Accountability In Our Educational System – by Jamie Labonte – August 15, 2011

CFN – I am descended from a long line of French speakers. My father was a francophone that moved to Ontario for better employment in the 60s. My Mother’s grandmother was a francophone as well. Dad quickly learned French in Ontario and my Mom was immersed in it in Ontario. They were essentially functionally bilingual. Before my dad died, he was essentially unilingual English and my Mom is too.

Why did they lose their French? Well, mostly because they were really never called upon to use it in their work or social spheres. That’s ok. Most people don’t us it in Ontario unless they are in the public service where it is all but a necessity.


Still, it offers a tremendous advantage in business relations. You just have to look at the last Jeux de Froncophonie (Francophone Games) held in Canada to note the  impressive number of countries that we could be dealing/trading with if only we had a better facility with our French language. My parents lost their French because they had no one to use it with and in turn, my siblings and I never picked it up because it was never spoken at home, something that my father later apologized for , though I never blamed him for it.

There’s one odd thing about this however. I grew up in the Trudeau generation. I was supposed to be the product of official bilingualism! I had mandatory French instruction in school. I should be fluent in both languages! So why not?


It’s quite simple. We would get an hour a day of core French (or something like that) and the rest of the time it was all English. How could we ever get the ear or tongue? We could not. As hard working and well-intentioned as our French teacher might be, it was no match for the other 163 odd hours spent in English.


We complain about how American television and media flood over the border to indoctrinate us, and Quebecois children are inundated by English broadcasts from Canada AND the US. Quebec is in a truly bilingual environment by virtue of being the minority interest. They actually have a distinct advantage in addition to a “distinct society”. This is why, much to the chagrin of Ontario Anglophones  looking for work, Francophones seem to get a disproportionate number of jobs in the public service.


The Anglicizing effect is so powerful that the Quebec provincial government enacted strict and punitive laws to try and preserve their language against absorption (something English Canada finds incomprehensible and insulting). I can sort of understand where the PQ “toungue-troopers” came from, given my father’s experiences. I don’t agree, but I do understand.


So when I considered giving my daughter all the advantages that I could, we put her in French immersion in her school (name withheld to prevent my hind quarters from being sued) thinking that, “This will be her ticket to bilingualism!” Sure. As you can imagine that notion went south pretty fast.


Now this is where I’ll be very careful. It is my considered opinion that my limited pidgin French is probably better than my daughter’s teacher’s. To put this in perspective,  I labour through the drive-thu at the Quebec A&W but I can make my point known well enough that half the time the cashier doesn’t switch to English. (Forget about me carrying on a philosophical discussion about man’s inhumanity to man etc etc…not happening!). Even with my limited abilities, I could tell that she was not a shining example of French instruction. My wife, who is very fluent, agreed with me.


A French teacher that makes Ed Broadbent look bilingual by comparison? How can this be? How can this be an Ontario elementary school offering a bilingual program?


We decided for this among other reasons to pull her and put her in new school with true immersion. Over the summer months, I’ve been working with my daughter to improve her French. I was aghast at how little she had actually learned in her many years of “French immersion”.


Now, just in case you might be thinking that she’s a slow student, let me just say that she reads at roughly 4 grade levels higher than the one she’s in. She is extremely articulate and outgoing. She doesn’t have ADD or ADHD or any other cognitive impairments by anyone’s reckoning. She is no slouch either. The plain truth about it is that the school/teachers simply were not teaching her French. It was clearly (at least in my opinion) not a priority. This was unacceptable to us.


The only thing that we could determine is that she was bored by the lack of difficulty in the lessons. A little girl that used to bound out of the house in the morning, not being able to stand waiting to get to school, all of a sudden was faking tummy-aches in order to avoid it. I mean, with no challenge and little learning, I can’t say I blamed her. Now, this school had decidedly failed on providing our daughter with adequate instruction in many subjects. Not just French.


At a parent teacher meeting, my wife and I were met with a brick wall of obstinacy regarding our concerns. When my wife ( a Quebec-born girl with bilingual  fluency at the translator level) raised concerns with the principal about the immersion teacher’s qualifications, the answer (or so I’m told) was,” well maybe you simply can’t understand her because you’re not at her level”. To put it bluntly, (and solely in my opinion), my wife’s French is to the teacher’s French as chess is to tic-tac-toe so that explanation is basically an insult.


At this point we were left with no other option.  I was forthright about wanting to pull her from the school. This essentially elicited yawns from the two teachers. Perhaps they thought we were bluffing. They thought wrong.


Now I feel it’s important to point out that it’s not just French that was our bone of contention although if you put your kid in three years of immersion, you might reasonably think that she’d be able to confidently string three words together to form a simple thought. There was wrote word repetition. It seems they were concerned with her being able to write the words in French….but not pronounce or understand them. Really useful.


It’s important to note that feedback was lacking as well. We would ask for progress reports on our child only to be told “wait for the report card” only to be given vague and formulaic assessments that seem to have been copy and pasted into the report (sometimes with the wrong kid’s name in the text) It is disconcerting to find out that I have a son….I had been labouring under the assumption I had a daughter. Really? Copy and paste? Is that all my kid merits? Look, my kid was never in any danger of not moving on to the next year. Quite the opposite. Based on the laissez-faire attitude we observed, I wager my kid would have had to eat the books and set fire to the school to be paid any more attention to.


Fortunately, we had the option to move our child to another school but we know many parents that are not in our fortunate position and are forced to remain due to geography, linguistic background and schedule. They don’t have the ability to simply pick up and leave for greener pastures. I feel very badly for them. The school seems to know that parents are forced to enroll their kids there and from my perspective, the school is quite smug about it.


All I want to know is, where is the accountability for our children’s’ educators? Is the only answer to poor general results in a subject simply to lower the bar enough that all the students pass? I have a boatload of respect for good teachers (some teachers at that school were excellent). Despite any cynicism I might have, I do still feel that teaching is a noble profession. I am shocked to find that some “educators” don’t share my beliefs.


Teachers and school administrators talk a good game about being stewards for the development of children. Helping to mold them into successes. Our experience from this particular school leads us to believe that this is often just talk.


I know my child deserves more and I demand it from any school that she attends. I know that we’re not alone. My advice to parents is to not just pack your kids off to school and let the chips fall where they may. Get nosy. Ask questions. Scratch beneath the surface. You may not like what you see but in the long run, your kids will thank you for it.

JL Computers


  1. Good article Jamie. Reminds me of when my three boys were going through the elementary school system.

  2. The Parents for French organization admits that French immersion is not to make children to learn French. It’s to make them learn ABOUT French. Somebody in the higher up set it up that way deliberately…

  3. Very interesting.

    I come from a Franco-Ontarian background, and consider myself fluently bilingual, although having lived most of my adult life in England, I don’t get much chance to use it…

    I was quite pleased, a few years back, when my daughter decided she wanted to be a French teacher. I was, however, amazed that she could get a degree and begin teaching at the junior school level without ever having spent more that a week at a time, on holiday, in France.

    Whilst her technical ability with the language is pretty good, she is hardly what I would call fluent, and would have benefited (as was required in years gone by) from an extended period studying and gaining work experience in France.

  4. I got my elementary and high schooling in the English/Protestant system during the fifties and sixties in Lachine Quebec. I don’t recall any of our French teachers who could actually speak French. And I don’t recall any kids who graduated being able to converse in French. It was a complete waste of time. A shame.

  5. That’s strange Furtz because my four children went through English/Catholic system with French Immersion and today ALL four are fluently bilingual and can converse in either of our two Canadian official languages.

  6. Yes Stan, it was a strange time in Quebec in the fifties and early sixties. There were French/Catholic schools, English/Catholic schools and English/Protestant schools. The kids were pretty well segregated, and not at all encouraged to intermingle or learn each other’s language. There wasn’t any such thing as language immersion programs back then.

  7. Thanks for all the feedback, folks!

    I’d just like to make a PS edit. My father learned English in Ontario (not French!) and lost it through lack of use over the next 60 years. I didn’t want the article to JUST be about French instruction however I do feel strongly that if you offer an immersion program, it should have a better level of success than what I have witnessed.

  8. The French Language is facing the same demise as Latin. It is old and not used by many people on a global scale. I can tell you this as sit here On Rene Levesque blvd in a huge office building where in nobody speaks French.

    The immersion program is like so many other education programs. It an individual’s rendition of what the course objectives is. We can add to that the continuous changes the system faces each year in better education programs, different ways to teach the students. Change is good however if the person delivering the program is always learning they do not strengthen their ability nor do they build a foundation for the kids to learn from. This is a big problem in the system. The continual change is felt all the way to the kids from a lack of course stability

    It would be a shame to see another language disappear but I think forcing it on people is not his way to precede either. We need a proactive approach to encourage the language.

    Driving through the province has been entertaining to say the least. Not being French speaking in the least I have picked up words such as “barré”, “ferme,” et “Toutes les voies sud sur le pont Mercier fermé jusqu’à 22:00” and no English translation. In Toronto and many other parts of Canada similar road signs would “read, left lane closed in 200m” followed by “voie gauche fermée en 200m”.

    I think by the province of Quebec offering the proverbial olive branch on language, employment and politics it would go a long way to promote the language growth. The new trend here seems to be splinter groups forming as a result of the demise of the Bloc. That will in no way help the rest of Canada hold interest in the province let alone the language

    Montreal is an amazing city though the culture has changed through the years. It will be a shame when the project transfers to the site as I will miss the city.

    Sorry Furtz but I have to ask, ” I got my elementary and high schooling ” What does that mean in English?

  9. @smee. It means I got my elementary and high schooling….

    school·ing noun /ˈsko͞oliNG/ 
    Education or training received, esp. at school – his parents paid for his schooling

    And can you explain what ” I think forcing it on people is not his way to precede either.” means?

  10. Furtz
    I worte it for you you so yous could got it

  11. Not everyone can learn another language but that does not stop the push to help people in Quebec and New Brunswick to get better jobs. Ontario now has 25 bilingual zones! There should be 2 tax rates, one for bilingual and one unilingual. Of course English Canada should organize the way other special interest groups do. Which reminds me, has this paper listed in it’s links.

    But education in French as noted above is very poor.

    It probably is not only French that is slipping in the daily school day. To reach the current 81% graduation rate for high school in Ontario, programs like dual credit, on-line courses and coop programs are allowed.

  12. Wow a lot on interesting viewpoints here. Bear in mind that the Chinese used to curse people with the utterance, “May you live in interesting times”. In that light, the comments are….interesting. Just to clarify. No one is forcing my to enrol my daughter in French immersion. We chose to give her a huge advantage. Secondly, the assertion that French is a dead language like Latin is two-fold ignorance. Not only is French a thriving language and often the language of law and business in many, many countries but the suggestion that Latin is dead is actually spurious as well since Latin is being used to identify phenonmena, species, compounds, etc etc every day. Not only is French not dead but Latin is actually in a renaissance.

    Whatever the meandering point of the original commentator might have been, my point is that you should not offer an immersion program if you don’t seriously intend to impart an immersion experience and have reasonable standards. Why is my kid getting good grades in French and unable to converse in the most basic of French?!!

    This is not a discussion group for people who want to abolish French in Ontario. Go find yourselves another soap box.

  13. On the subject of French television, I highly recommend TFO. It’s like a French version of TV Ontario and is often showing French translations of popular kids shows, good documentaries for adults and is Ontario specific. Check it out!

  14. Actually Jamie Labonte, this discussion group is what ever the Admin will allow. I doubt most people in Ontario want to abolish French, perhaps the unfairness in hiring as of late and the large amounts of money used to support it.

    The school day has not increased but instruction has changed, try and get a grade 7 kid to write not print, a thank you note to Grandma and report back.

  15. Mea nomen est Latin. Essentiam beneficium est Gallice (French) ad societatem.

  16. Jamie
    I beg to differ.

    To begin with the French Language is so engrained with Franglais that proper French diction is a rarity
    With the influx of immigration France too fears for the language as does Belgium, Germany, England to name a few.

    He Admin you come from Montreal you could add a comment to this how has the language changed in Montreal over the years.

    The Language of Latin yes is used in specific instances, Ecclesiastical Latin, science academia, and a few isolated associations and clubs. But compared to what it was, it is a dead language. You can only find a select few schools teaching it. Yes I know you can name some with a quick hit on Google but compared to what it was it is considered dead.

    Technically speaking a dead or extinct language is defined as “

    a process that affects speech communities where the level of linguistic competence that speakers possess of a given language variety is decreased, eventually resulting in no native and/or fluent speakers of the variety”

    Which surely identifies Latin as there is no Native speakers and in North America French with the increase in Franglais.

    Regarding the soap box, I think we have much larger issues in Canada that needs higher attention then a language which is an issue only in Eastern Ontario

  17. Smee’s above comment is a perfect illustration of how the English language is also deteriorating at an alarming rate.

    “To begin with the French Language is so engrained with Franglais that proper French diction is a rarity” (no period)
    To begin with, the French Language is so engrained with Franglais, that proper French diction is a rarity.

    “With the influx of immigration France too fears for the language as does Belgium, Germany, England to name a few.”
    With the influx of immigration, France too, fears for the language, as does Belgium, Germany and England, to name a few.

    “He Admin you come from Montreal you could add a comment to this how has the language changed in Montreal over the years.”
    Hey Admin, you come from Montreal. You could add a comment to this as to (or about) how the language has changed in Montreal over the years.

    “The Language of Latin yes is used in specific instances, Ecclesiastical Latin, science academia, and a few isolated associations and clubs.”
    Yes, Latin is used in specific instances, such as Ecclesiastical Latin, science academia, and a few isolated associations and clubs.

    “Yes I know you can name some with a quick hit on Google but compared to what it was it is considered dead.”
    Yes, I know you can name some with a quick hit on Google, but compared to what it was, it is considered dead.

    “Technically speaking a dead or extinct language is defined as “a process…..””
    Technically speaking, a dead or extinct language is defined as “a process…..”
    Also, a dead or extinct language is not a process.

    “Which surely identifies Latin as there is no Native speakers and in North America French with the increase in Franglais.”
    This surely identifies Latin, as there ARE no Native speakers, and with North American French, with the increase in Franglais.

    “Regarding the soap box, I think we have much larger issues in Canada that needs higher attention then a language which is an issue only in Eastern Ontario” (again, no period)
    Regarding the soap box, I think we have much larger issues in Canada that needs higher attention THAN a language, which is an issue only in Eastern Ontario. (Then and than are two different words)

    Apart from smee’s first sentence, “I beg to differ.”, each and every sentence would score an F grade in any high-school English course.

  18. furtz
    did ya got an ” A” in enklish tu

  19. To All Readers:
    I apologize for my grammar/spelling errors in my previous post. At the time, I opted to respond to Jamie’s post just prior to a meeting with a client in Montréal. Unfortunately, I did not have time to spell or grammar check my post. Furtz, thank you for the corrections.

  20. @Smee. No, I never got no A in nuthin’.
    I thought it was a little strange and ironic, considering the the topic.

  21. Furtz@Smee. “No, I never got no A in nuthin’.” (Certainly not in grammar and spelling)

  22. @Professor…And yous never got no A in humour.

  23. To the so and so that said that there are more important issues for Ontarians, I really probably shouldn’t waste my time responding to a statement like that. Suffice to say that I think the education of my child is of prime importance. And as I said, many times over now, this is not JUST about French in Ontario. It’s also about accountability in the classroom.

    Perhaps this is not an issue for some but I can’t see how educating the future leaders of the province isn’t important.

  24. @Jamie Labonte. Would you be referring to the high-level executive hammering out a deal in a high-rise office building in Montreal?

  25. Non Compos Mentis: Your Latin is extremely canine! That said, A for effort.

  26. Try: Nomen meum ex lingua Romana est. Societati prodest Gallica lingua.

  27. Do you talk at people, Furtz or to them?

  28. He “Woofs” at them

Leave a Reply