Thursday, July 26, 2007

Religious Education in Ontario

Okay, I've held off on this post for long enough. This seems to be the issue de jour in Ontario politics so I guess I should make my opinions known. John Tory has decided that if he becomes premier he will subsidize all religious schools in the interest of equity (to compensate for the fully funded Catholic School Board). Margaret Wente has an article in the opinion pages of today's Globe and Mail extolling the virtues of religious education. I couldn't disagree more. If we must provide equality to all relgions in education (and it isn't a bad idea) the easiest and most cost-effective way to do it is to get rid of the Catholic School Board. Unfortunately, there aren't a lot of politicians in this province who are willing to put up with the electoral and constitutional headaches such a move would provoke. However, it is in my opinion the only rational choice. Before going any further, I would like to state that my religious views in no way affect my views on this subject. Here is why funding religious schools makes no sense.

1. Money

The Ontario government is cash-strapped (look at the mess with the city of Toronto) and yet it spends millions of dollars every year funding two sets of school boards to do the same thing. This includes two sets of trustees, administrators and, most laughably, competing ad campaigns to attract new students. I am all for competition and the free market but no company or government should be responsible for funding competing marketing schemes. If this was done in the private sector the shareholders would revolt. If Tory's plans are realized we would increase this funding to include all other religious denominations. They would also have to create an oversight administration to ensure that schools followed the guidelines for receivning funding. I thought conservatives liked smaller governments.

2. Conflict of Interest

Okay, I don't know if this fits the legal definition (in fact, I'm pretty sure it doesn't) but bear with me. Religious schools (including the Catholic school board) teach in their religion classes that certain laws on the books in this province and this country are immoral (i.e. abortion, gay rights). While I am all for freedom of speech, why should the government give money for people to hate them? Funding art projects that crticize the government is one thing but giving money for teachers to indoctrinate children, is another.

3. Inferior Education

In spite of Ms. Wente's arguments to the contrary, religious schools provide a more limited education in both curricular and non-curricular ways. In terms of curriculum, the inclusion of prayer and religious studies into the daily schedule reduces the amount of time students can devote to other things. In high school, this means students do not have the opportunity to take many electives. The lack of electives is already a problem for science-minded students who are encouraged to take 5 or 6 maths and sciences to "keep their options open" when it comes to university applications. The inclusion of a mandatory religion classes means they have almost no options whatsoever. If students don't take as diverse a range of courses they have a more limited knowledge-base and skill set. Furthermore, dogmatic, biased religious education runs contrary to best academic practices. It is not productive for university-bound students to be taught to only see one side of the debate and not ask questions. There are also specific curricular issues like whether or not to teach evolution or how much parts of history are emphasized (e.g. Catholics and the Inquisition).

In terms of non-curricular issues, it is a well established fact that schools are the best way to introduce kids to other cultures. The logic is that kids do not have racist conceptions when they enter school and if they spend their lives around people of different ethnicities and religions they are unlikely to become prejudiced against them. It also allows them to learn more about the world around them. Generations of Canadian immigrants have become integrated into society through this process. The easiest way to remove all concerns about new immigrants (particularly the Islamophobic concerns about Muslim immigration) is to bring those kids into the public system.

Having said all this, I have no objection to religious minded people paying for a religious education. I just don't see why everyone else should pay for it.

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

Margaret Wente is American born and raised - married a Canadian.

I have to wonder what she really knows or understands about the public school system, especially given that she went to a Catholic school.

She's always grumpy and always tries to go against the flow.

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