About One Quebec Graduation

Posted 7.5.19

SHAWVILLE, QC | With the school year officially finished -- and with the National Assembly in Quebec City having passed Bill 21 -- both subjects came together nicely, positively, at a school graduation I attended in mid-June. Bill 21, you may recall, is the law to ban religious symbols worn by certain public servants. It has been passed, with its companion bill to move the large crucifix from the National Assembly itself. And having heard the warnings that Bill 21 will open the door to all sorts of religious persecution (from those who see the law as an attack on religion), it was natural to look for religious symbols and cultural selectivity during this primary school graduation. There were none.

However, two other social issues did appear -- positive issues.

First, this relatively large graduating class' teachers and administrators were female. Of the 18 teachers on stage, two were male. The influence of a female-heavy administration pervaded the whole ceremony -- decorations, music, all the hugging (rather than only male-ish hand-shaking) and general excitement. These are clichés, but they reflected an ambiance.

The girls took advantage of the event to get dressed up. They looked lovely and mature -- especially for kids barely into puberty. The boys, tidy, lacked the prepping evident among the girls.

This extended to the event itself -- there were no "winners", no Best-this and Best-that prizes: competition was not the big thing. Every pupil was called by name, every pupil shook the hand of each teacher, and was given their own diploma. No "winners" singled out.

I speculated that this suggests the kids were taught the values of sharing, cooperation, mutual help, even nutrition, health and cleanliness -- all somewhat feminine -- rather than the values of competition and self-assertion, the vaguely male values. These kids have been well-cared for by their school staff, I felt, armoured a bit before they head off into our still male-slanted culture.

The second impression returns to Bill 21 and cultural diversity. Canadians often hear that Quebecers, especially, can slip into cultural stereotyping as they struggle to defend their own language and culture within our massively-anglophone continent. In Canada's anglo media, Bill 21 has been portrayed almost exclusively as a racist and xenophobic piece of legislation; however it has virtues, all ignored from the anglo sidelines.

This single graduating class was a virtual United Nations -- every racial and cultural difference was on display, both up on stage and especially in the audience of parents and family. Any racism at work was well-hidden!

Quebec requires immigrant families to send their kids to the French school system -- as a way to stimulate Quebec's French character and increase its diversity. To many Quebecers, English culture is a threat because of its massively homogenizing character, and much of that comes from our reliance on American media and entertainment norms.

Curiously, the nearby English-language school shows much less diversity -- its student body is largely white -- thanks to these regulations. And the important point here is that Quebecers are growing up in a very, very diverse environment. If there is any truth to claims that Quebecers are xenophobic, there's much less evidence of this in the school system, and that's what shapes our society's future.

Let's look at Bill 21's genuine effects and scratch beneath the surface of the easy accusations: Quebec is, and is busy building, a multi-racial, multi-background society. That may scare a few but it should hearten all the rest of us who have a share in this dynamic society. Or so this one wonderful graduation ceremony suggested in mid-June …


Copyright © 2019 Fred Ryan/Log Cabin Chronicles/7.5.19