Sunday, September 16, 2007

Religious schools: The Newfoundland experience

An article in today's Toronto Star raises some good points about what happened in Newfoundland and Labrador when it abolished its religious schools in favour of an entirely secular system. Standards did improve and tensions between religious factions diminished to a degree but there are some still very hard feelings.

If John Tory was simply putting non-Catholic religious schools on an equal footing with Catholic ones it might not be an issue. But the money has to come from somewhere and the cost could be as much as a half a billion dollars. So from where? Public schools? Hospitals?

Plus, what if a future government decided to go all secular as NL did? Then there'd be a big problem. I think what's needed is to improve standards and decrease class sizes in the publicly funded systems -- then challenge the private schools to see if they can do better. If they can, then maybe there'd be a basis for negotiations.

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Edward Hollett said...

I worked for Clyde Wells and remember the entire wrangle.

One of the persistent misrepresentations was that the issue was about minority rights in education, as the case would be in most other provinces.

In NL, the majority - i.e. seven or eight Christian sects - held rights while minorities, held absolutely none.

it is absolutely astonishing to see Ontario considering segregating education on an ethnic or religious basis at public expense, thereby giarantee an increase in cost and at the same time have Ontario politicians screaming for more federal hand-outs.

Those of us working against that sort of regressive policy here in NL find it disheartening in the extreme. of course, it's also a tad hypocritical but that's another issue.

BlastFurnace said...

Thanks for your comments, Edward.

It's probably hard to fathom for a lot of Canadians that education could be such a sticky issue -- but since 1982 the Constitution has been amended seven times. One dealt with aboriginal rights, one authorized the "fixed link" between PEI and NB, two dealt with representation in the Commons and FOUR have dealt with education.

One of those applies to Québec (it got the right to rid itself of all religious schools and has everywhere except in Montréal and Québec City). The other three -- to Newfoundland. I still shake my head at the mess both situations created; it was probably for the best but in some respects created more harm than good also.

susansmith said...

"diminished to a degree but there are some still very hard feelings", I noticed in the article that the main voices and quotes were by Catholic Trustees, one as the president of the Canadian Trustees Association and the other a Catholic Trustee from, I believe, pres of the Ontario Catholic Trustee Association.
Too bad, they didn't talk to say, public school trustees, or other types of trustees.
Memory is short here, but have you quickly forgotten that most of Ontario schools are suffering from declining enrolment, and a flawed funding formula that gives lots more money to Catholic schools on a per pupil basis than Public?
And we are still waiting for that big liberal promise that the formula would be fixed, but now it's a review for 2010.
At this rate, you better start watching those half filled public schools close, because unless we go to a one school system, this system is unsustainable.

BlastFurnace said...

No Jan, I haven't forgotten that. I was one of the early beneficiaries of the extension of funding of Catholic schools to grades 11 and 12 -- and even when that finally did happen the Catholic school boards took a rather bigoted attitude when they tried to persuade the students and parents to lobby Queen's Park against amendments that required Catholic schools to hire non-Catholic teachers.

As for the funding formula, it really is flawed; but no more than the old formulae were. I think it should be on a strict per pupil formula with some leeway for mostly rural boards.

Frankly, I see Catholic schools being abolished in my lifetime. It'll only happen when enough Catholic parents decide to send their kids to public schools and fill them up again. For historic and cultural reasons, I just don't see it in the short-term, however.

Joanne (True Blue) said...

I'm having trouble understanding something in this post. Perhaps you could elaborate:

If John Tory was simply putting non-Catholic religious schools on an equal footing with Catholic ones it might not be an issue.

What does that mean? Thanks.

BlastFurnace said...

The problem as I see it, Joanne, is that Mr. Tory hasn't been clear about where he's going to get the money ... or how it's going to work. At first, we were led to believe that private religious schools would be permitted to apply to join public school boards and get funding that way. Then we were told, no, they'll get money directly.

Okay, fine ... I could live with that, in principle.

But the private schools are more likely than not going to continue to insist that they be allowed to pick and choose which students they want to admit. And that's where I see the problem. If private schools can do that, why can't the Catholic schools or the public schools?

First we're going to divide students by religion. Then by income class, then race, and so forth. If we're going to publicly fund private schools then they must decide whether they're going to abide by the same rules as the public system or not.

Mr. Tory hasn't given a straight answer on that yet. Even if he did I'm not sure people would be convinced. If he wants segregation, he should just come out and say it.

Oh, and for what it's worth, two of my cousins -- both Catholic -- decided to go to public high school. They felt, among other things, that it was better to relate with people of all religious backgrounds, not just one. When I have kids, I wouldn't mind at all if they made that choice as well ... it's not like having a Catholic education made that big of a difference in my life, anyway.