Yes, this happened here in Canada. Sure, it happened 150 years ago. But history is more than just "once upon a time". It leaves a lot behind. It creates who we are today.
The reason I mention this in a blog about bilingualism is because it reminds me so much of the battle we went through as Francophones to get our own schools. In a way, our struggle is opposite to that of African-Canadians, because while the majority historically opposed segregation, which was a deliberately exclusionary policy, our own community has needed French-language schools outside the English-language system. However, what makes both experiences very similar is the quest for access to quality education - and the devastation that a lack of such access wreaks upon communities.
Throughout the Francophone population outside Quebec, there are very high levels of functional illiteracy. In Ontario, it's 40 per cent. Here in Prince Edward Island, the average person reads at a Grade six level only. Even in New Brunswick, the most bilingual province in Canada, half the francophone population fails to complete high school, compared to 40 per cent of Anglophones.
I remember my mother mentioning that my nanny, the woman who cared for me as an infant while mommy went to work, couldn't read or write. She discovered this when the nanny in question told her she'd gotten a phone call, and when my mother asked her why she couldn't just take a message, admitted she was unable to do this.
My mother was shocked. It turns out she was the exception to the rule. She was from a more privileged background, having attended a French Catholic convent school in Ottawa, the only way to get an education in French in Ontario before 1968. My father, on the other hand, attended the English-language Timmins High School - his only choice in order to get any education at all. He was the only one of three Francophones to graduate from Grade 12. All the others were weeded out, as somehow not good enough. Were they really? Or did their French last name, perhaps their accent, lead to automatic assumptions that they wouldn't cut it in an English school?
My father was keenly aware of his lonely status, and his situation and observations were a large part of why he battled for funding for French schools.
To this day, however, the lack of access to education, no doubt including the systematic exclusion of French children from English schools for generations, has contributed to the struggles of the French-language population in Canada outside Québec. High levels of illiteracy affect more than one generation, since parents who don't or can't read, won't read to their children - and it's been proven that this makes a difference in a child's development.
In the Maritimes, the French-language population is at a marked socio-economic disadvantage, especially here on the Island, where only one French school still remained at the end of the 1970s and it took several battles to establish more, starting in 1997.
It all makes a difference. Whatever happened a long time ago, still affects us today.