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Gerald McEachern

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Canada's Only Bilingual Province Is Very One-Sided

Posted: 07/06/2012 2:26 pm

Perhaps I've been out of school too long, or I'm too old and cranky. But when I read that the name of our local School District 10 had been amalgamated with others in New Brunswick and changed to Anglophone South something snapped.

With a little poking online I learned that our provincial government has cut the number of school districts in half across New Brunswick in a centralizing move that they claim will save us $5 million a year. According to NB's Education Minister Jody Carr, that means some 75 to 100 jobs will be lost, and the savings will be passed along to the classrooms, in other words, my kids and yours.

That's a happy little bit of news (unless you're one of those who lost his job). But I wasn't so amused with the voice mail message I got from our kids' school last week informing us that I could buy an $81 supplies package from a local retailer to get my child ready for the next school year. Hmm.

So, say you have three kids in school (which I do), you'd be forking out $243 in binders and paper, not to mention the $35 registration fee for each child plus a $50 locker fee for each kid in middle-high school and then the additional hits for fundraising and tickets to kids performances which would run at least $50 per child a year. And then add the cost of the annual field trips, which can go up to $300 each, and you get the picture. We're talking something like $500 per child (times three, that's $1500). And we haven't even started to talk about the extra curricular stuff like hockey.

So much for the math. But that's up to $1500 a year for "free education" to keep our three kids in school. And what are we getting for that? Classrooms wired with electronic smart boards, teachers with iPhones and iPads and, quite frankly, a generally soggy academic education relative to the one I received, given the poor grammar, memory and spelling skills my kids bring home.

I don't say any of this out of malice. I like my kids' teachers. They're caring, pleasant and diligent people who I trust. But the system has changed, ostensibly to make the school more palatable for electronically-raised kids, at some real downside expense to learning. And for all that, I would have to say my three boys are just as bored and unchallenged in school as I was.

But that's not what angers me most about this provincial system. We are living in Canada's only bilingual province. As such, in order to get a job with the province (in mine and many other fields) one must be fully bilingual, which I am not. Okay, that's just how it is.

Or is it? As I said, it was the District 10 name change that sparked a reaction. "Anglophone?" My kids are being educated as anglophones, which means when they graduate, they, too, will not be able to get the very government jobs I am not qualified to get. What's up with that?

I figure that if our province wishes to maintain its status as a fully bilingual province, it has two choices: either to educate all children in the province to be fully and functionally bilingual, so each of them has an equal opportunity for future employment in the province. Or, the government has to open its hiring policies to include people like me. And use translators to infill the difference.

Or perhaps there should be a combination of the two approaches until the entire province is fully bilingual. This would require a 20-year window (one generation) to make a full transition.
Instead we have created at least two generations of privileged bilingual insiders, administrative elites, who function in a superior capacity over unilingual anglophone and francophone New Brunswickers. I don't know about you, but I personally don't care to have my tax dollars going toward the building of a thicker layer of increasingly centralized elites.

So what are the current options? Barring any change (a highly unlikely prospect at best given that the same bilingual people are creating our provincial policies)? Well, I can arrange to bus all three of my kids 50 kilometers a day to French immersion classes in the next town. But they're now getting too old for that, and beyond easily getting caught up to their bilingual cohorts.

I can just put up and shut up, which is normal default course of action.

Or I can home school my kids. (If you're interested, you can check it out. Your kids, or mine, would be joining the other 60,000 Canadian students doing exactly that.)

The home schooling option is interesting, and seems to be a growing phenomenon with significantly less stigma attached than it used to have. But still, it seems like a lot of work, unless one is planning to live on a sailboat or in some remote location for several years.

But all of this dismisses my real regret. We are living in a bilingual province that should be offering our kids more educational advantages to us as Canadians. But we seem to be unwilling or unable, financially or creatively, to capitalize on that potential. What a shame.

 
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