“Ms. Mackenzie, he said that they banned turbans in Quebec! Is that true?”
Probably two-thirds of the class turned to face me, waiting.
Crap. That wasn’t on page 16 of their cahiers. My lesson on French parts of speech was clearly going to wait.
“No, that’s not quite accurate. Here’s what’s going on…” So began an impromptu Social Studies lesson in my French class – and it was supported by the curriculum that I’m mandated to teach.
The BC Core French IRP states that Grade 9 students are to “distinguish similarities and differences between their own customs and those of Francophone cultures,” which made this is a very relevant and relatable lesson for my students. The largest student demographic at my school is first generation Canadians of Indian descent, and some of the students in the room were wearing Patka (or Keski) turbans. This was a topic that the students cared about. It created an emotional response in them. They wanted to know more, and I wasn’t about to deny them.
So, I taught my French 9 class about the Quebec Values Charter. I explained that the idea was to protect French Canadian culture. That the politicians’ believe that multiculturalism doesn’t create a singular strong culture, which is what they’re after. I explained that it’s not just turbans that are mentioned, and how all overt religious symbols – including crucifixes and stars of David – are included in the proposed ban.
I taught them the concept of assimilation and stressed that the Quebecois who support this plan see it as protecting their own heritage in much the same way that the students wanted to protect the rights of those who wear overt religious items. I reminded them of the brief history of Canada lesson that I gave them last week, and pressed them to think of reasons why French Canadians might feel like they need to protect their culture by limiting external influences.
“Do you agree with it?”
My forehead wrinkles crossed over into Shar Pei territory when I looked at the student who asked the question, but I was determined to keep this lesson as unbiased as possible – no matter how much I wanted to go off about how French Canadian culture wouldn’t even exist without multiculturalism (or biculturalism as it was after the British took control of New France).
“I understand what they’re trying to achieve,” I conceded, “I get it from a historical perspective. But on a personal level, no, I don’t agree.”
I then asked if we could get back to page 16 of our workbooks, where parts of speech were patiently waiting. Hearing that their French teacher still respected and understood French Canadian culture even if she didn’t agree with it, most of the class agreed, but one hand remained in the air: “Why are they discriminating against brown people?”
“They’re not! She just said that, man,” responded the student who had asked the original question.
And this is why I embrace emergent and integrated curriculum. I had the opportunity to teach my students about something that they cared about and met a learning outcome at the same time. In addition, by including information that they’re unlikely to encounter until Social Studies 11, I was able to retain student engagement.
I wouldn’t have blamed any one of those kids for refusing to learn French after discovering the Quebec Values Charter, but they didn’t. Instead, we got back to our diverted lesson, and each of my students dutifully identified the parts of speech in a language by which many of them felt alienated only ten minutes earlier.
And, for the sake of the rest of my semester, I thanked my lucky pennies that I’m up to date on current events. Phew.