Monday, February 14, 2011

Thumping McGuinty with the Gideon question

Caught two mentions of this over the weekend (although they appear remarkably similar) in the Waterloo Region Record and at CBC Toronto. At issue is the question of the Gideons using publicly funded public schools as a vehicle to distribute either bibles or other literature.
Despite the ongoing debate, the premier refused to take a stand on the issue.
"This is the kind of thing that I would encourage the trustees who presumably were involved in this decision to make sure they're listening to parents, and not just parents, but folks in the broader community," said McGuinty. "Is this a practice with which they are comfortable? I leave that to them."
McGuinty, a Roman Catholic, wouldn't say if he was comfortable with Gideons giving Grade 5 kids Bibles to take home.
"I'm not going to weigh in on that, other than to say that I encourage the representatives of the school board there to make sure they give this careful consideration, listen to the population."
Well, despite the criticism, I think this was a savvy play by McGuinty in not rising to take the bait. I say that having previously expressed (twice!) my opinion in this space on a few occasions that religious instruction should take place in the home or in houses of worship and that if faith groups wish to distribute their texts they should do so exclusively through their houses of worship and community outreach, not through publicly funded public schools.
It's the on-the-ground reality that makes McGuinty's refusal to engage on this question the smart move. This question -- and it's always going to be led by the Gideons in most areas as I've yet to hear of a non-Christian faith asking for permission to distribute its texts this way -- has a different answer in different parts of the province. Trustees in local boards, who have been known to complain about how little decision-making abilities they supposedly have, should be the ones listening to their communities on this question.
Kitchener-Waterloo is a bible belt. Rural Ontario would answer this question very differently than larger urban centres. Districts where the Catholic and public boards are almost equal in population would also likely have a different answer to this question.
If trustees judge their communities want this practice to continue and their communities aren't giving them any different feedback, then they can decide to allow it to continue. If they review it and the support isn't there, then they can prohibit it.
Plus, not that I want to disagree with Annie Kidder all the time, but this really isn't an election issue. It's another bait-and-wait issue that would only distract us from the ones the pending campaign should be focused on.


Banderblogger said...

I once was a grade five student in a Waterloo District elementary school and I did receive a Gideon bible. I can recall no instruction or guidance, just having them passed out of a cardboard box, my Sikh classmates politely refusing them.
I thought it was weird then and I think it is weird now. That bible sat on my shelf gathering dust until I moved away to university. As I was packing up my belongings, I hesitated momentarily before I threw it in the garbage, musing that if there was a god, would he be mad that I threw away a bible?
I think the whole issue of bibles being in schools is a minor one. Personally, I disagree with it, but I think it is an issue that boards can deal with themselves.
Unfortunately, this whole process, asking the premier to weigh in on the issues is quite gross and underhanded. Sure, if you want a politician to falter, throw him a difficult and charged issue and watch him squirm. Do so using the topic of religion, I believe, is just in poor taste, and clumsy at that. McGuinty did the right thing, kicking this stinkbomb that was rolled to his feet back to where it belongs.

Anonymous said...

Yes, Ms. Kidder's way off on this issue and doesn't speak for parents on a whole gamut of other issues.

Yet, Banderblogger when it came to making choices for his kid's education McGuinty did choose Catholic for the little McGuintys because he could.

Banderblogger said...

I think that the issue Gideons in the classroom and the existence of two religious-based school systems in this province are two separate issues, both in reality and in McGuinty's mind. I don't see the connection myself.

RetDir said...

The issue is nicely highlighted by the comment that "my Sikh classmates politely refusing them". This puts them in a difficult position, into which a publicly funded school system should not place them. The last school in which I was a teacher sent permission forms home for students who wanted bibles from the Gideons, and then they were handed out outside the school to the students who had permissions. Same thing could have happened with any other religious tract. That leaves the decision with the parents, which is where is should be, while not isolating the school from the community.