Opinion: It’s high time for common bilingual schools in Quebec

Giuliano D’Andrea, Special to Montreal Gazette, Montreal Gazette


St.Leonard Crisis - English Students Protest. St. Leonard parents wanted bilingual education for their children. Copyright Gazette. Photo date Sept. 5, 1968.
A Sept. 5, 1968 demonstration: Many St-Léonard parents wanted bilingual education for their children. MONTREAL GAZETTE FILES
Anniversaries tend to be moments of reflection that in some cases can lead to important dialogue on such themes as identity, language and a sense of belonging. This month’s 40th anniversary of the coming into effect of the Charter of the French Language, more commonly known as Bill 101, should be one such opportunity. Yet somehow, as numerous opinion pieces emerge, far too often, the dialogue falls back into old paradigms that examine the battle lines between the English and the French.

Missed in all of this is the experience and points of view of what has become a growing segment of Montreal’s population, allophones. And no matter how many times we remind ourselves that Montreal is a cosmopolitan city, somehow those voices from the communities most affected by the adoption of the education provisions of the language charter remain marginalized.

Forgotten, for example, is the bilingual school system developed in large part for the Italian immigrant community that insisted in the 1950s and 1960s that their children master both official languages and that wanted no part in the simmering debates between language activists. One need only recall the St-Léonard riots of 1969, as well as the protests in the mid-1970s against Bill 22, a precursor to Bill 101 passed by the Liberal government of Robert Bourassa that restricted access to English schools to only those children who could demonstrate a prior knowledge of the English language. The massive mobilization of allophones against the language tests imposed on their children was largely responsible for the defeat the Quebec Liberals in 1976.

The point is that those who had no vested political or ideological interests other than wanting the best education for their children have always maintained a desire to acquire all the language tools necessary to succeed in their adopted city.

It is these communities who have been most receptive to the notion of creating an integrated school system, where all children regardless of background could attend one united public school. This public school, much along the lines proposed by Julius Grey in a Montreal Gazette oped (“Both sides were wrong and right about Bill 101,” Opinion, May 25) would have French as the majority language of instruction, but would also have an important segment in English. The goal would be to produce graduates who not only master both languages, but who also integrate into a community culture that is not segregated along linguistic lines.

Nor is it only allophones who are supportive of the idea and who see themselves benefiting. A single school system should be the logical alternative to our segregated educational system. Not only would this system benefit by pooling all educational resources, but it would also give all students access to networks currently denied them. If our children are expected to play together, grow up together and work together, why can we not educate them together, as well?

The challenge that this proposal will face will not be how to maintain linguistic minority rights within its system or how to provide it with its legal framework to accomplish its mission. Various solutions come to mind, be they through a Quebec constitution or amendments to the present law.

The challenge will be how to have this idea heard as it struggles for attention against those who see every alternative idea as a threat. Too often community interests have been sacrificed on the altar of language zealots who either peddle ethnocentric lines or indulge in rights fetishisms.

And too often ideas get nipped in the bud by institutional interests more comfortable with being perceived as victims rather than as innovators.

Giuliano D’Andrea is a Montreal-area landlord and businessman, a former vice-president of the Canadian Italian Businessmen’s Association and former board member of the Quebec Community Groups Network. He lives in Cartierville.


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