French Immersion is Segregating the Schools by Race and Class and Setting Itself Up for a Charges of White Supremacy
It is surprising, at this point that nobody has made the white supremacy charge about French Immersion (FI). It is wide open to that line of attack.
I don’t always agree with Sachin Maharaj but he stuck the landing on this one. Clearly French Immersion has become much more of a liability to the school system than an asset. The bilingual tail is wagging the equity seeking dog and creating huge distortions all across the system. The more FI grows, the worse it gets. You don’t need to believe this report or Sachin Maharaj but you might want to look at the TDSB’s own research papers on the subject of FI before you read much further here.
The conclusions of this 2015 report ought to be enough to push any trustee, administrator or active equity seeking parents, teachers or students to conclude that French Immersion is the antithesis of equity. If equity is anything more than feel good, latte sipping, chit chat, then something quite serious is being ignored because the political consequences cause unease to the Gucci progressives in education. Doing nothing seems to say “Oh I’m all for equity but not before my kid gets a big head start.”
FI kids score much higher on EQAO tests given in English even though the non French Immersion kids (NFI) are educated in English.
The vast majority of FI kids speak English in their home while non English speakers are relegated to the English stream. There are few immigrants in FI and those that are in the program are higher income. There are very few racialized students. in FI and again, those few are higher income. There are very few Special education kids in FI. There are very few poor kids in FI. There are very few single parent family kids in FI.
French Immersion comes as close to perfect a divider as one could possibly come to creating, in our elementary schools, a two class, two stream system, with middle class white kids and a tiny sliver of middle class minorities in FI and an NFI stream for the poor, the racialized students, the immigrants, and the hard to teach special ed kids.
This is an abomination in a public school system. When the program was small it was a small problem but now that it has grown like topsy, (up 41% since 2004) it is a huge problem facing those in authority in education.
The question naturally arises, don’t critics care that students have an opportunity to learn both of Canada’s official languages? The answer, is of course we care. We care that ALL of the children have this opportunity. Whatever French is offered must be part general curriculum and be offered to every child in the system, even if this means extended French for all or even just upgraded core French for all. Listen carefully. Equity is far more important than bilingualism.
Yes, some in the Anglo middle class may have been motivated by concerns about national unity in the 1970s but they were equally motivated by the job opportunities they saw coming to bilingual job applicants. Beyond that, bilingualism is a mark of sophistication, but underneath all of this it is a class marker outside boundary communities like Ottawa and Montreal where it comes more naturally.
With housing prices and gentrification landing young middle class professionals in the same neighbourhoods as older working class, immigrant and racialized families many parents began to look, consciously and unconsciously, for ways to go to school downtown without their kids ending up being “held back” by the children of the great unwashed. Parents report FI as a stealth choice. It is the way to get the cheaper house through gentrification in a working class neighbourhood like the Junction, Parkdale, Leslieville, Dovercourt while still sending your kids to a ‘better school’ in a less dodgy neighbourhood without even driving.
We all know the conversation over the back fence or more usually these days at Starbucks. “You have to put your kids in FI. It is like a private school education in the public system and it doesn't cost a nickel.”
Some sought out alternative schools. Some aimed for IB programs or Gifted programs but these usually came in high school. The great divider came to be French Immersion. You could see it later on if you walked through a dual track school. One mother called the kids in FI the OshKosh kids, referring to a brand of expensive children's clothing as opposed to the Walmart kids; those not in FI. This was becoming clear by the 1980s.
Some fall back on the fact that, since FI was not ‘designed’ to discriminate, then there is no problem. I think everybody can see through this without further elaboration.
When Maclean's and the Globe have twigged to the stench of elitism wafting from FI the problem has become well known but still tolerated.
The cost of bussing is staggering and the pollution from all of the unnecessary busses is worth noting but to this report, the fact that FI unnecessarily moves kids out of their neighbourhood weakens community solidarity. It whipsaws enrollments causing school closings in some working class neighbourhoods and overcrowding at the schools for all of the precious middle class white kids. The Globe above points out that FI is taking over some neightbourhood schools and pushing local kids out.
No school board should be able to say they are strapped for cash while they pay for bussing for FI. Your priorities are all wrong.
What then is the solution?
A moratorium on new FI programs.
A phase out of existing FI programs accompanied by a phase in of Extended French programs for ALL.
No bussing for the new Extended model.
Extended means core French plus usually, history and geography taught in French. Researchers understand that French Immersion and Extended French have highly comparable bilingual results by the end of elementary school (neither creates real bilingualism). But few have the political guts to call out French Immersion for the outrageous scam that it is. It is elitist. It is ridiculously expensive, it is bad environmentally, it stinks of progressive hypocrisy, and for the cherry on top it doesn't even work well.
The boards have the perfect excuse to cover their own craven waffling. Under provincial spending constraints we can no longer afford French Immersion. When all the kids already in the program are ‘grandfathered’. The fallout will be much less than anticipated.