Clear­ing the air about in­de­pen­dent schools

North Bay Nugget - - OPINION - By Doug SIKKEMA and Dr. Beth greena

more than six per cent of chil­dren in on­tario are en­rolled in in­de­pen­dent (non­pub­lic) schools. In the 1960s, such in­de­pen­dent school en­rol­ments made up a mere 1.8 per cent of the student pop­u­la­tion. six per cent might not seem like much, but the long-term trend in on­tario is a steadily in­creas­ing in­de­pen­dent school pop­u­la­tion.

This is trou­bling for some.

That’s es­pe­cially true in the con­text of the per­va­sive so­cial prob­lems we face across Canada, and in on­tario specif­i­cally. These in­clude a grow­ing dis­trust that threat­ens to undo our so­cial fab­ric, a per­ni­cious in­stinct to re­treat into tribes of us ver­sus them, ris­ing in­equal­ity be­tween the ‘haves’ and the ‘have-nots,’ fail­ure to par­tic­i­pate in civic and com­mu­nity in­sti­tu­tions, and an epi­demic of so­cial iso­la­tion.

These prob­lems make liv­ing to­gether in on­tario in­creas­ingly dif­fi­cult.

and on the face of it, in­creas­ing en­rol­ment in the so-called elite bas­tions of priv­i­lege that are in­de­pen­dent schools seems to be a clear symp­tom of all of our dis­eases.

but what if this as­sump­tion about in­de­pen­dent schools is wrong? What if such ed­u­ca­tion is good for all of us?

The re­cent on­tario find­ings in the 2018 Car­dus ed­u­ca­tion sur­vey are help­ful in clear­ing some of the mis­con­cep­tions of in­de­pen­dent schools. The study looks at pub­lic, sep­a­rate Catholic, non­re­li­gious in­de­pen­dent, and in­de­pen­dent Chris­tian schools (both Protes­tant and Catholic).

Con­trol­ling for so­cio-eco­nomic back­ground, the sur­vey mea­sures the ef­fect of school sec­tor on grad­u­ates. and it re­veals that the grad­u­ates from all in­de­pen­dent sec­tors, es­pe­cially the re­li­gious ones, are a sig­nif­i­cant com­ple­ment to grad­u­ates from pub­lic schools.

In­de­pen­dent re­li­gious school grad­u­ates re­port higher lev­els of trust in their neigh­bours, their co-work­ers, mem­bers of their con­gre­ga­tions and in com­plete strangers than their peers who went to pub­lic school.

grad­u­ates of in­de­pen­dent schools in on­tario also cul­ti­vate a di­verse net­work of so­cial re­la­tion­ships. They have strong friend­ships. While the re­li­gious grad­u­ates do tend to have closer ties within their places of wor­ship, they also es­tab­lish a di­verse range of so­cial ties with dif­fer­ing po­lit­i­cal and re­li­gious ori­en­ta­tions.

more im­por­tant than dis­po­si­tions and ties, how­ever, are spe­cific be­hav­iours. and here’s where the re­port’s find­ings are most in­trigu­ing. be­cause while there are fears that civic en­gage­ment, vol­un­teerism and char­i­ta­ble giv­ing are all in de­cline, the in­de­pen­dent school sec­tor (and par­tic­u­larly the re­li­gious in­de­pen­dent school sec­tor) is form­ing grad­u­ates who are much more likely to give of their time and their re­sources for the com­mon good.

again, if our so­cial fab­ric is en­dan­gered by peo­ple re­treat­ing into self-in­ter­ested tribes out of fear and mis­trust, such out­ward-fac­ing acts of gen­eros­ity are in­te­gral to a ro­bust pub­lic life.

so what’s at stake if we’re wrong about in­de­pen­dent schools?

There’s no fund­ing in on­tario for in­de­pen­dent schools even though they are prov­ing to pro­vide a very pub­lic good by equip­ping young men and women to trust, to know and to take care of their neigh­bours. They of­ten do all of this to a higher de­gree than the pub­lic schools that re­ceive ev­ery last dime of our pub­lic funds.

If the trends in­di­cate any­thing, it’s that there is a grow­ing de­mand for what in­de­pen­dent schools have go­ing on.

Far from the com­mon mis­con­cep­tions, these schools are help­ing young on­tar­i­ans be­come more so­cially en­gaged and more gen­er­ous.

yet the fi­nan­cial bar­ri­ers to such ed­u­ca­tion are as real as the so­cial prob­lems we face.

If we con­tinue to as­sume in­cor­rectly that in­de­pen­dent schools in on­tario are the se­questered en­claves of priv­i­leged elites who don’t mix with the rest of us, we do a great dis­ser­vice to the many men and women who sac­ri­fice fi­nan­cially to make such schools work.

Worse yet, we risk fur­ther­ing the so­cial ills that plague us when, per­haps, the rem­edy is near at hand.

doug sikkema is a se­nior re­searcher and dr. beth green is ed­u­ca­tion pro­gram di­rec­tor at the think-tank Car­dus.

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