I think it's a great idea for parents to expose children to all sorts of skills at an early age, be it sports like golf, an instrument like piano or learning experiences in science or literature. Who knows what hidden talent might be exposed, like a buried treasure waiting to be discovered.
I could have been revealed as possessing a hidden talent, a budding child prodigy like Tiger Woods who started playing golf at two years old and who broke eighty at age eight. I might have been a Mozart who composed and gave concerts from the age of five or a Bobby Fisher, who became a chess grandmaster at 13. (oooh--let's forget that last one!)
Alas, I was none of the above and loathed the piano lessons, realizing almost immediately that I had zero talent or love for the avocation.
After two years of intensive study my mother gave up, liberating me from the heavy burden of attempting to master a skill, that I did not want to acquire.
It took me less than a year to forget everything I learned and today, I couldn't tell you where Middle C lies on the keyboard.
WHICH brings me to Premier Charest who announced that Francophone students in Grade Six are to be exposed to an entire semester taught in English. Parents are largely supportive, expressing an overwhelming desire to see their children become bilingual.
But I'm doubtful the project will have a lasting effect, and just like me and my piano lessons, it's likely a colossal waste of time, effort and money.
For the vast majority of students who will be forced into a traumatic social experiment, it is the equivalent of throwing a non-swimmer into the pool without any thought, in the misguided belief that they will learn to swim.
Of course the usual suspects are against the idea of intensive English in Grade six, especially the teachers who dislike the idea for a variety of reasons, claiming among other things, that for many students, the project is above their abilities.
I'm not sure I disagree.
What I find troubling is that the project seems to have been embarked upon without much thought or study, as if the Premier and eduction Minister cooked up the idea all by themselves, because it seemed like a good idea, one that would be popular with the voters.
But why Grade six?
Many of we Anglos have sent our kids to French daycare, preschool or kindergarten in an attempt to get them on the road to bilingualism sooner than later.
Young children, exposed to a second language do remarkably well and learn much faster than older kids or adults.
Studies have indicated this very fact.
"The critical period hypothosis was first proposed by Montreal neurologist Wilder Penfield and co-author Lamar Roberts in a 1959 paper Speech and Brain Mechanisms, and was popularized by Eric Lenneberg in 1967 with Biological Foundations of Language."
According to the theory, the earlier a child is exposed to a second language, the faster they learn. After puberty the ability to acquire a second language nosedives. Hmm....
The choice of Grade six for this grand social experiment is explained by the fear that francophone children who learn English too successfully when young, are in danger of hurting their French and so the teaching of English intensely is delayed to grade six, when the benefits are diminished.
Those of us who are bilingual, truly bilingual, can testify that learning a second language is not as easy as one intensive semester.
It takes years of study and practice, there is no easy way around it.
I'm all for learning English (or French for Anglophones) but this plan has almost zero chance of success, the idea that the moribund education department could pull off the project logistically, especially the problem of finding the hundreds of qualified English teachers necessary, is beyond credulity.
The school boards will have to line up buses at the Fairview Shopping Mall and kidnap Anglos, shipping them off the Saguenay and parts beyond.
The reality is that for two-thirds to three-quarters of Francophone Quebecers, English plays no role in their lives. They remain as disconnectd to English, as British Columbians are to French.
For most of these children who are to be exposed to an English-only curriculum in Grade six, they may as well be teaching Chinese or Klingon. The program has the same dubious chance of success as forcing everyone to take a semester of piano lessons.
Without a piano at home and a desire to continue to practice and learn over the many succeeding years, the chance of success is nil.
The truth that parents don't want to face is that in order for children to become proficient in the language of Shakespeare, they themselves must get involved.
There is no magic bullet or short cut, even if parents and the government dream that there is.
Parents shouldn't depend on the schools to do the work for them, they can provide a steady diet of English and they can start at a much earlier age than grade six.
More francophone children have learned English through video games and a few hours of English television than through all the efforts by educators in elementary schools.
Those parents who are not interested should remain free to make their own decisions, just as British Columbians can choose a second language for their children, or not.
I hate to say it and I know I'll be attacked for this, but for many Quebecers who spend their whole lives in a French environment, learning elementary English is all that's necessary, so that when they travel, they can survive.
How about some state-sponsored high school courses in GLOBISH.
For many, it is the imperfect, but reasonable answer.