No need to close ex­cel­lent sys­tem in name of ques­tion­able sav­ings, says Brett Fawcett.

Edmonton Journal - - LETTERS -

The Pub­lic School Boards’ As­so­ci­a­tion of Al­berta has re­cently launched an ini­tia­tive invit­ingly named “To­gether for Stu­dents” ad­vo­cat­ing for a sin­gle pub­lic school sys­tem — that is to say, for end­ing the sep­a­rate Catholic school sys­tem. Re­gret­tably, a vo­cal mi­nor­ity sub­scribes to this idea, of­ten be­cause of a lack of in­for­ma­tion, and so a few points need to be made.

The ques­tion is not, as the PSBAA might put it, “why should we fund Catholic schools?” The real ques­tion is: Why would we want to stop fund­ing them?

Catholic schools have con­sis­tently been places where stu­dents are nur­tured into suc­cess. Pub­licly avail­able statis­tics show that Catholic schools pro­duce higher test scores, high-school com­ple­tion rates, and lev­els of parental in­volve­ment than their pub­lic coun­ter­parts. More­over, the pro­gram­ming of­fered (such as their fine art or early-child­hood ed­u­ca­tion classes) are uni­ver­sally rec­og­nized as first-rate.

So why would we want to shut them down?

It usu­ally boils down to one of two rea­sons. One is fi­nances. The claim is made that the cost of run­ning two sys­tems is too high. But there are two problems with this ar­gu­ment.

One is the fact that run­ning two sys­tems is not that costly. For­mer ed­u­ca­tion minister David King, an­other op­po­nent of Catholic schools, es­ti­mates a cost of $60 mil­lion is barely one per cent of the $6.1-bil­lion ed­u­ca­tion bud­get. Is such a triv­ial amount of fund­ing re­ally worth los­ing all the ben­e­fits to our prov­ince that we have seen Catholic schools of­fer? Ev­i­dence from places like On­tario shows amal­ga­ma­tion can ac­tu­ally end up be­ing even more ex­pen­sive for mu­nic­i­pal­i­ties.

The other rea­son usu­ally prof­fered for end­ing sep­a­rate schools has to do with “unity.” Hav­ing two dif­fer­ent school dis­tricts, one or­ga­nized around a re­li­gion, di­vides our com­mu­nity, ac­cord­ing to the PSBAA.

But this ar­gu­ment mis­un­der­stands the na­ture of Cana­dian mul­ti­cul­tur­al­ism, and it is worth re­mem­ber­ing how im­por­tant the sep­a­rate-school com­pro­mise was to the found­ing of our na­tion.

One of the most im­por­tant rea­sons Canada be­came a na­tion was be­cause its Catholic com­mu­ni­ties wanted to pro­tect their cul­ture against en­croach­ing Amer­i­can lib­er­al­ism from the south. A key is­sue for them was the right and free­dom to ed­u­cate their chil­dren in their faith. This is why, as then prime minister Charles Tup­per noted, with­out Sec­tion 93 of the BNA Act, which pro­vided for pub­licly funded sep­a­rate schools, “there would have been no con­fed­er­a­tion.”

On the other hand, move­ments to close Catholic schools have al­ways been anti-mul­ti­cul­tural in na­ture. Eger­ton Ry­er­son, fa­ther of the pub­lic school sys­tem in Up­per Canada, en­vi­sioned a sin­gle non-de­nom­i­na­tional sys­tem as a tool of cul­tural as­sim­i­la­tion for the em­pire. It is no co­in­ci­dence that he was also the in­tel­lec­tual ar­chi­tect of the res­i­den­tial schools, the ul­ti­mate ex­am­ple of this as­sim­i­la­tion­ist ten­dency.

Un­sur­pris­ingly, Ry­er­son, who dis­liked Catholic schools be­cause they broke up that hege­mony, de­clared that “the fewer of these schools, the bet­ter,” and hoped that in the fu­ture Cana­di­ans would fol­low the Amer­i­can model of school fund­ing.

Since then, ef­forts to close Catholic schools have al­ways had an anti-mul­ti­cul­tural un­der­cur­rent. Yes, Que­bec closed its sep­a­rate school sys­tem, but is Que­bec a good model of how we want to treat re­li­gious mi­nori­ties in our prov­ince? Or, to put it an­other way: do we want to be more like Amer­ica?

It’s true that re­li­gious de­mo­graph­ics are dif­fer­ent now than they were in 1905 (al­though Catholics are still the largest re­li­gious group in Al­berta), but ev­i­dence of­fered at the Theodore trial in Saskatchewan and else­where in­di­cates that many nonCatholic and even non-Chris­tian mi­nori­ties value pub­licly funded Catholic schools as a place where their chil­dren can be taught openly about faith and God.

Closing down these schools would, once again, be a blow against mul­ti­cul­tur­al­ism.

Fi­nally, the PSBAA has sug­gested that there could be pub­lic schools that of­fer re­li­gious pro­gram­ming, a pro­posal sim­i­lar to one floated by Ed­mon­ton Pub­lic Schools trus­tee Michael Janz. At the time, for­mer columnist Paula Si­mons re­marked, based on her own ex­pe­ri­ence with Catholic schools, that they had an ethos which would be hard for any pub­lic school to repli­cate.

As we have seen, that ethos has con­sis­tently ben­e­fited the chil­dren of Al­berta. For the sake of stu­dents, we should con­tinue to pro­mote it. Brett Gra­ham Fawcett is a Grade 3 teacher and writer based in Sher­wood Park. He won the 2018 Lieu­tenant Gover­nor of Al­berta So­cial Stud­ies Ed­u­ca­tion Stu­dent Award.


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