Last Updated:Friday - 09/24/2010
October 23, 2006
Schools without casinos and cheesecakes
A segment of the Alberta population is always ready to question why Catholics need to have our own tax-funded school system. It's a question that we should always be willing to answer by pointing out, not only the constitutional guarantees to such a system, but more importantly the fact that only in a separate school can the Catholic faith permeate every aspect of the school day. Catholic education is more than having a 30-minute religious instruction class every day - although it certainly is that too.
But the rationale for a Catholic system becomes more dubious when one sees the enthusiasm parent councils have brought to working at casinos to fund "extras" for their school. How does the Catholic faith permeate parents working at casinos?
Calgary's Bishop Fred Henry has been telling that city's Catholic school board for several years that its schools should not be involved in casino fundraising. Finally, after the bishop boycotted the district's school opening Mass this fall and threatened other measures, the board backed down. Now, Edmonton's board will finally have a long overdue look at the issue.
But already voices are being raised saying that if separate schools lose this source of revenue, they will also lose students to public schools. Why? Because we will not be able to compete with the field trips, computers and libraries public schools will offer.
This pushes the issue deeper. Is the essence of the Catholic school system to be as materialistic as the public system? In a society obsessed with having things and expanding technical knowledge, is the only option for Catholic schools to join the mad, headlong rush to nothing? Shouldn't the priority of being over having, people over things, be part of the essence of the Catholic school?
Isn't this what we should be teaching, not only in the classrooms, but also through our actions?
So we have to ask not only why parents are working at casinos, but also why students are flogging cheesecakes, cookie dough and coupon books to pay for school "extras"? How does this permeate our schools with the Gospel?
An historical argument can be made. Catholic organizations have long run bingos to support a variety of worthwhile causes. Monks brewed beer and sold Christmas cakes and liqueurs to support their good works.
But historical arguments take one only so far. Situations change and the prudential moral judgments we make about those situations sometimes may need to change too. Today there is rightly far more concern about gambling addiction and the effects huge gambling losses have on families than there was when bingo was in its heyday.
Meanwhile, students in low-income neighbourhoods - who need the most enriched environment - are at a distinct disadvantage when it comes to an education funded by selling cheesecakes.
The most basic concern is that public education now receives a significant amount of its funding from parent and child fundraising. This is happening in a province where the government has had several successive multi-billion dollar surpluses. Education is being sorely underfunded.
If the parents who had worked at casinos had instead devoted their time and effort to lobbying the provincial government to fund education adequately, the government would have sat up and listened. Instead, the Catholic community engages in an intramural controversy while the government's responsibilities go largely unmentioned.
If we want to have a school system permeated with the Catholic faith, we're going to have to do much better than casinos and cheesecakes. And if the government will not make up the shortfall in funding, we should have the courage to say that quality education depends not so much on buying the latest gizmos but on our being true to Catholic principles.
- Glen Argan
Letter to the Editor - 11/13/06
Letter to the Editor - 11/13/06
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