Here in Ontario, the provincial elections are swiftly approaching, and the talk has been pretty much high-jacked by one issue – the funding of faith-based schools. Launched onto the agenda as a Conservative draw for their constituency, the issue is close to all I’ve heard in my limited exposure to the election build-up (based largely on listening to Ottawa morning on CBC while getting ready for work). A few weeks ago, Wheat Sheaf asked me what I thought of the issue, and I wasn’t quite sure. So, I’ve been thinking and discussing with people since then, and this is what I’ve come up with.
For starters – I was raised in the public school system, and I believe in the public school system. I believe in the democratic process of kids from all walks of life interacting with each other at school (I guess that my small town experience reflects that more than it would be in cities, where neighbourhood divisions lead to school divisions along economic lines). So, I would love to see our education money going to fund one strong education system. A system in which all kids have the opportunity to take arts and sports, and also have the opportunity to learn about all different religions in a respectful manner.
I guess the point of faith-based education is that a given community’s faith framework has led to a set of values that they would like to impart to their children. On the CBC, they were interviewing people involved in a small Christian school somewhere south of Ottawa. Some of the differences in curriculum were to be expected – evolution taught with the caveat that it is a theory that is wrong, no sex education. Some were interesting – cursive hand-writing starting in grade 1, no computers. Some were, in my opinion, unfortunate – teaching Biblical history instead of modern Canadian history. It isn’t that Christian children shouldn’t know Biblical history, but modern Canadian history is important – these kids live in Canadian society, and we can only understand the nuances of where we are if we understand the nuances of where we came from. I mention all of this by way of illustration, and to get to the point that maybe parents need to take the responsibility for their children’s supplemental and value education. There are things that every Canadian should know about to function in our society, and there are things that are going to be specific to faith. Maybe school should only be in charge of the things every Canadian should know about, and should give kids the tools to explore the issues specific to faith and value systems.
So, my general feeling is that we would be in a better position if our education money went to building us one quality education system. However, we already have two education systems, one of which is faith-based. This, of course, is one of those times when understanding our history can explain our present. The Catholic school system is a remnant of a historical point in time when almost all Canadians were Protestant or Catholic, and the Catholic Church had a huge hold in the lives of its adherents. Today, Catholic school seems to be only nominally faith-based. I have several non-Catholic friends who went to Catholic school because it was the better school, or the only school with French. In Ottawa, the French Catholic school system is so under-utilized that they advertise on public transit to attract new students.
As is probably obvious from the tone of the paragraph above, I think that the 2 existing school systems in Ontario should be integrated. However, I am a pragmatist, and I don’t think that’s going to happen anytime soon. SO, in the meantime, despite all of the above ranting and raving, I have to say that if we are going to fund Catholic schools due to a historical deal that doesn’t reflect the reality of our demographics today, other faith-based schools should be funded too. I make this statement with the proviso that they should have to follow a standard curriculum to a certain point, but if we are going to fund Catholic schools, there is really no reason why Protestants, Jews, or Muslims who want to have their children educated within the faith shouldn’t also have the same opportunity to have public funding to do so.