I’ve been thinking about writing this post for a while, but it always devolves in my head to a bit of a ranty, sad, whine-fest. So then I don’t write it, but my mind keeps coming back to it, so I’m thinking it would be a good mental purge for me just to get it all down, already. So warning: whining follows.

Today’s subject is French Immersion.

When the Captain was in JK, we had to decide if we wanted him to enter the French Immersion program the following year. Our school offers only early French Immersion (EFI), which starts in SK.

It was a really, really hard decision for us. On one hand, we don’t speak French and worried we wouldn’t be able to help him with his schoolwork. It seemed like a lot of stress and work to dump on such a little kid, when we didn’t even know yet how he would feel about school, how he would do in school, and whether or not he liked languages.

On the other hand, everyone and their sister was choosing EFI. That meant that all his friends were going into the EFI class, and so few were choosing English, it was almost unsustainable. At our school, about 90% of kids choose EFI, meaning the handful of kids in the English stream are doomed to split classes, less funding, less attention, and fewer opportunities than the EFI kids.

And worse, there’s a feeling around here that EFI is for “smart kids” while English is for “troubled kids.” It SUCKS, it is NOT TRUE, but that’s what his happening around here. It’s why so many choose EFI – because their kid is smart! And should be in the “advanced” stream! So there’s a ton, a TON, of pressure from all sides to go the EFI route.

And so we did.

The Captain is now in Grade 4, so I’ve been thinking lately about our EFI choice. I guess there’s good things about it. He’s with his friends, he has learned quite a bit of French. His spelling and grammar sucks in both languages, but apparently that’s expected for FI students, and works itself out eventually.

What really bothers me, though, is this: he hates school.

Perhaps hates is too strong of a word. He goes there happily enough and does his work without too much complaint. But the thing is, school to him is work. A terrible amount of work. He struggles to read and write. He often does not understand what the teacher is saying. He gets instructions wrong or misses out on deliverables.

Right now they are reading a Magic Treehouse book, in French, and they have to analyze it chapter by chapter. We happen to have the same book at home in English, and one day he was reading the English version and declared it to be completely, totally, different than the French version. News flash: they are IDENTICAL. But he was missing so much of the French, he literally did not understand what was happening in the book until he read the English version.

That makes me sad.

I try not to get too hung up on marks, but what worries me is how hard both the Captain and Gal Smiley try to get out of schoolwork. How tired they are at the end of the day. How much they equate “learning” with “hard” and “impossible” and “terrible torture.” I love learning. I love reading. I loved school. They most definitely do not.

There are almost no resources in the school system for kids in EFI who are struggling. There’s no reading help, no comprehension help, no math help in French. If a child is really hurting, they just switch him to English (which is really helping with the English stream’s reputation as the lesser of the two, NOT).

The kids’ teachers both say that what our kids need is even more immersion. Make them read in French every day, they say. Watch French TV shows, listen to French radio.

But such things are met with groans, even tears. It’s too much – they already have so much homework, both assigned and from things they have been unable to get through in class. They’re already tired of French and hate French and just want to spend their evenings being kids. I find it hard to deny them that.

Plus, the Captain has finally, FINALLY, discovered reading – he is INTO the Harry Potter books. I’m so happy I could weep with relief – I can’t risk snuffing out this new, tender flame by suggesting he pick up a French book instead. That would turn something fun into work.

So, would I choose it again? That’s a tough, tough question. All the pressures for choosing EFI still exist. The English stream at our school is just too small to make it an attractive option. And, fingers crossed, maybe they’ll be able to get tour guide summer jobs at a museum when they are teens, which would be great.

And maybe a couple of years from now, the Captain and the Gal will have figured it all out and all this fretting and worrying and hand wringing will have been for nothing.

But I can say this: I wish EFI did not exist. I wish middle French Immersion (which starts in grade 4) was the only option. It would give kids time to learn to love school. It would give them time to ease into full-days at school with joy and fun and creativity. It would allow those kids who truly love languages, or those who are really bored with school as-is, to choose French as an informed decision. It would encourage more people to stay in English, creating a better balance in the school and a less marginalized English stream. And it would allow all kids who need extra help to have access to it in the early years when it is most needed.

For now, though, EFI still exists, and peer pressure means we chose it once again for the Little Miss. We’re immersed now, I guess.