Last Updated:Friday - 09/24/2010
October 8, 2007
Complacency a threat to Catholic school
Nine years ago, Catholic schools in Newfoundland and Labrador closed for the last time. Voters had approved abolishing the province's publicly funded denominational school system.
According to Father James Mulligan, author of Catholic Education: Ensuring a Future, the campaign against denominational schools in Newfoundland was partially driven by external factors such as the perceived higher cost of running different school systems, increasing secularism and a government campaign to rid the province of the schools.
But Mulligan says the main factors that led to the demise of Catholic schools were internal. "Too many schools were Catholic in name only," he wrote. "Too many Catholic principals had little or no passion for Catholic education."
He interviewed several people from Newfoundland Catholic schools years after the end of Catholic publicly funded education. One priest and high school teacher said, "Catholic education did not come to an end because non-Catholics ganged up on us. It came from ourselves. From within. Lay teachers took over Catholic education, but they were not really prepared or formed. Too many teachers who were hired didn't believe in it. Over time, the vision was no longer there."
Now Ontario is debating whether to establish a system roughly similar to what Newfoundland had and threw away. There are differences - the Ontario Conservatives are proposing a free vote on a system of multi-faith schools; Ontario has a more highly concentrated population than Newfoundland, a factor muting the economic argument.
The Ontario bishops have done the right thing. They have said if there are publicly funded Catholic schools, it is only fair that other faith groups be allowed to establish similar systems.
Nevertheless, the Conservative proposal has stoked the fiery furnace of public debate. (See stories on Page 16.) Polls now show that 71 per cent of Ontarians oppose the Conservative proposal; 47 per cent want to eliminate Catholic school boards.
In a letter that can only be described as secular hysteria, the Canadian Civil Liberties Association has linked religiously based education with anti-Semitism, the incarceration of Japanese Canadians during the Second World War, and sexual and physical abuses at former Indian residential schools.
Supporters of Catholic education in Alberta and Saskatchewan can only ask what this might mean for us. Will an effort to expand religious schooling in Ontario not only fail, but lead to the elimination of Catholic schools? If Ontario falls, will Alberta and Saskatchewan be next? Can that day be prevented?
In his 2005 book, Mulligan also interviewed Catholic educators in Alberta, Saskatchewan and, mostly, Ontario. They spoke of only lip service being paid to Catholic education, a lack of spiritual formation for teachers, complacency about Catholic school rights and a lack of Catholic leadership from principals.
This, however, is not the whole story. The Alberta Catholic School Trustees' Association has done yeoman work to correct those faults. It has striven to inculcate Catholicity among Catholic school leaders and to encourage them to permeate the school environment with a Catholic spirit.
Few would say there is no difference between Catholic and public schools. Every year, for example, we hear of non-Catholic students in Catholic schools seeking to join the Church. Nevertheless, many serious Catholics would wish to see greater evidence of Catholic commitment in schools.
Perhaps the Ontario debate will stir our complacency. Mulligan quotes the lament of one Newfoundland teacher: "Our system was something we took for granted. We did not recognize the erosion within that was occurring. By the time we woke up it was too late."
- Glen Argan
Letter to the Editor - 10/29/07
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