Monday, July 16, 2007

We need more integration, not segregation in Public Education

I'm a product of the Roman Catholic Separate School System. Both of my parents worked as teachers in that same system (although neither of them actually taught me, although my father did supply teach in a few of my high school classes.)

I spent my high school years in the closet. They were horrible years, as you can likely imagine. However, I can't honestly say that my high school experience was any worse than most students.

I would describe most of my Catholic teachers as very progressive. Not once do I recall any teachers standing in front of class to proclaim that 'homosexuality was a sin.' In fact, I recall the opposite. One family studies teacher once specifically encouraged a class to respect gays and lesbians. Homophobia was no worse in my school than any public school, from what I have gathered.

Another phys-ed teacher in my Catholic high school once warned students that women have the right to choose whether or not to terminate unwanted pregnancies. Incidentally that phys-ed teacher was one of the few teachers in our school who wasn't actually Roman Catholic.

Obviously, Catholic education was far more enlightened, at least at my high school, then you might imagine.

Most of my teachers adhered to the principle that they are there to enlighten and educate, not indoctrinate. In fact, the only times I remember being told what to believe were on visits from the Bishop or during one of the more unpopular school masses. And even then few students listened. Theology classes in high school became places to question one's faith.

Roman Catholic immersion was much stronger, at least in my memory, in the primary grades where First Confession and First Communion were integrated into the class curriculum. Even Confirmation in Grade Eight was emphasized. But in high school, there was little evidence that our Catholic schools were in fact much different from public system schools, except for maybe the uniforms.

In fact, my high school had a reputation of being a drug haven, although I confess I never experimented with narcotics until university. In high school, I had known some Protestants who went to other schools, but I rarely associated with them.

Once I left the Catholic system and enrolled in secular University of Guelph, it was then that I understood what I had been denied in the Catholic system.

I remember sitting at a library computer in first year when the young man next to me started chatting with the girl next to him. The subject of religion came up and he mentioned that he was "Jewish." That was the first time I had actually found myself this close to someone Jewish - age 19.

I'm sure this might sound absolutely astonishing to people who went through the public education system. Sure I was taught by both my parents and all my Catholic teachers that anti-Semitism was wrong. But that lesson had always remained theoretical. I had never known anyone who was actually Jewish. The same goes for anyone Muslim. I have since made many Jewish and Muslim friends, I'm proud to say.

The true diversity of Ontario had been denied to me. Instead, I came to look at my primary and secondary education as quite sheltered.

I have since made up for this, of course, in my adult life. But I've always felt that there was something inherently wrong with this type of segregrationist approach to teaching young people.

The constitutional right held by Catholics to their own "Separate School System" is a throwback to a bygone era. It reflects an approach to education that is inherently flawed.

Sure it is unfair to provide public funding to Catholic schools, and not to other religious schools.

But the solution is clear: end funding for Catholic schools, not make the problem even worse by further institutionalizing segregation. Ontario needs to follow in the foot steps of other provinces and publically fund one education system for all.

Parents who choose to shelter their children and hide them from the world in segregationist systems can do so, but not on my buck.

Until the province does the right thing and integrates our public education systems, we have to live with the status quo of two public education systems in Ontario, one for Catholics and one for everybody else.

Faith is a personal matter best left to the home and to places of worship. Not the classroom.

With his plan to further segregate public education in Ontario, John Tory is very, very wrong. This is probably the best reason to keep John Tory in opposition, in my humble opinion. Dalton McGuinty's policy on this issue is to be commended. While he may not agree with me (at the moment) that we need to have one public system for all, at least Dalton is not willing to make the problem even worse.


Jim said...

While I respect your opposition to the PC plan, how you come to the conclusion that "Dalton McGuinty's policy is to be commended and supported" since it is the opposite of your stated position, is somewhat baffling.

If anything, you should be supporting the Ontario NDP or the Green Party on this issue since it completely matches your position.

SUZANNE said...

My faith says that faith is not a "private matter" and that it should be taught in the classroom.

Whether the government-funded system exists or not, there will always be Catholics (and others) who will seek religious-based education, because religion is not only an individual matter, but a community one.

Matt said...

Hi Jim -- I'm not sure what the Green Party's position is on public education funding. I don't believe the NDP wants to integrate the Catholic system into the public system. To me, that is the best solution to the problem. I agree we shouldn't fund one religion and not the others, but the solution shouldn't be to stretch public dollars even further. Getting rid of the Catholic system and integrating it into one big public system would be very costly politically, hence the hesitation to do it. Such a fight would cause great disruption in public education, and Dalton has been trying to minimize such disruption after so many years of strife under the Tories. While they may not agree with me on stopping funding for Catholic boards as the solution, at least the Liberals are not willing to make the problem worse by extending funding to other religions. My main position is that publically funding religious schools is wrong and we shouldn't make it worse by extending funding beyond our constitutional obligations (as long as we have those obligations.)

Mike said...

The immediate inclination of many gays and lesbians to oppose funding for faith based schools is understandable. Nevertheless, a few considerations suggest funding may be a good idea.

When a school is not receiving government funding of any sort, it is difficult to impose requirements like teaching units on tolerance and regulating what is taught. The extension of funding allows all kinds of requirements to be imposed as a condition of funding.

You cannot stop religious groups from holding onto whatever beliefs they hold. (Though Reform Jewish Rabbinical support for same sex marriage shows that one should not be too quick to tar everyone with the same brush.) But if their schools are publicly funded you can effectively prevent certain beliefs from being taught in those schools. The fact that Ontario’s Catholic schools, with about 675,000 pupils, are publicly funded and regulated, rather than privately operated, may be one of the reasons why the Catholic community’s response to issues like same sex marriage was actually quite muted. The posting corroborates that the religious prejudices coming out of Catholic schools are quite mild.

Seen in this light, eliminating Ontario’s official religious discrimination by extending funding in a controlled manner for to the small excluded minorities is a cause we should all be able to agree on. Certainly we should all be saying clearly that continued discrimination in open violation of international human rights law is not an option.

Aliza said...

Dear Matt,

Unfortunately your lack of exposure to minority religious groups may also have left you not appreciating the assimilationist effect of forcing these groups into secular public schools. A melting pot is usually enriches the majority with a little flanvour from other groups, but the effect on small disctinctive religious minorities is quite destructive. That unfortunately may be what some people want.

If Catholic funding for huge numbers has allowed Ontario to develop to this point, as a relatively successful and progressive society, how will extending equally treatment to the very small minorities of other religions who wuse faith based schools going to ruin everything?

Matt said...

Thank you for your comments, Aliza and Mike. I guess my point is that my Catholic education was almost indistinguishable from students in the public system, at least in the high school grades. And in the end, after going to a secular university and getting my first taste of the real world, I felt the whole experience had left me sheltered and perhaps at first unprepared for what that real world had to offer. Obviously being gay had a lot to do with that too. But if the religious education really wasn't that religious, and in the end all it did was deny me access to other types of people and faiths, was it really worth it? I'd say no. In retrospect, I would've preferred to be educated in a secular, diverse environment. It's true that in such situations a melting pot can cloud out minority religious viewpoints. But that melting pot is going to happen regardless of whether or not our children are temporarily sheltered from it for a period of time. When should religious minorities learn to deal with the real world? During the primary or secondary years, or the post-secondary?

Paul Hillsdon said...

Having gone through the French Immersion program in BC of all places, I will admit I know absolutely nothing of the private school system, let alone the religious ones. I believe there's a very small minority of religious schools in my city, probably making up about 5% of the overall system.

That said, I'm all for closing up the religious schools. If we talk about separation of church and state, I find it particularly difficult for the government to be funding schools that aid in the indoctrination of young children. The fact is that children are highly impressionable, and will take most anything that is told to them to be fact. I believe that religion should be a very personal choice, without a certain push to one faith or another. For that simple reason, I am against any such religious school, regardless of whether it is publically funded or not. However, I know that is very likely a utopian dream.

As you point out yourself, religious schooling can be very sheltering, especially in our multicultural country. It is interesting to note that what Mike said: that by partially funding the reliigous schools, we can have them adopt a certain curriculum. Perhaps we could tighten these regulations by enforcing comparative religion courses, or the like.

The main problem though is that the schools have a right to exist under our constitution. And even with that right gone, how could the province choose to fund secular private schools but not religions ones...? I think it's a very complex issue, but I do think that the country would most likely be a better place with the abolishment of religious schooling. It seems very last century of us in today's secular world. Religion, in any case, is a very personal thing, and if taught (which I am against), should take place in the personal home and not in a school.

Anonymous said...

Excuse me - but why should I, a taxpayer, pay for someone's religious beliefs - you have churches for that.

I think we should only be responsible to provide an education and the parents and churches should take care of the rest.

Enough already!

Anonymous said...

I see this matter as a basic human rights issue. The Catholic School Board has carefully preserved the myth that it would be very difficult to get rid of the Catholic school system since it is enshrined into the Constitution when in reality it isn't so ( as explained in ). Leave religion out of the education system altogether. Only then will the education funding be spent fairly and equitably amongst children in this province and we will all benefit from it in the long run.