Sunday, May 03, 2009

Elitism or Common Sense?

Here is an interesting and illustrative article that deals with French immersion education in Canada.

Although I'm not Canadian, I am outnumbered by Canadians in my house (unless one counts the non-human population). And though I don't teach in an immersion school, I do teach Latin to students of all abilities in a way that mimics some elements of immersion. But this issue in Canadian education isn't really primarily about language education at all, but rather seems illustrative of a cultural philosophy we share in North America: penalizing those who succeed, motivated by a warped view of "fairness."

The "problem" is that French immersion schools are attracting less students with discipline problems, learning disabilities, and those who don't perform well academically. French immersion is attracting bright kids who study hard and are academically gifted and don't cause discipline problems in school.

And the problem is...?

By definition, immersion education means learning all your subjects in a foreign language. That's a lot more work. It requires more thought. It requires more homework. It requires less interruption and more focus in the classroom. If an English-speaking student is already struggling with Math and Science when his classes are in English, how do you think that student would perform if you were to teach him the very same Math and Science, but only this time in French, Swahili, Russian, or Mandarin? Should this shock anyone that this is going to add to the difficulty and level of academic performance and commitment?

And why is it a problem for really bright kids to have a program that challenges them? Why is it a problem for the hard-working kids to not have to put up with as many discipline problems in the classroom?

I'm not against children who struggle. In fact, it would seem to me cruel to place a child who is already having a tough time in school, and then demand that he keep up with the gifted students by attending school in a foreign language.

But notice how the bright kids are nearly vilified in this article, and their parents are almost being treated as though they are doing something wrong! Children who are smart, disciplined, hard-working, interested, and ambitious shouldn't be held back by the ones who can't keep up - whether it is because the children who lag behind have some legitimate issue (e.g. dyslexia), or if they're just plain troublemakers.

This penalizing of the elite (and demonizing the encouragement of these kids at the top of their academic classes with the silly pejorative "elitism") is only going to discourage the very students who will likely (though not exclusively) grow up to be leaders and thinkers in society. This is the result of egalitarian thinking, and it drags everyone down to a lowest common denominator that is increasingly brutish, savage, and stupid. It leads to a society that devalues intelligence, achievement, self-discipline, and hard work.

What would make sense (at least to me) would be to encourage all gifted children (regardless of race, income, sex, religion, immigrant status, etc.) to take full advantage of these schools, and to push them hard, and to encourage their achievement. At the same time, to encourage children who (for whatever reason) don't have what it takes to succeed in an immersion program to accept that reality and enroll in a program that suits their own gifts and abilities (which may well not be linguistic).

Is this rocket science or something? Am I missing something?

And if you can read this, then throw me something, Mister: "Laissez les bons temps rouler!"


Mike Keith said...

I agree. Absolutely.

The one thing is that in Canada unless one is bilingual many government jobs are not open to you. Furthermore, if you are bilingual it will most certainly give you an edge in getting some jobs.

So, necessarily, ifone is not bilingual (even in Western Canada where an incredibly small percentage of people speak French) some jobs are closed.

What would the term be for this "discrimination?" Lingualism?

Father Hollywood said...

Dear Mike:

I don't know if it's still the same today (I suspect it is), but in parts of BC, Chinese languages are much more widely spoken than French. Yet, postal workers are required to speak French, not Mandarin or Cantonese. It makes no sense at all.

I believe that Trudeau's bilingualism was a bone-headed move that only served to make Anglophones resentful of Francophones.

Nothing will make people not want to learn a language more than jamming it down their throats. There are a lot of voices trying to push bilingualism onto Americans as well - and it would even be stupider for us - given that we have the historical example of bilingualism's failure just to our north. If we don't learn from that, we're as stupid as much of the world says we are.

Also, making French a requirement for jobs where it really isn't necessary to speak French amounts to a form of "affirmative action" for French-Canadians. I know my brother in law has been passed over for jobs, not only because he is male, but also because he doesn't speak French. In Ottawa, this may be somewhat relevant, but it seems to me (with the caveat that I'm not a Canadian) that this would better be determined by the employer, and not by Federal bureaucrats.

As I understand it, the bilingual policy is also not practiced reciprocally in a lot of places. In other words, there are Quebeckers who have Federal jobs though they themselves are not bilingual.

And again, this embedded unfairness doesn't engender harmony and affection between English- and French-Canadians.

Mike Keith said...