French education programs in Québec come under fire for racist materials

As Quebec’s provincial government attempts to tighten its language policy and adopt more pro-French legislation, many non-Francophones are protesting what they deem nationalistic and xenophobic sentiments.

Recently proposed and amended legislation like Bill 96 (often referred to simply as the “Quebec language bill”) would significantly boost the status of French within the province, requiring recent businesses to conduct work mainly in French, encouraging new immigrants to begin learning French shortly upon arrival, and mandating students within the publicly funded CÉGEP system to take a certain number of classes in French. Some view the policy as emboldening xenophobic and racist attitudes — a recent report from Canada’s CTV News highlights ways in which such views trickle down into the education system.

According to CTV News, Asian Quebecers are denouncing two French-language programs which used educational materials depicting extremely offensive stereotypes of East Asian people.

At the University of Quebec’s École Internationale de Français (International School of French), a worksheet depicted a dialogue between two students talking about Chinese food, with one joking about “eating cat.” Another program at an adult learning program in Quebec City was found to use a worksheet depicting a caricature of an East Asian man wearing a straw hat with the caption, “He has small eyes.”

While these instances may be unrelated to the province’s language policy, Bill 96 would essentially require immigrants and refugees to Quebec — many of whom come from Asian countries — to learn French within six months of arrival. A lack of cultural sensitivity within the programs that facilitate French-language education for new arrivals indicates that the province may not be equipped to gracefully enact such a mandate.

“It’s crazy, it’s really disturbing,” said Jimmy Chan, the president of the Chan Association of Montreal, in an interview with CTV News. “This is no respect for other people’s culture.”

Tension between Francophones and non-Francophones in Quebec has gone on for quite some time now. Under British rule, the French language was largely subjugated to English hegemony. However, the opposite seems to be the case today. Since the mid-20th Century, the province has pivoted toward nationalistic tendencies regarding its language policy — right around the same time the Charter of the French Language was adopted in the late 1970s, a huge wave of Anglophone Quebecers left the province for neighboring provinces — an exodus which continues (albeit to a lesser extent) even today.

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Andrew Warner
Andrew Warner is a writer from Sacramento. He received his B.A. in linguistics and English from UCLA and is currently working toward an M.A. in applied linguistics at Columbia University. His writing has been published in Language Magazine, Sactown Magazine, and The Takeout.

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