20 September 2007

Faith-based schools

Education seems to be the number one issue in the Ontario election campaign, somewhat surprisingly. The two major parties are divided over whether to provide provincial funding for faith-based schools, with John Tory's Conservatives in favour of bringing them into the public system while permitting them (for now) their distinctiveness, and Dalton McGuinty's Liberals favouring an homogenized public system, with grudging acceptance of funding for Catholic schools. Howard Hampton's New Democrats have chosen to sit this one out, labelling it a smokescreen. The Greens favour a completely homogenized system, with no funding for the Catholic schools. (How this will protect the environment is anyone's guess!)

The CBC has posted a brief but informative historical account of the issue, as well as a survey of the differing approaches to education taken by each province: Faith-based schools.

The central issue, as I see it, is whether it is the proper task of government to socialize the young and to create a society based on "tolerance" of differences while at the same time doing everything possible to minimize or trivialize those differences. Or does this go well beyond the normative task of government to do justice? Many of us believe government should play at most an ancillary role to the overriding parental task of educating one's own children.

Unfortunately, despite Canada's multicultural character, the province of Ontario is heir to an establishmentarian mentality that views homogeneity as the norm. At one time this meant a generic protestantism, but for the last 40 years secularism has been the established religion, with the rest of us viewed condescendingly as bothersome dissidents at best. Add a bit of Rousseau's civil religion, courtesy of Québec's Quiet Revolution next door, and you have a pretty toxic mix. Perhaps it's time for another William Lyon Mackenzie to take on this new Family Compact.

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