The Trouble With Our Schools Is Not ESL

In his English 104 lecture today at Simon Fraser University (SFU), Dr. Paul Matthew St. Pierre argued that our posts, tweets, texts, online articles, and other written forms of expression in the digital sphere are published works.

By publishing via these new media forms, we become authors and contributors to digital culture. I, for one, am grateful that technology has made this access to publication possible. In almost three years of writing for my  blog, I’ve been able to put forward opinions on a range of topics for consideration.

However, by publishing on my blog, I’m certain readers know the content of each article represents my own personal opinion albeit informed by my experience, my work, my position, and my reflections on what I may have read, seen, and heard.

In contrast, opinion pieces published in traditional mainstream media publications, such as The Vancouver Sun, are imbued with the aura of a journalistic standard even when they too are statements of personal opinion.  Even when marked with the label “Opinion”, as with today’s column by Shelley Fralic, this apparent legitimized authority can be problematic.

Greenwich Books


Simply put, because today’s contribution on the public education system by Ms. Fralic was poppycock.

The trouble with our schools is not spelled ESL as Ms. Fralic contends.  Rather than spotting an elephant in the room, she has spotted a mouse and while focused on the “wee … tim’rous beastie,” running across the room to escape, she’s missed the herd of elephants standing right behind her.

It is true that the number of English Language Learners (ELL, previously ESL) is rising in our classrooms, particularly in the Metro Vancouver area.  And it is true that more ELL students has contributed to greater complexities in terms of class composition.  But does Ms. Fralic — or anyone else for that matter — really believe that removing ELL students from our classrooms would somehow magically eliminate the issues we face?

It’s preposterous because the problem with our schools — the real elephant in the room — is the slow steady erosion of government support which has seen, based on court estimates, approximately $300 million per year kept out of the public education system.  That’s money which would have provided programs, resources, and services to all students including the help of specialist teachers.

And here’s the thing: the students who need the help of those specialists may be ELL students, and often they are not. Students arriving for kindergarten without adequate pre-literacy skills may be ELL students, and often they are not. The truth is obstacles to learning, whether speech impediments, learning disabilities, behavioural issues, or other, are not specific to any one culture or any one language.

Neither is poverty.

Neither is economic inequality.

And these are among the real obstacles to better functioning classrooms along with the lack of adequate community resources for all families, whether new to this country or not.

The reality is — as I witnessed in the school my child attended last year — a large number of ELL students introduces an amazing level of diversity into a school community.  The learning opportunities, with the exposure to a variety of cultures, are magnified. And the emphasis on inclusion introduces a depth of acceptance that is unparalleled.

That’s how we build understanding.  That’s how we build a society.  That’s how we build tolerance.

ELL students are the ones who will emerge from our public education system fluent in more than one language: an invaluable asset in our globalized world.

And, their multi-lingual, multi-cultural sensibility is one they will put to good use in making their contributions to Canada and to Canadian culture.


  1. Steven on September 22, 2014 at 3:45 am

    Reema, thank you for your important post! We need to hear from more people that the Fralic column is indeed “poppycock”! Members of my dept have responded, as well… hopefully the Sun will publish our commentary.

    • RF on September 22, 2014 at 4:33 am

      Thanks for letting me know. I’m so pleased to see that my article has contributed to a wider dialogue and that my words are being used in conjunction with the commentary of others. We do need to contend with the complications of ELL in our schools, but that can be done with programs, services, and resources. And that’s where the focus ought to be!

  2. […] news: My colleague and long-time ELL educator Dr. Sylvia Helmer pointed me to a blog post by Reema Faris responding to Fralic’s 9/15 article. Some of the comments to the article are also rather […]

  3. Ian Weniger on September 23, 2014 at 3:30 am

    I’m a member of the TESOL PSA executive, ie I’m on a team of public school teachers of students new to English in BC. We’re drafting a response to Fralic.

    I agree that much of the Sun’s piece smells like the racism of a “yellow peril” op-ed of a hundred years ago.

    Fralic infers, however, that she only woke up to this issue as a result of our strike, as did the many, many readers who responded to her remarks.

    This article appears to be the only mainstream-media effort to keep the public interested in public education. People seem to have reported in droves, not just about ELL issues, but also regarding various concerns and problems.

    Class size and composition are hard to visualize. Fralic’s colouring of the issue was inappropriate. She also generated a response that attracted supporters of public education to attempt a measured response to something that worked for them.

    Fralic needs to apologize for her anti-immigrant racism. Teachers also need to be assured that “ELL” is really just a name change if the province offers no new money to develop ample resources or hire teachers.

    Supporters of public education need to take this opportunity to reach out while the buzz is still here.

    Teachers need to be encouraged to use the hard-won and meagre Education Fund to establish ELL positions at every school where students need language support.

    Parents need to be encouraged to ask teachers to explain how the Ed Fund will help their kids learn.

    Parents need to also organize with (or without) PACs to support teachers in obtaining ELL teachers.


    Ian Weniger
    Gladstone Secondary

    • RF on September 23, 2014 at 4:51 am

      Thank you for writing Ian and I look forward to seeing the response from the TESOL PSA to Ms. Fralic’s article. As you’ve said, the key is to keep the dialogue focused on getting the programs, resources, and services into the schools to help students whether they are ESL/ELL or if they are contending with other issues. It’ll be very interesting to track the deployment of the Education Fund monies in each district and to see how that will reflect local circumstances.

      In the meantime, we have to keep the pressure on because while the settlement has teachers back at work and schools open, there are many other needs in our public education system which have not yet been addressed.

      I appreciate the time you’ve taken to read my article and to send in your comment – it’s appreciated!

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