With the school year now memories, and with Bill 21 heading to the courts, both these subjects came together positively at Aylmer’s École du Village graduation ceremony in mid-June. Bill 21 bans religious symbols worn by certain public servants and, with its companion bill to take down the National Assembly’s large crucifix, has unleashed both shock and applause. With the dire warnings that Bill 21 will open the door to further hostility toward minorities and religion, it was natural to look for religious symbols and cultural selectivity during this primary school graduation. There were none.
However, two positive social issues did appear.
First, this relatively large graduating class’ teachers and administrators were mainly female. Of 18 teachers on stage, two were male. The influence of a female-heavy administration pervaded the ceremony – decorations, music, hugging, and general excitement. These are clichés, but reflect 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 obvious prepping of 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 each given their own diploma. No winners singled out.
This suggests the pupils 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-prepared by their school staff, I felt, fortified 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. Canada’s anglo media has portrayed Bill 21 almost exclusively as racist and xenophobic, its virtues ignored from the anglo sidelines.
This graduating class was a virtual United Nations, with every racial and cultural difference on display up on stage -- and in the audience. Any racism at work was very 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 for its massively homogenizing character, thanks to our reliance on American media and entertainment. The nearby English-language school’s student body is largely white – thanks to these regulations. And the important point is that French-speakers are growing up in a very diverse environment. “Quebecers are xenophobic”? -- not in our schools, and that’s what shapes a society’s future.
Bill 21’s actual effects are not clear, but our province is clearly building, a multi-racial, multi-background society. Or so this one wonderful graduation ceremony suggested in mid-June ...