Let’s Think About the Future

So it looks like the over-loaded Commission scolaire de Montréal (CSDM) has asked the struggling English Montreal School Board (EMSB) if a ‘co-habitation’ initiative, wherein two of the province’s largest school boards will seek to actually put students in the segregated language streams in close proximity with one another, is feasible. The plan would be to run French schools in the excess space of EMSB schools in the city and first-ring suburbs, allowing Anglophone and Francophone public schooling to continue serving many urban neighbourhoods from under the same roof.

Quel horreur…

Now nothing’s yet carved in stone, but I find it remarkable that the CSDM has come to such a conclusion. Not too long ago such an idea would have been unthinkable. In fact, twenty years ago the PSBGM made such a proposal to help keep some schools in Cote-des-Neiges open. It was rebuffed. Perhaps times and attitudes have changed. I’m optimistic this may lead to more than just sharing some important neighbourhood institutions. I’m hopeful that this eventually leads to integration of the boards and the end of segregated schooling in Montréal.

There’s a practical economic issue at play here I’m sure all parties are very much aware of. Mayor Tremblay is keen to continue residential development within the city and first-ring suburbs, attracting new residents, but families in particular, closer to the urban core. Good public schools are part of the allure of living in the city, and because both boards face diametrically opposed enrolment problems (and their subsequent effects on funding, staffing and space/resource allocation) neither the EMSB nor CSDM are overly attractive, and there can only be so many private schools for a given market. Ergo, should the boards decide to embark on a co-habiting solution, the total student population can be more evenly distributed and urban schools can be re-invigorated. In addition, if this space-sharing agreement is worked out and brought to its logical extent, it will ultimately translate into increased operational efficiencies and a better return for the local tax dollar.

1920s perspective of what was then the High School of Montreal

And perhaps this is step one towards integration of the city’s linguistic boards. If they can share a building, they can share a library, a cafeteria, a gym, sports teams, staff etc. Doing so will allow the boards to cooperate on establishing more comprehensive education solutions for multiple schools and by extension provide neighbourhood stability and promote higher urban land-value. It’s high-time we re-invest in public education in such a fashion that we also remove the barriers keeping us from getting the highest possible return for our investment.

It’s 2012 and it seems as though we’ve finally come up with the most obvious solution beneficial to both school boards. A win-win situation we could have implemented forty years ago if not for the myopia of the political ‘leadership’ of the day. I’m certain that Ms. De Courcy’s plan will meet with some opposition from the hardcore péquiste community, but hopefully the majority of the school-tax paying among us, regardless of mother-tongue, will endorse it and welcome the change.

Now imagine if we abolished the linguistic boards altogether, and simply accorded school boards per city or region. We would endeavour to maximize efficiency and educate our children collectively, principally in French and with a focus on the culture and society of Québec, but with the aim to ensure complete bilingualism as a cornerstone of our local education system. Children can learn multiple languages early on without any detrimental loss to their capacity to master one specific language. Considering the pervasiveness of English in North American media and the fact that we all share in a responsibility, as Québecois, to succeed in preserving the French language here, as an element of our culture, then we should strive to ensure our public system can effectively do just that. Why settle for anything less.

Aerial perspective of FACE School in the 1970s

It’s not just that we could save a bunch of money, keep schools open, increase residential land value and the stability and vitality of urban communities, reduce crime and the drop-out rate, reduce class sizes and sew the seeds of racial and cultural-linguistic harmony, but that we can collectively make money off it as well. The full integration of Montréal’s linguistic boards will result in a generation of children fluent in both English and French, well versed in Québecois cultural and social studies. We can make French attractive to youth by capitalizing on the fact that it a) makes them unique in a North American context and b) prepares them for a future where they’ll feel comfortable interacting on a global level. This will draw corporations, NGOs and all manner of international agencies to our city, not to mention lead more children into the post-secondary sector. Being able to speak multiple languages is hard, but not impossible, and mentally rewarding inasmuch as its challenging. We need to instil in our children a desire to speak both languages perfectly, and to prefer French, so that we instil in them a desire to overcome challenges and follow-up on their curiosities.

It’s long-term economic strategizing, fundamentally. It’s also advantageous socio-culturally speaking too.

Now if only we can manage to stop over-analyzing our separate pasts and start thinking about our collective future…