Liberal Education Minister Kathleen Wynne was in the riding this week to campaign against the PC proposal for extending funding to religiously-based schools and defend the status quo. Local Green candidate Miriam Stucky responded by citing the Green proposal for one public school system, and received coverage for the idea in the Peterborough Examiner.
The Liberals are arguing that it would cost $500 million to extend public fudning to religiously-based schools. The Greens argue that it would save another $500 million to move to a single public system, money which could go into more teachers and specialized programs to improve the quality of service.
Aside from efficiency, one of the immediate benefits of a single public school system in an ever-more multicultural society is the cross-cultural sharing that takes place in school.
In the public system today, students from a wide variety of backgrounds mix in a supported and supportive environment. One of the least represented groups in the public system, by definition, are Catholics. Moreover, the proportion of newcomers to Ontario who profess themselves to be Catholic is only half of that of the existing population. As a result, most newcomers head to the public schools, while the Catholic schools retain a greater cultural homogeneity.
There is also the legal problem of discrimination. Catholic schools are the only public institution allowed to discriminate in its hiring or admission practices on the basis of religion. That this contradicts the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms is self-evident, and it is only a matter of time before a successful court case obliges the province to move to eliminate this privilege.
As a free-thinking person with strong spiritual and moral views of my own, I’ve been highly aware of potential for the public school system to become a one-size-fits-all education factory which discourages difference and perpetuates a spirtually-vacant, materialist view of the world. I’ve enjoyed my visits to Catholic secondary schools in Peterborough for All-Candidates forums and appreciated the moral focus evident there.
I’ve also been impressed, however, by the equally strong moral focus on what is now called “character education” in the public school system.
I’ve also been impressed by the increased willingness of the public system to accomodate differences of all kinds, from ESL instruction to individual education programs, from French Immersion to integration of the severely disabled. Public schools have come a long way since I was a child, as have the province’s Bachelor of Education programs. I’m convinced that a single public school system would be able to find ways to address the desires of parents to have appropriate moral and religious curricular elements included in their children’s education programs, whether through specialized programs, classes, or individual exceptions.
History has shown that integration of previously divided groups does nothing but good for all involved. I have no doubt that Catholics and non-Catholics would be excellent influences on one another in a single public system.
It’s ironic that a single public system would actually allow for greater diversity than is currently the case – or would be the case under the PC proposal.
It does no good to invest public funds in institutions that insulate cultural groups from one another, as key childhood opportunities for mutual understanding are bypassed, while various forms of elitism are unwittingly encouraged.
PC leader John Tory is running against current Liberal education minister Kathleen Wynne in the Don Valley area of Toronto. His bid to make education reform along religious lines an issue is in part a strategy to put Wynne on the defensive. A personal defeat in the riding for either Tory or Wynne would be a decisive blow against their respective parties and their education funding policies.
GPO leader Frank de Jong is running in the Davenport riding on the west side of Toronto, an area of lower income and more cultural mixing than the Don Valley. The GPO policy of which he has been a long-standing proponent is clearly more in tune with the feelings of Ontario citizens in general than either the Liberals’ favour of the status quo or the PCs opportunistic appeal to non-Christian voters. A plebescite on the issue would likely show support for a single public system in the 70% range if not higher, as polls of parents who send their children to Catholic schools indicate that a significant percentage would likely vote in favour of an amalgamation of the two systems.
It's only a matter of time before the single public school system is implemented - just as it's only a matter of time before proportional representation is implemented. The Greens are ahead of the curve as usual, lobbying to bring 21st century common sense to a province with its head still stuck in the 19th.
On Wednesday I'll attempt to resume my comments on the Trent Rapids hydroelectric project.