Bill 96's stated goal is protecting French. Instead, it hurts anglophone families

Our students are being set up to fail by the system before they even reach post-secondary education, writes high school teacher David Dollis.

The law seems designed to eliminate other languages through attrition

A French dictionary is seen on a school desk with students in the background. (Photofusion/Shutterstock)

This column is an opinion by David Dollis, a high school teacher in Châteauguay, Que. For more information about CBC's Opinion section, please see the FAQ.

With the passage of Bill 96 in Quebec, we are seeing the greatest shift in the linguistic modus vivendi in a generation. The changes to education in Bill 96 mean students at junior colleges (CEGEPs) will be obliged to take either three core courses in French or three in French-language education if they enrol in an English institution.

The premier and the bill's supporters insist that this is both reasonable and necessary to protect the future of French in the province. Much has been made of the bill's potential impact by parents of potential CEGEP students as well as those colleges, who already face a teacher shortage. But it's not only in CEGEPs that the impact will be felt.

I currently teach high school in Châteauguay, on Montreal's South Shore. My students are a diverse mix of races, religions and languages. Most already try as diligently as they can to improve their French. But all of them now face a much greater impediment to their future studies. This is because they will need improved French skills if they do not want their R score — by which university admissions are judged — to suffer.

The only method we have to achieve this is to offer more of our courses in French instead of English before they get to CEGEP. Not only does this go against the raison-d'être of a separate English-language education system, this would also only further disproportionately impact already disadvantaged students, such as those with economic hardship or learning disabilities.

High schools also do not have the staff to fill all the French teaching positions in the province, or even teaching positions in general; how are we supposed to find more to teach other subjects in French, too?

Our students are being set up to fail by the system before they even reach post-secondary education, when they are already trying their hardest. How reasonable is that?

Another factor is how it will affect the Indigenous population. A sizable part of our student body comes from Kahnawake. For them, French may be their third language after English and Kanien'kéha, which they are trying hard to revive. They also face the added burden of trying to ensure their own linguistic and cultural survival after hundreds of years of systematic colonial repression, far worse than the French Québécois people have ever endured.

My Indigenous students are nonetheless essentially being told by this government, "Your nation doesn't matter; only the French nation's survival is important. And now you've got some extra hoops to jump through to succeed. Deal with it." How reasonable is that?

I have also taught in the Châteauguay Valley, where many anglophones are long established in their communities. Numerous English families trace their settlement there to over 200 years ago. Some of those communities are even still majority anglophone.

Despite this, many are perfectly bilingual and make the effort to be a part of a community that respects both languages and cultures. Their children enrol in immersion programs in the local high school. But after all that effort, now they and their kids are being treated as a danger to society by existing as anglophones, and penalized. How reasonable is that?

This is all while the levels of French in this province are suffering more among francophones than linguistic minorities. More minorities as a percentage of their population identify as bilingual than ever (whilst also reporting lower levels of average earnings and employment). Meanwhile, research shows francophones have worse academic results as well as higher dropout rates and levels of illiteracy.

While doing nothing to resolve those problems, this bill deprives our children of opportunity when they are already making the necessary effort. How reasonable is that?

This all points to the crux of the matter. I don't think that any reasonable person would argue against the need for ensuring the vitality of French language and culture. But the methods employed in Bill 96 seem designed not to bolster the French language, but eliminate others through attrition.

If the government and parties who support this bill were truly serious about ensuring French's survival, they should invest in improved salaries and working conditions for already overworked teachers. They should reduce social and racial inequality, as that leads to academic and linguistic success. They should reinvest in school libraries and librarians, with extra incentives for Québécois literature. They should offer more public French courses.

And most importantly, minority communities should have their languages and culture respected, just as French Quebecers insist upon for themselves. That is how you ensure a future for the French language in Quebec, not by unreasonably targeting the future of anyone who is not pure laine.

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David Dollis

Freelance contributor

David Dollis is a high school social studies teacher and reservist from Ormstown, Que.


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