People want choice in schooling for their children. In Quebec, more specifically, people want choice in the language of schooling.
Because of our peculiar politics, minority anglophones have a freedom denied to the francophone majority and to immigrants: the right to choose English or French schools. Under Quebec law, parents have an option for their kids only if at least one parent has had the majority of his or her schooling in English in Canada.
But countless parents in every language group want to decide freely what's right for their offspring. The latest evidence of this comes from a private Catholic school in Champlain, N.Y., of all places. Surprised news reports recently explained about 30 Quebec children, most of them francophones and all from towns near the border, are enrolled at St. Mary's school in Champlain. Typical parents are quoted as saying they love and are proud of their French language, but want their children to have the benefits of bilingualism.
These parents are disdainful of Quebec's English-as-a-second-language teaching, which especially outside the Montreal area is often pitiful: too few minutes per week, and often with teachers whose own English is sadly shaky.
Also sadly shaky, at the level of logic, was Education Minister Michelle Courchesne's response. There's an knee-jerk reflex in governing, it seems: EVERYONE MUST CONFORM. Informed by the Quebec City newspaper Le Soleil of the free-choice outbreak around Lacolle, Courchesne said local school boards must crack down. "The parents will have to conform. We expect these children to attend school in Quebec." The state, not parents, will decide what's best for these children.
Even more chillingly, a local school board official reportedly called on "the community" to report families that use St. Mary's or any school like it. Big brother is watching.
And if parents persist in their wicked insistence on deciding what's good for their children, well, the state is not without resources: The Direction de la protection de la jeunesse can ultimately be called in. At the end of that road, in theory, parents could lose their children. (Oddly, though, really rich parents are perfectly free to send their kids to boarding schools in the United States or overseas, in any language.)
Perhaps Quebec will pass a law against the Great Lacolle Escape, and herd Laura-Camille, Ariane and the others back into French schools on this side of the border.
Quebec responded with a law when a few parents found a way to end-run Bill 101 by sending their little ones to fully private English school for one year. Bill 104 slammed that exercise of choice shut. When a court said Bill 104 went too far, Jean Charest's Liberal government vowed within minutes it would appeal.
We believe many francophones want school choice, or at least much better English classes. But the unshakeable inertia of Quebec's language orthodoxy makes this the truth that dare not speak its name. So parents have no choice but to keep seeking their own little ways around the bureaucrats who enforce this meddlesome law.
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