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.