A singular, secular school system is an idea that is long overdue in this province. If we keep clinging to antiquated arrangements such as separate schools for immersion, religion and language, not unlike our separate stores for beer and liquor, then this place is sunk. Within this future utopia there should be plenty of opportunities created to speak and learn French pour tout le monde. They could Skype it up on occasion with the children of the north who speak Inuinnaqtun and Inuktitut along with English and French. It will take wonderful, memorable teachers to do this and they are out there, waiting for the resources. This could be an amazing province if children were not hindered in their education by ancient divisions and blatant classism. And if all of this comes to pass, you’ll still be able to channel your passion into a long tirade about that parking ticket you didn’t deserve. “I was only in there for 30 seconds……………”