The following presentation was delivered to a Community Conference for Parents sponsored by the Department of Administration and Policy Studies in Education, McGill University in collaboration with the Quebec Anglophone citizens’ organization known as “Alliance Quebec.” It was first published in the editorial section of The Gazette, Montreal, March 4, 1983 under the headline: “Quebec moves to influence courses and young minds” and again in the News and Chronicle, Montreal, Wednesday, June 13, 1984 under the headline: Quebec Curriculum will promote obsolescence.
During the long struggle against former Education Minister, Camille Laurin’s plans to realign and centralize Quebec’s education systems a profound public concern developed over the question of what is to be taught in our schools.
That concern revolved around two fundamental issues which have yet to be satisfactorily resolved.
The first is a growing suspicion among Quebeckers that the role of the state in Quebec’s schools is reaching proportions beyond the requirements of our democratic pluralistic society. The second is a deep seated concern that heavily centralized mechanisms for the development of school curricula may be generating programs that are unable to satisfy the future needs of our children.
With regard to the first issue, over recent years, Quebecers have witnessed a significant extension of government authority into the realm of education. The Ministry of education has already expropriated much of the financial and administration authority over our school systems and is now seeking a massive influence over the inner life of Quebec education through control of the curriculum itself.
This “nationalization” of the education process is taking place through the implementation of the so-called “Regime Pedagogigue” which, once in place, will determine more than 90 per cent of the content of Quebec’s school programs.
The new “regime” is being justified by the argument that it might otherwise be impossible to provide a common core of skills and values necessary for the “normal” development of Quebec society. Few would dispute that suitable levels of literacy and knowledge, along with certain core values, are necessary to maintain a stable, prosperous society. The important question that people are asking is: To what extent should the goals and values of local communities be determined by the somewhat distant bureaucratic authority of the state?
The proper concern of our provincial government is to assure that all citizens have the opportunity to acquire a sound general education, but the state’s activities are increasingly being directed toward “schooling” society rather than turning out young, well-formed, independent thinkers.
There has been some dramatic evidence of this in recent years. For example, the Baldwin-Cartier )Catholic) School Board developed its own sex-education program and the Chateauquay School Board offered a program of English instruction to French children in the primary grades. Neither of these programs was entirely compatible with the regulations contained in the new national curriculum. They were, however, well-regarded by local parents. Nevertheless, the initial reaction of Quebec’s Minister of education was to have these courses phased out.
Earlier, public suspicion was also raised by the direct distribution of a Quebec Government publication entitled, “Minute Ottawa” to all of Quebec’s history teachers. The document outlined the separatist Parti Quebecois’ position on the Canadian Constitution. Its timely appearance in Quebec’s schools provided further evidence that the Parti Quebecois government was not beyond using the classroom as a forum for the promotion of its political agenda.
These cases were brought to the public’s attention by the press, but there may be more subtle intrusions into the school curriculum that escape public notice. For example, a few years ago the Ministry of Education developed a new “national history” course which is now compulsory in all Quebec high schools. The course is a revision of Canadian history which, some say, brings its narrative more in line with the governing party’s “liberationist” ideology.
There is some evidence to suggest that this contention should be taken more seriously. For example, on the June 1981 final history examination set by the PQ Ministry of Education the following question appeared:
The fact that the Levesque government:
- Held public hearings before passing laws on the environment.
- Held hearings by the Minister of Education in connection with the “green paper” on education reform.
- Held a referendum on the issue of “Sovereignty Association.” is evidence of its desire to:
a) Interfere with the economy.
b) Consult the public on issues.
c) Promote reforms of the tax system
d) Safeguard freedom of the press.
What does a question like this imply about the nature of the programs outlined by the new “regime?”
From a political viewpoint, it could be regarded as pure propaganda. There is only one possible response to the examination question. To score a “correct” answer, the student must declare that he sees evidence of the Levesque government’s desire to consult the public on issues. Carried to its logical conclusion this exercise could be regarded as closer to extracting an admission than it is to demonstrating knowledge of history. If the student wants credit for a correct answer he or she must admit that the PQ government consults the public on issues. Whether in full or partial agreement or not at all in agreement, this is the only opinion the student is entitled to hold.
If this sort of question is any indication of the direction being taken under the new “Regime Pedagogigue” there may be some reason for concern. The PQ government has declared that: “Education cannot be divorced from a time and a place.” Over time, this could simply amount to the position that Quebec’s schools can and should be used as vehicles for the promotion of fashionable political agendas.
The second question I would like to raise is the growing concern among parents and in institutions of higher learning about the quality of learning and the development of creativity within our public educational systems. Apart from the question of political or ideological interference, the public should also consider the potentially stifling result that a more restrictive curriculum could have on schools already suffering from over regulation.
Much of the impulse that keeps the engines of progress operating in our school s comes from local initiatives. For example, through the creative energies of local educators supported by locally elected school boards, computer training became a reality in Quebec long before the government’s pedagogical regime began to integrate the new technology. This is because many local school boards maintain strong instructional service divisions working with teachers, administrators and parents to create or adopt programs to satisfy local demands and requirements.
On the other hand, large “nationalized” school systems often lack the flexibility required to take risks and embark on new projects. Although any one small school board may not have the financial resources of a state ministry of education, inspired educators dealing directly with students, parents and local school authorities are a prime source of creativity within our schools.
The Minister of Education is attempting to create a system which he believes will be more rational, more predictable and therefor more controllable. In so doing the Minister may find himself unwittingly in support of obsolescence. If the Quebec government wants complete control over a centrally planned education system, it is highly likely be established at the expense of dynamic performance and state-of-the-art practices in Quebec’s schools. An overly managed education system will inevitably become a more barren learning environment.
It is for these reasons that local school boards have begun to reassert their rights to independently develop curriculum to suit the needs of their school populations and the “Regime Pedagogique” is being challenged in the courts.
This challenge is important and merits the support of all parents and interested citizens. It may be the only means of restoring the balance of authority necessary to maintain truly “liberal” education systems in Quebec.
William Brooks was recently re-elected as Commissioner for Ward 8 in the Lakeshore School Board.