Saturday, January 28, 2012

Ontario's Catholic schools quandary...

This article today by Chris Selley is the latest to clearly signal the increasingly irreconcilable conflict between the public sphere in Ontario and one of its two publicly funded education systems, namely the Catholic school system.

While the provincial government has been working hard to combat the biggest threat to students in our schools - bullying (which is frequently homophobic in nature) - the Catholic system has been working at odds to conform with provincial direction while not, in its collective mind, contradicting Catholic faith. The result from Catholic educators is this weak compromise: 'Respecting Difference' clubs instead of provincially-mandated 'gay-straight alliances' in public schools.

I was a closeted, gay student in the Catholic system in Ontario. What I needed then and what similar students still obviously need today is a firm and clear strategy in our schools to combat homophobia. If left alone, hatred of the other (which frequently is the gay other) runs rampant, threatening student safety and productivity. The message must be sent - in public schools and in Catholic schools alike - that homophobia is wrong and that LGBT people are every bit deserving of acceptance and respect as straight people.

The inherent conflict here is in Catholic doctrine which states that homosexuality is against the so-called natural law. It's hard to respect somebody when you believe they, at their core, run "contrary to natural law" and are "intrinsically disordered." If Catholic educators believe such nonsense, why shouldn't a 13-year-old Catholic jock?

These new 'Respecting Difference' clubs as proposed by Catholic bishops who are overseeing the process to draft board policies simply do not go far enough. The clubs themselves, unable to use the word 'gay' in their names and unable to do anything without the condescending presence of school chaplains, seem like a pathetic, pale imitation of the real thing. The whole point of GSAs is visibility. These new Catholic school clubs sound a lot like 'Don't Ask, Don't Tell.'

I'm increasingly of the opinion that we can't square this issue. A modern society which accepts all people as equal, including its LGBT minority, not to mention the equality of all religions, simply can't go on publicly funding one religion's schools.

Our most vulnerable - our youth - are being subjected to systemic discrimination in one of our publicly-funded education systems.

The clear answer for me is to end funding for Catholic schools in Ontario. The province should be in the business of running one publicly funded system for all students. Additional public funding for one religion's schools at the exclusion of all others is simply outdated and unfair in post-Charter Canada.

The provincial government is using kid gloves to handle its Catholic education partners on this issue. As Selley writes, "this smells to me like yet another attempt to be seen addressing a problem without angering a powerful stakeholder. And it illustrates yet again that when push comes to shove, publicly funded Catholic education, in Ontario, in 2012, makes very little sense at all."

If this is Dalton McGuinty's last term as premier, and we are about to enter into an era of fiscal restraint and fiscal sanity a la Don Drummond in order to tame our public finances, wouldn't this be the right time to re-examine our province's commitment to two publicly-funded school systems, with all the inherent duplication of administration and extra costs, not to mention the lack of commitment to basic student safety? I say yes. Of course, embarking on this path is frightening to politicians who don't wish to cause conflict where none currently exists in the tranquil, unequal, and unjust status quo. But perhaps it is time for someone to finally exercise some needed leadership.

Stay tuned for a post from me next week on a political strategy that could be used by the McGuinty government within the next few years for creating a political mandate for changing Ontario's outdated public system of elementary and secondary education.

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