By Jason Menard
When it comes to faith-based education, Ontario Progressive Conservative leader John Tory has the right idea – just the totally wrong way to implement it. To meet the needs of an increasingly multicultural Canada, we have to embrace the thought that less is more.
It’s time to bring religion back to schools – but not in the traditional way. To meet the needs of its students, the public school system should offer a mandatory faith component that exposes children to all the world’s belief systems. We can easily make do with what we have, we don’t need to add more – especially when through addition of schools we’re actually subtracting the exposure our children have to each other’s cultures.
Already we’re facing a funding crunch for our two existing school systems. Both public and Catholic school boards are forced with dealing with changing demographics, dwindling attendance, and outdated buildings. The addition of public funding for more faith-based institutions won’t help either financially or socially.
Tory’s argument is that by validating faith-based education through the auspices of public funding, we’ll be creating an environment where all religions are blessed by the approving scepter of government finance. And while that’s fine for us adults, how exactly does that filter down to the kids?
In essence, this plan would stop kids of different religions from interacting. Children will be placed in their own corners and prevented from mixing with others. And, more importantly, they’ll be prevented from learning.
The way to fix this problem isn’t with more public funding of faith-based education – it’s with less. And that starts with the elimination of the Catholic school board. By consolidating the resources currently duplicated across two school boards, our educational system would be able to better manage resources, combine efforts, and use existing facilities to cope with shifting demographics.
We live in a secular society that’s growing increasingly multicultural. To offer taxpayer-funded services for one religion and not the other isn’t right. However, that doesn’t mean you just eliminate the one religion. Rather, you create a system that embraces the teachings of religion – all religions.
Religion should have a place in schools – and this is coming from someone who doesn’t believe in any one religion. But despite my lack of belief, I fully understand and support the idea of exposing our children to all the world’s religions. Not only will this open their minds to new ideas and experiences, but it will help them understand the people around them.
A public school system with a faith component would have a greater impact on global acceptance of religion than Tory’s validating-by-separating agenda. When students learn why their friends mother wears a hijab, or why their friend can’t mix meat and dairy, that makes it seem less strange. Our religious and societal differences no longer become fodder for mockery, but they become aspects of intrigue and respect.
In addition, students will see that despite the various differences and belief structures found in religion, the underlying message of all is basically the same – and that’s about being good to each other and being the best person we can be. By experiencing a faith class where that message is reinforced by exposure to the world’s religion, our children will be able to grow up in a world where our religious differences don’t matter as much.
Unfortunately, ignorance breeds mistrust and fear. Unless one is exposed to a religion, some of the practices, clothing, and imagery can seem odd. And kids deal with things they don’t understand by shunning them. However, imagine the benefits of having one public school system, where children of all faiths come to learn together and share their personal experiences. Then there would be no need to fear the unknown, because we’d have a better understanding of each other.
Then, just maybe, those kids can teach their parents a thing or two about tolerance.
Of course, there will be those who want their children educated in an environment that’s solely focused on their own belief system – and that’s their right. It’s also their obligation to pay for that privilege. Again, we live in a secular society – our obligation to our children is to teach tolerance, not make equal educational services available to all.
It’s a new world with an ever-changing demographic. The days of the Protestant/Catholic school board split are long gone – today’s Canadian mosaic is richly woven with threads from many different races, cultures, and religions. What better way to foster understanding and respect for each other than by learning about the very things we hold dear – our beliefs and our culture.
Sometimes less is more. We don’t need more publicly funded religious-based schools – we just need to reallocate the resources we have now in a way that makes sense for today’s children.
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