Tuesday, August 12, 2014

Asking a leopard to change its spots

It's getting to the point that when I read things about those who challenge Catholic school boards on the instruments of how they administer faith-based schools, I don't know whether to laugh or cry.
Witness today's article in the Globe by Katie Hammer on Ontario Catholic boards forcing their students to take religious education credits as part of their high school studies. This in a world where high schools are open to all, regardless of whether they're part of a publicly funded Catholic school board or a public school board. There are no restrictions on enrolment in Catholic secondary schools, unlike for elementary schools in many boards that still require the child and/or one or both parents to be baptized Catholics.
The number of requests has increased since the court decision earlier this year that allowed a non-Catholic student to opt out of religious education courses at the Catholic high school he attends. As the Globe explains today, boards are turning down exemption requests from those students whose parents have (on their property tax forms) declared themselves to be Catholic school supporters. This was a distinction that mattered more when school boards set tax rates in each municipality -- today, it matters not a lick other than in principle since the education portion of a property tax bill is sent to the province and then doled out by the ministry.
Let's set something straight. Catholic high school religious education courses are not four years of Bible study. I could stand to be corrected since it's been 18 years since I had personal knowledge of this, but religion credits in Grade 9/10 may continue to be mostly Bible/Catholicity based. Back in the day, the Grade 11 credit was a world religions course (social sciences credit) and the Grade 12 credit was a "man and society" course. Our OAC course was a half-credit, most of which was volunteer hours that have since been replaced by the diploma requirements for the same service.
The Grade 11/12 credits are ones available to any student studying in Ontario at any high school. Catholic boards, as a measure of showing how they continue to instruct their students in matters of faith, make the two senior-level credits mandatory. The requests for exemptions in senior grades are not to be exempted from sitting down and rote-learning the Bible, chapter and verse.
For a system trying to defend itself against being dissolved, the response to requests for exemption is a pretty smart move by the Catholic boards. Your guess is as good as mine on whether it will succeed.
The boards are simply pointing out the contradictions in intent-- as a parent and taxpayer, making the conscious choice to declare oneself as a Catholic school supporter but then turning around and saying you do not want that same school system to continue to instruct your child(ren) in the very faith you've declared yourself to be. If Catholics supporting Catholic school boards stop wanting their schools to teach their kids about faith all the way to graduation, then the only valid reason for a faith-based publicly funded school system in Ontario begins to evaporate.
For the non-Catholics who attend Catholic high schools, I can't say I've understood how the earlier court case was successful either, but that's another post.
We can't keep asking the Catholic school system to change its faith to suit our changing mores and understanding of who should be able to do (or not do) what within those schools. As long as we keep supporting the full funding of a faith-based system, it's ridiculous to keep asking that system to stop instructing its students in its faith under certain circumstances.
Parents who send their kids to Catholic schools for whatever reasons who don't like the faith-based elements of what's in that school always have an easy choice -- pull your kids from the school and register them in public schools.
As for the rest of us, if we're really that uncomfortable with what a faith-based school system looks like, then work to stop funding it and work towards the establishment of a single publicly funded school system.
Don't keep asking the leopard to change its spots.