Every single organization is vulnerable to the big gaffe, it's bound to happen even with the best intentions. But how an organization deals with adversity, is what separates the good from the bad and today, our Quebec English school boards are demonstrating, how very, very, bad they are.
You might remember the disastrous launch of "New Coke" back in 1985, when the company replaced the old familiar taste of Americas favourite drink with a newer and supposedly 'younger' edition. As marketing strategies go, it couldn't have been a bigger fiasco. The public was so outraged that the company fiddled with a familiar friend that the pressure to return to the old product was unbearable.
The company had staked its future on the new product and had invested heavily. Initially trying to ride out the storm, the company finally realized that they'd have to do the unthinkable. Abandon ship.
On July 11, Coca-Cola withdrew New Coke from stores. “We did not understand the deep emotions of so many of our customers for Coca-Cola,” said company President Donald R. Keough.
A Montreal Gazette editorial on June 12, revealed that Grade ten students in English school boards were subjected to exam questions that would make the hair crawl on any bone fide Anglo Quebecker.
Of the four questions to be answered, the first question required the student to write a paragraph and to "make an observation about some vision as Quebec as a nation."
The second asks the student to "formulate three questions about some vision of Quebec as a nation."
The third question has a diagram that is to be completed by listing four examples of;
a) "What makes Quebec distinct?" and
b) "How can Quebec protect its distinct status?"
The exam's final issue is "Justify your opinion on protecting Quebec's distinct society," and requires the student to produce a two-page essay on: "Will the recognition of Quebec as a nation help protect Quebec's distinct society?"
If you are assuming that these questions were rammed down the throat of school boards by the government, you'd be wrong.
The questions were formulated by the English school boards themselves, if you can believe it.
There was a shit storm of controversy on the English language radio talk shows with parents and students themselves howling at the inappropriateness of the question.
On June 16th in a letter to the Montreal Gazette, a parent wondered;
"Will students fail the exam because they have the intelligence to answer the question logically? Will all English students who failed the exam be forced to attend summer school because they did not answer the questions according to the doctrine of the Quebec government? LINK
How did the school boards react? By circling the wagons and defending the indefensible. Yup, they are trying to ride out the controversy, instead of admitting the blunder.
One official offered that the questions were based on the Prime Minster's recognition that Quebec is a distinct society.
An angry caller pointed out that the Prime Minister did nothing of the sort. He reminded listeners that the Prime Minister recognized Quebeckers as a distinct society, not the Province of Quebec.
Much fury on the radio hot lines ensued.
One mother was torn between telling her son to suck it up and just give the politically correct answer that will get him into Cegep, or to defy the authority by rejecting the very premises of the questions.
The school boards aren't making it easy by stupidly defending their indefensible position. It's no wonder our English school boards have a reputation for dysfunction.
Perhaps it's time for board members to to be reminded of the story of New Coke..