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Location: Ottawa, Ontario, Canada

Wednesday, September 12, 2007

Schools & Faith May Not Mix, But Apparently Politics and Learning Assuredly Do Not

At this time of the Ontario provincial election, the issue of faith based schools has been put front and centre into the campaign. The Conservative Leader of the Opposition has offered his support to faith based schools in an attempt to wean away voter support in urban areas from the incumbent Liberals. It was a bit of crafty politicking that has put the Premier in the unenviable position of defending an archaic mix of faith based and public systems in Ontario. The Premier must rail against the very type of system in which he and his children were so well educated and to proclaim that the Province can be ‘half pregnant’ on this issue for historical, need I say hysterical, reasons.

In reviewing the media and comments by citizens, opinion clearly seems to favour a single public system in order to be fair to everyone and to provide an opportunity for all children from whatever background to bridge the silos that we can often erect between us in our communities. This is an argument that is both thoughtful and shows the concern of citizens for their neighbours. However, the Premier’s scare mongering that the quality of education will suffer or that the Province can not evolve beyond historical precedent are entirely bogus. He must think little of the intelligence of voters. Maybe this reflects his same assessment of voters that his multiple reversals on prior promises implies?

A larger issue which this debate inspires is the issue of parental choice in education, not just around faith but around all kinds of different contexts in which our children’s’ education could potentially be delivered -- whether this be an added emphasis on faith, or music, or sports, or trades, or arts, or whatever. What the Province assumes is that it alone has the wisdom to determine what is good for our children -- an assertion I find wholly troubling. Excellence in education is not achieved by treating every child the same (as has been well documented in research) as if they were a widget in a manufacturing line, but in providing them with the educational supports that can inspire and encourage their individual strengths. If the premier’s comments on faith based schools and the Ministry of Education’s attitude to choice are so accurate, then why hasn’t Alberta’s educational system been crushed under the weight of added parental choice offered there? Instead, Alberta’s educational system has flourished with innovation, effectiveness and legitimacy in ways Ontario’s has not.

Should we have faith based schools? A better question is to ask why we can not have a school system that can change as we change, both in demographics and in knowledge, and as the economy and world conditions change. Why must we be stuck with a system constructed people who are long dead -- no matter how well meaning they were? My question to the Premier is why he and the government can’t learn?

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