My Calgary Includes Both Official Languages in Schools

April 27, 2011

School girl on stairsI was astounded when I saw the headline tweet from the Calgary Herald: “French classes no longer mandatory in Calgary schools“. I read the article and astonishment turned to dismay.

It used to be that in Calgary, children in grades four to six had to learn French, Canada’s other official language. It seems that the Calgary Board of Education has now made it the choice of each individual school whether or not they choose to teach French to their students. The school may make its decision based on demand and interest. This decision comes just days after another announcement that the school board will cut hundreds of teaching jobs this year.

Is this a coincidence? I hardly think so.

While there is ample research that demonstrates the benefits of language learning on overall cognitive development, including math and problem solving skills, our local public school board has effectively said “if there’s no demand, there’s no reason to have these classes.” Just because I personally had no desire to take math in school, that didn’t make it optional.

Canada is a bilingual country. While many of us may never achieve full bilingual fluency, leaving cultural and linguistic exposure up to “school choice” and “student choice” won’t help us build a twenty-first century global citizenry. Nor will it help those children later in life if they ever want a job with the federal government. A job with the feds requires functional fluency… and our students won’t even get exposure to our country’s other official language.

The idea of making language learning choice-driven is akin to making it market driven. I’m all for marketing of language programs and promoting second language learning. I literally did a PhD thesis on marketing of language programs. In fact, I’m not even a huge proponent of mandatory language learning.

If it was really about “choice” or “market demand”, the board could have hired a market research firm to determine what classes would be among students’ first choice… Would the sciences be among most students’ favorites? Or phys ed? The answer is… no one knows. Because no one in Calgary has actually done any research to find out what students want now… and what skills they will need for their jobs later in life.

But this isn’t really about market demand or choice is it? This is about finding ways to cut programs, cut costs, cut jobs. It’s about balancing a budget in the short term… and doing it slyly and indirectly by making mandatory classes optional. No one’s thinking about making sciences optional here… just our country’s other official language.

And it’s gob-smackingly short sighted.

We don’t ask children if they’d like the choice to study math or English or science when they’re in grades four to six. It’s part of our job as responsible adults, parents and community leaders to provide them opportunities for learning that will serve as the foundation for more learning into the high school years… and later as the foundation for skills that will get them jobs and provide them with critical thinking skills as they then become the guardians of the next generation. It’s our job to get them excited about learning, keep their minds open and their motivation levels soaring so they engage in learning in new and innovative ways.

In Calgary, we seem to have forgotten that. Mon dieu…. Père, pardonne-leur car ils ne savent pas ce qu’ils font.


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Update – January 2018 – This blog has had over 1.8 million views thanks to readers like you. If you enjoyed this post, please “like” it or share it on social media. Thanks!

Sarah Elaine Eaton is a faculty member in the Werklund School of Education, University of Calgary, Canada.

2 Key Questions to Ask When You’re Desperate for Funding

February 17, 2011

Earlier this week I was working with some colleagues at an organization I have a great deal of respect for. The organization needs funding. Over a dozen brilliant minds sat around the table talking about different ways to get the money necessary to continue the good work they’ve been doing for a number of years. At times, the conversation got lost in possibilities… ways they could bring in money to sustain the organization.

During this brainstorming activity, I could see a drift away from the values and philosophy the organization had always held. That kind of drift is OK during a discussion that remains theoretical, lingering in the realm of “What if?” It becomes troublesome only when an organization begins to shift away from their values in search of more money. At some point before ideas turn into a plan with deliverables and a timeline, it is worthwhile to ask two simple key questions:

What’s the work we value most? – What are the primary activities that brought you together and keep you going? What is the work that matters?

Who do we help? – Funding is a necessity to keep an organization going, but it’s not the only factor. People need to be invested, too. If you’re helping them in some way, benefiting them, encouraging them, nudging them towards growth and challenging them along the way, they’re more likely to stick around. Whatever activities you decide to pursue in order to get money should still somehow be focused on helping those who are most interested and invested in your success.

Once you get those two questions sorted out, the number of possible activities you can do to pursue funding decreases. And that’s a good thing. What remains after those two questions are answered are the choices that are most aligned with your vision and values. That makes the decision about how to move forward a whole lot easier.


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Update – January 2018 – This blog has had over 1.8 million views thanks to readers like you. If you enjoyed this post, please “like” it or share it on social media. Thanks!

Sarah Elaine Eaton is a faculty member in the Werklund School of Education, University of Calgary, Canada.

It pays to be nice to funders. (And it’s trendy, too.)

June 7, 2010

There is a shift occurring when it comes to working with funders, and in particular, the government. Today savvy educators and program directors are demonstrating how funding makes a difference, rather than simply asking for more and more and more. Demonstrating the impact that funding makes is a less antagonistic, more positive approach. It is a growing trend in the non-profit and voluntary sectors (National Council for Voluntary Organizations, n.d.) and is also emerging as a trend in education.

The Movement for Canadian Literacy (2009) asserts that literacy and language organizations are are “moving away from the adversarial, activist approaches of the past, to take increased responsibility for building stronger, more positive communication and working relationships with government“ (p.12). The new trend is that after clearly demonstrating the positive impact funders have made on students and prorams, language leaders say, “See the impact your contribution has made? Thank you. Thank you for investing in our students and our future. Their future. Now let’s see what can accomplish with your continued support…” Seeing government and funders as partners and “investors in the future” is a trend that is likely to continue.


Movement for Canadian Literacy. (2009). Ready or Not… Perspectives on literacy and essential skills in this economic downturn: A Canadian baseline study. Ottawa. Retrieved from:

National Council for Voluntary Organizations. (n.d.). Demonstrate Your Impact.   Retrieved May 27, 2010, from


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Update – January 2018 – This blog has had over 1.8 million views thanks to readers like you. If you enjoyed this post, please “like” it or share it on social media. Thanks!

Sarah Elaine Eaton is a faculty member in the Werklund School of Education, University of Calgary, Canada.

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