English CEGEPS open doors

I'm proud to be a Francophone, but experiencing the mix of cultural realities has been valuable - and fun

C'est bon pour moi, c'est bon pour tous... L'argument démagogique de la Gâzette ne surprend personne.

For me, English CEGEP opens doors

I'm proud to be a Francophone, but experiencing the mix of cultural realities has been valuable - and fun

By JEAN-FRANÇOIS GARNEAU, The Gazette May 18, 2011

Jean-François Garneau, 19: "I truly hope that my children will be given the same rights and opportunities."Photograph by: PIERRE OBENDRAUF THE GAZETTE, The Gazette
I am sitting in the main cafeteria of Dawson College, chatting with some friends about our incredible number of assignments, but mostly about my birthday party, which is taking place in a few days. Sitting around the table are Josiane, Maëlle, Ethan and Kate. We could talk until the sun goes down, but it is almost 10 a.m. "C'est l'heure," says Josiane, putting her books into her schoolbag. "I've gotta go, see you later!" shouts Ethan, turning his back to go to class.
Before I came to Dawson, all of my education had been in French. To me, a francophone, Bill 101 is a symbol of the force and pride of French-Canadian culture.
However, I also believe one should have the right to choose the language in which one studies at the college level. On April 26, during the Parti Québécois's convention, delegates voted in favour of extending Bill 101 to CEGEPs. Apparently the supporters of this policy are concerned that francophone students would become anglicized by the English education system. When I hear someone argue that, I take it very personally. Listening to the PQ discourse, I feel attacked, as if they are saying that I have lost my culture and have disowned it by attending an English school.
Spending 23 hours a week at an English institution will not make me lose my French identity. Even if I only spoke English at school, which is not the case, I would still use French to talk to my parents and my high-school friends.
When you enter CEGEP, you are almost an adult, and your values, even though they still can be altered by new experiences, are quite fixed. For example, even though my knowledge of the English language has improved significantly, I will continue to answer in French if a downtown store employee speaks to me in English, simply because I believe that someone whose job is to interact with clients in Montreal should speak French.
It is not out of laziness or spite that I act like this, but out of the convictions and values that come from my French-Canadian culture - convictions and values that have not been altered by my two years at Dawson.
Although I often hear Dawson students complaining about their French classes, the reality is very different when those students are not in an evaluation environment.
Despite the fact that his mother tongue is English, my friend Fabio never talks to me using any language other than French. One day I asked him where else he has spoken French. "Nowhere," he answered. Ironically, the only place he speaks French is at Dawson, with me. In addition to the pride this makes me feel, it has made me realize that preventing francophones from attending English schools would also prevent the two cultures from blending, by further isolating the two sides.
I do not think that the Parti Québécois is tackling the issue from the right side. Many francophones choose to study in English at the college level because they are not satisfied with their second-language skills. If the government invested more in the teaching of English in elementary and high schools, students would feel less urgency about improving their English skills and could continue their education in French after high school.
Frankly, if I had graduated from high school with a decent level of English, I would probably have gone to another CEGEP.
The PQ's proposed extension of Bill 101 would further impede the development of bilingualism at a time when the ability to speak both languages is crucial in fields such as law, business, and the sciences, to name just a few.
My high-school friend Nora Simard currently attends Marianopolis, a private English college in Montreal that is widely recognized for the quality of its music program. Simard, a skilled flutist, chose Marianopolis to get access to the best teachers and resources to improve her skills and her chances of pursuing a career as a professional musician. Under the extended version of Bill 101, she would not have been allowed to study at this institution.
In other words, extending Bill 101 would prevent some of the most talented francophone students from attending some of the best programs that are, in some cases, taught in English. Making the quality of education equal in both English and French schools would be a better solution than preventing people from going to certain schools based on their mother tongue.
The night of my birthday, I went out with my Dawson friends, but also with some old high-school buddies. I was excited about them meeting for the first time. I wanted everybody to get along, but I also worried about their differences. Some of my high-school friends are still not able to formulate a sentence in English, even if they have studied it for almost 10 years. On the other hand, there are some Dawson students who can barely say "bonjour" or "merci," even though they were born and raised in Quebec. To me, both situations are hardly believable, but since my friends really wanted to please me that night, they had to deal with their difficulties.
The Monday after my birthday, back at Dawson, it was a cold and quiet day, and everybody had pulled out their thickest sweaters. We could almost hear the heavy snowflakes hitting the cafeteria's windows.
But the weather was not the only reason behind the lack of energy around our table. We did not sleep that much that weekend! Despite their linguistic differences, my high-school and college friends got along very well. That night confirmed to me my choice of attending an English CEGEP, making me realize how lucky I was to experience, on a daily basis, the two cultural realities that make Montreal unique.
I truly hope that my children will be given the same rights and opportunities, for which I remain forever grateful.

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