This article was published in the News and Chronicle, Montreal, Thursday, April 22, 1982 under the headline “Laurin should not call the tune on education” and again in The Gazette, Montreal, September 16, 1982 under the headline: “Quebec parents about to lose their say in education.”
Education Minister, Camille Laurin’s recent white paper entitled The Quebec School, may not make great summer reading, but his proposals should be fully understood by all Quebecers.
The Minister proposes to eliminate two strongly established elements of our education system with one stroke of his pen.
First he intends to change the present denominational alignment of Quebec’s school boards in favour of an essentially unified school system. Secondly, he aims to eliminate the democratic and truly “public” character of the school boards themselves.
By claiming to make the school the focal point of Quebec’s new educational order, Laurin’s plan will eliminate the historic recognition of two complementary yet culturally independent education systems in the province.
For all intents and purposes, the Minister proposes to create a common education system through which the provincial government will control all major functions such as the development of the school curriculum, the certification of teachers and the distribution of the budget.
In order to accommodate the Island of Montreal, where Francophone Quebeckers do not always form a clear majority, and off-island regions, where there are substantial Anglophone minorities, the Minister will create two types of linguistic as accessories to an otherwise uniform education system.
On-island, these linguistic components will consist of several of the “new “school boards or “service cooperatives” described in the white paper. Off the Island of Montreal, so-called Anglophone linguistic committees will operate within unified francophone structures.
Regardless of this tip of the hat to the existence of an Anglophone community in Quebec, it is important to note that any recognition of the dual cultural nature of Quebec’s school systems effectively disappears.
The second part of the plan deals with the democratic nature of our present school systems. Publicly elected local school boards will be dismantled. The National Assembly through the Minister of Education will become the only level of school government with access to a public mandate. Hence, the provincial government will inherit all real authority for the development of educational policy.
To replace locally elected school boards, the Minister will create what he has described as “service cooperatives,” each consisting of a regional administrative apparatus and parent delegates from all schools in a particular territory.
The schools themselves will be given individual corporate status with a council consisting parents, staff and other members of the community. The school council will supposedly define and develop the school’s “educational project,” but the white paper frequently points out that this must be done without straying from the rather detailed guidelines imposed by the Ministry.
Although Laurin is referring to his plan as a “Copernican Revolution” which will place the school at the center of Quebec’s educational universe, there are a number of disturbing implications in the scheme.
Where education is concerned the majority of parents and citizens will be disenfranchised. Their support for community schools will no longer be mobilized through the free election of local institutions with any real decision making power. By eliminating local school boards, the provincial government will enter into a direct relationship with the schools. Quebec citizens will lose one of the last intermediate institutions that can challenge Quebec on important issues such as the disposition of the budget, the design of the curriculum or the admissibility of students to English schools.
Local communities will lose the right to raise taxes in support of their schools. The removal of the local board’s direct access to public financing virtually removes any discretionary spending power that has been necessary to develop local priorities and realize local objectives.
The proposal to replace local denominational school boards with unified regional councils will mean that in much of Quebec, culturally distinct communities will find themselves in minority positions with provincially engineered unified structures.
Even the establishment of linguistic components will be of little value without the democratic electoral elements necessary for effective public participation in educational policy development. Such a compromise would only serve to co-opt parents into token consultative structures over which they will have extremely limited control.
Complete control of curriculum content will also give the provincial government carte blanche to politicize the classroom. Given recent developments, such as the distribution of political literature like Minute Ottawa directly to classroom teachers, it may be wrong to expect a more liberal education system when program development is entirely controlled by provincial authorities.
The Minister may see himself in the role of Copernicus, but he forgets that the Renaissance thinker set out to describe the universe, not to recreate it according to his own image.
Laurin may be preparing us for quite a different form of revolution. If he is permitted to set his model for the heavens in motion, we may find ourselves spinning helplessly around Quebec City. It will then become the Minister’s prerogative to prescribe the size of our orbits.
William Brooks was elected to the Lakeshore School Board in June 1980. He is public relations chairman for the Quebec Association of Protestant School Boards’ special task force on reorganization.