Bashing la Francophonie

I just read an article on how French Immersion programs in Canada are elitist clubs for parents in the mid-to-upper class who want to ensure their children learn alongside children of the same social class and academic ability. It said the program exists to the exclusion of kids from lower-income households and scholastic status. This assertion reminded me of the opinion of a formerly well-known TV personality with whom I worked. He told me once that F.I. only serves to confuse children and breeds graduates who have inferior English skills. This guy had never had any exposure to the program and was, quite vehemently, stating his opinion on it in SPITE of that fact.

I was in French Immersion. My friends and I have never heard so much as a whisper that inclusion in the program was based on our parents’ desire to keep us away from problem kids. I guarantee 90% of students were there because their parents simply saw the advantage of being exposed to another language. And I, for one, would never apologize for enrolling my children in anything that would challenge, enlighten or encourage them.

Yes, French Immersion does see students who are generally better academics. Yes, there are fewer problem kids. But that could be just because parents who would enroll their kids in the program would generally take more interest in education overall.  Also, I don’t understand the argument that only upper-class kids take part. Where was the fact checker on this article? Both the French and the English program in any school reflect the social class of the families in the area where that school exists. And F.I. schools exist everywhere, from Whalley to West Vancouver.

As far as rendering a child worse in the ostensibly more important language of English, I would argue the exact opposite. I believe that exposing a person of any age to another language makes them better in their dominant tongue. As someone who has studied language my whole life (and not just French) I know that learning another language causes me to understand the rules that comprise the English language so much better. I see parallels in English that I never would have seen had I not been exposed to the counterparts in the other language. I have a far deeper understanding of conjugation, of syntax and of idioms in English as a result. Don’t think that’s important? Well, whether you realize it or not, every day that you use language, you are practicing each one of those elements. Your ability to understand and express grow immeasurably with exposure to linguistic elements of any tongue. Just like the importance of literacy is to the success of us all, so is the deeper understanding of the language we use.

Furthermore, there is an enormous social benefit in learning another language to the depth that French Immersion offers. I have always been of the opinion that, with such an education, you are far more likely to have acceptance and tolerance of other cultures. Part in parcel of learning a language is simultaneously being exposed to the way the people of that language think, the way they work and the thought patterns associated with that culture. It’s impossible not to glean a better understanding of a people after having learned their language. You always learn more than just words. Infused in words and phrases are thoughts, sentiments and ideals.

As for the argument that the program is so much more difficult that you end up excluding all the kids who aren’t as academically strong…well, I’m unsure where the writer was going with that. Should schools omit challenging material altogether because some children may not succeed? By and large, a student who does not succeed in French Immersion will have similar problems in the English curriculum. Immersion is not taught in the same fashion as regular French classes. After a short time, understanding becomes second nature and is quite secondary to the subject taught. If you have trouble understanding math, it’s because of the math, not the French. 

I take great issue with the writer of this article. NONE of us would want our kids in a school infamous for trouble. My desire for my kids to be in a school with well-behaved, hard-working students from stable households does not mean I harbour what this writer seems to think is a dirty little secret of elitism.

My guess is that lower-income parents aren’t enrolling their kids into French Immersion in droves (if the article is accurate) because, in general, lower-income people have less education, put less emphasis on education and express less interest in education choices for their kids.

The writer would only have a point if F.I. cost money, was only offered in affluent areas or required a minimum GPA. It does not.

I don’t think it’s wrong to choose the English curriculum. I would just be curious to know what arguments parents have used in deliberately not choosing to enroll their children in French. I would hope parents are not listening to the likes of the writer from the aforementioned article.

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One response to “Bashing la Francophonie

  1. We chose not to enroll our child in French Immersion because we like the idea of a neighbourhood school, and our neighbourhood school does not offer the program. By attending the community school our daughter will make friends who live across the street or around the corner. We will also be able to walk there and back every day. The community element is not as prevalent at French Immersion schools, I think, because most of the attendees are not in the local neighbourhood.

    The fact that neither my husband nor I attended French Immersion also plays a part. We’re not opposed to the program, and we think it can be an excellent choice, but we also don’t feel any particular connection to it. Plus, I will freely admit I am just not that concerned about my kids’ education. We are interested and engaged parents, and I believe that matters more than what school they do or don’t attend.

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