Cultural Integration or Segregation?
By Marieke Bivar-Wikhammer
The issue of educational integration for immigrant youth in Quebec is a complicated one. To best explore the subject, I have chosen two articles that examine the problem through studies. The first is Who's in and who's out? Language and the integration of new immigrant youth in Quebec by Dawn Allen, which focuses on the government of Quebec's definition of integration and argues for more inclusive policy. She argues that "...in Quebec's current policy documents, integration is conceptualized in such a way that immigrants are the objects rather than the subjects of integration." (Allen, 2). The second article is by Marilyn Steinbach and is based on findings from a study drawing on interviews with a number of immigrant youth navigating Quebec's "Accueil" system. Its title Quand je sors d'accueil: linguistic integration of immigrant adolescents in Quebec secondary schools refers to the isolation experienced by immigrant youth both socially and academically due to their status. As the issue is a complex one and both papers are quite long, I have chosen to focus on outlining the Accueil (meaning "welcome") system that immigrant youth are required to go through in Quebec before joining regular classes.
Both studies make reference to language being a major issue for immigrant youth. Arising from the shift from English political dominance after the Quiet Revolution in the late 1960's, a wave of protectionist policy aimed at preserving the French language and Quebecois culture affected institutions, previously clearly segregated into either providing services in English or French. To clarify the matter of cultural and linguistic authority, Bill 101 was passed, outlining how provincially controlled ministries were to enforce the dominance of the French language. This bill, and the ceding by the federal government of a certain amount of control over immigration policy to Quebec (due to its unique historic and linguistic status in Canada) greatly affected the immigrant populations of Quebec, previously integrated into an English dominant culture through federally controlled institutions upon arrival, including being integrated into the English school system. With the advent of Bill 101, however, only children with at least one parent educated in an English school system were allowed to attend an English school.
An aspect of the bill that affected immigrant youth exclusively was the Accueil program. Allen describes the program as "...an intensive host-language learning bath as prerequisite to entering the mainstream..." (Allen, 5) in which immigrant students are segregated from the rest of the student body and taught through French immersion until their instructor judges them to be ready to integrate into regular classes or until they pass standardized tests. The goal of the program is both cultural and linguistic integration: "...one of the three competencies to be achieved is integration into the school environment and Quebec society, which is to be accomplished by learning the shared values... in order to develop Quebec citizenship identities..." (Steinbach, 2)
By segregating immigrant students from French speaking students, depriving them of access to regular classes, and placing them in an environment where French becomes an obstacle rather than a tool, Allen argues that the Accueil program is as detrimental to French language and culture in Quebec as it is to the academic careers of its participants. She concludes that programs seeking to help immigrant students integrate into mainstream French language curricula should include immigrant youth in the school community and allow them to participate in student life rather than making acquiring French a sort of pass that will allow them inclusion.
Steinbach's article makes reference to the particularities of tensions between new immigrants and French speaking populations outside of Quebec's urban centers. Students in these classes are isolated with other non-French speakers and with others who are unfamiliar with Quebecois culture. Most of the students in Steinbach's interviews described constant conflict with Quebecois students, particularly for visible minorities such as African and Afghan students.
Another problem described by students was the inadequacy of their French instruction in preparing them for social interactions. Some felt that they had learned more functional French outside the classroom and were able to find more help from family and friends than from instructors. Students were also more likely to find a group of friends within the Accueil program who shared their values, lessening the likelihood of them bothering to overcoming the hostility of their Quebecois peers and making the latter less likely to accept them because of their openly identifying with other non-Quebecois.
What can be seen as the final nails in the coffin of the hope of integration are the strict linguistic policies within the schools. At the school in Allen's study, all of the school clubs and extracurricular activities were explicitly francophone. There was even a refusal to allow any linguistic clubs to be formed for fear of undermining the fundamental dominance of French within the student body. These policies went so far as to insist that French be the language of all school activities: "...For one participant and his band, use of English in their talent show performance threatened the possibility of performing in future talent shows..." (Allen, 6).
Unfortunately for all, Quebec's approach to educational integration is a veritable minefield of issues. The treatment of new immigrants and the way in which they are exposed to French language and culture are crucial to maintaining Quebecois culture. If immigrant students are presented with a primary place of socialization in which they are isolated and in which their language instruction is an obstacle to their socialization, French will seem an unfriendly language and Quebecois culture will seem hostile and inaccessible. By refusing to embrace the contributions these students could make to the school environment by sharing their culture and language, the French school board is creating a future society of polarized immigrant communities which will no doubt thrive on their own while Franco-Quebecois society struggles to carry on through the few who do manage to integrate successfully. If the fear here is the deterioration of the French language and a loss of Quebecois culture, we need to move towards a model of inclusion and participation and away from the outdated concept of integration.
Allen, Dawn. "Who's in and who's out? Language and the integration of new immigrant youth in Quebec." International Journal of Inclusive Education 10.2/3 (2006): 251-263. Academic Search Complete. EBSCO. Web. 12 Oct. 2010
Steinbach, Marilyn. "Quand je sors d'accueil: linguistic integration of immigrant adolescents in Quebec secondary schools." Language, Culture & Curriculum 23.2 (2010): 95-107. Academic Search Complete. EBSCO. Web. 12 Oct. 2010.