With the provincial election coming up there is a lot of talk lately about whether we should fund religious schools in Ontario. Some suggest that we provide the funding to all schools such as exists for the Catholic system. There are variations on this theme with some suggesting funding the schools as private institutions and others suggesting that such schools would operate within the “public” school board.
Others believe that to fund religious schools is “divisive and destructive” to the fabric of Ontario society and our public school system. They believe that public schools are important to bring everyone together and build community. Again, here there are variations on this theme… some suggesting that the Catholic schools are an abberation of history but that we need to honour and others that in fairness we should stop funding Catholic schools.
There are a couple of issues in this discussion that I would like to write about.
- Are “public-secular” schools inclusive? I am not sure that this is the case. In fact I think that many of our schools have a unique “religion” called “secular humanism”. This religion allows for no reference to, reflection of or celebration of anything but secularism. You can’t mention Christmas in many of our schools and The “Tree”, the Holiday, the Carols are all “seasonal”. No Jewish, Muslim celebrations either.. God no! Sorry.. Can’t even say “god”. Is this really an inclusive vision of society when a core aspect of who young people are is banned from our schools? No thanks!
- Do faith-based schools promote isolationism? I have assisted the Centre for Diversity in Toronto (part of the Council of Christians & Jews) with special presentations where a Rabbi, an Imam and I attend to religious schools (Hebrew, Muslim, Christian) and speak about our religions to the students, answer questions, lead discussions and share about how to live together in society. I’ve never been asked to do this in a “public/secular” school. Which school system is narrow minded and closed? The concerns that I have with faith-based schools regards the ones that have a greater agenda than just forming people in the faith. I worry when I hear that some schools may teach “creationism” along side with “evolution” and let the students decide. That’s pretty nuts. I don’t think we should fund that at all! I also know of private schools, in the “catholic tradition” which are really fronts for promoting a narrow and not very healthy spirituality within Catholicism. I’m not sure I want to help fund that either. If we are really honest many of us also wonder what is being taught in some of the more “hard-core” Jewish or Muslim schools. Many of us in North America are suspicious that battles and prejudices of the past are being passed on throught these schools.
- Is funding Catholic schools fair? We should not confuse the word “fair” with “the same”. Differences can exist that are fair. Catholic schools exist because of a historical agreement. They meet the needs of the largest denomination in Canada. The Catholic community in Ontario and Canada built many of the educational, social, and medical institutions that we take for granted and which are available to everyone. In fact, Catholicism has played a key role in the development of science, the arts, commerce. Much of western society and culture is a product of the Catholic community. [Did you know that he debit/credit system was developed by Friar Luca Paccioli, a Franciscan?]
- Is this the key issue in education? Although the issue of faith-based education is hot topic, I think that it is not the only issue or the most important. I am much more concerned about the horrible state of our school buildings, the fact that our students do not have access to enough textbooks and that we still put children in portables. That is disgusting! I also think we should focus on kids leaving school who can’t write or read well. These to me are the really priorities!