Racial and Religious Innuendo. Fun-times.
I got an email in response to an Ottawa Sun article where I made comments on the separate school system. The email started weird by mentioning gender neutral bathrooms in elementary schools (?) but solidified quickly to a good discussion from an opposing point of view. Unfortunately it ended poorly with some racial innuendo.
I'm posting my reply because it is an opportunity to do three things:
- Expand the debate to include the rarely mentioned discrimination against non-Catholic teachers. The person who emailed me wants to retain the Catholic system even though, as a teacher themselves, they weren't able to work as a teacher in the separate system. I'm not able to rationalize why this form of discrimination, facilitated by public taxes, is permitted in 2012.
- Talk about more flexibility. Beyond financial savings (which are never conclusive) there are still benefits to merging boards and I believe one of those is flexibility. Imagine a town with two boards and four high schools (two public, two Catholic, all in the same language). Can this town sustain a school dedicated to the arts like Canterbury? Probably not. The system is split by religion first and that removes flexibility. There are not enough "Catholic arts" students to dedicate one of the high schools to a concentration. What about after a merger? Perhaps in our fictional town there is enough demand to dedicate one high school to a concentration (trades, arts, sports, etc) and the remaining three remain much as they are today: competent, but 'regular'.
Many variations on this theme exist. The opportunity cost of retaining the separate school system is we'll never know how a public system can adapt and offer a lot more variety than either the public or Catholic systems can today.
- Repudiate intolerance. I am aware that as a straight white male I get to run through life on the lowest difficulty setting. Whatever success I've had is still the product of my own hard work, but I'm aware others with different natures have to work harder for no reason at all. My gender, skin colour and orientation (none of which I chose) mean I almost never have to put up with bigotry. When I express my opinion (say in the Ottawa Sun on a schools issue) I'm rarely attacked on a personal level.
So when it happens I take note. A great many people in this world have to accomplish what they do on higher difficulty settings. Gay? Attacked. Female? Attacked. Don't match someone else's definition of white? Attacked.
I can't quite comprehend how my "white Christian neighbourhood" has anything to do with my opinion on school boards. I can only imagine the email I might have received if I was a Canadian-born lesbian of polynesian ancestry.
I don't have a complete answer for how to put everyone on the "same life difficulty setting", but I'm pretty sure pointing out bullshit when it happens is part of it. I'm calling bullshit.
Thank you for writing.
I used the word 'anachronism' because the separate school system is something that is left over from a different time, when there was real risk of minority religious rights being restrained by a different religion having a majority. Today Canada and Ontario are different. We have the Charter of Human Rights and Freedoms which guarantees everyone's rights and a secular public school system. The separate school system's original purpose no longer exists. Catholics (and Protestants in the Penetanguishene Protestant Separate School Board) may still be in the minority, but they are no longer an at-risk minority in need of protection by the state.
In your letter you've touched on a very important reason to eliminate public funding for separate schools: non-Catholic teachers are discriminated against when it comes to competing for jobs. You were a teacher for a time, but your prospects for employment were limited by the fact Catholic school boards are allowed to discriminate against you. Perhaps not all school boards do - I'm not entirely sure if it is applied universally - but the point is it shouldn't be possible at all. Discrimination doesn't have to be violent or virulent to be wrong.
I have no problem with a private religious school exercising the same practice. There is room in the Charter for a religious institution (school or otherwise) to have the freedom to hire teachers according to their own priorities. When public funds are in play though, facilitating discrimination of public employees is not acceptable.
Having multiple boards does create some variety in program offerings and school practices. I believe the same, and more, can be accomplished without the 'competing' board being Catholic. I imagine a day where public boards (one English, one French) can offer more variety because they have more resources to work with. Today I believe only Canterbury High School offers advanced arts curriculums. Perhaps there is room in Ottawa to dedicate another school to the arts (or some other concentration) but we can't because too many resources are dedicated to 'regular' schools. Once we do away with the segregation that is left over from another time, we'll have the flexibility to offer more variety within one system.
I attended Catholic schools from JK to Grade 13 (St. Luke's & St. Patrick's). It turns out we agree that World Religions is a great course. In 15 years of elementary and secondary schooling, the Grade 11 World Religions course was the only one I remember as interesting. I think world religion should be taught as regular curriculum. Religion plays a huge role in our world, and knowledge of all religions is both valuable and interesting.
We should not conflate issues of variety, uniforms, curriculum, and other issues with the topic of merging the public and separate school systems. My argument is Ontario's schools will have more flexibility to offer variety without the separate school system.
The opinions you raised in your letter were interesting and I am happy to respond to them. Even if we never came to agree on all points I think the dialogue is worthwhile. Unfortunately your closing statements have soured things.
I think the day when Catholic schools in Ontario no longer exist is coming but I won’t be celebrating that. We will have no culture in Canada left when that happens. I think you should stay out of what you obviously know nothing about. If you don’t have children attending a Separate School then I believe that one should not comment on a topic one knows nothing about. Unless you gather that by living in Westboro in your white Christian neighborhood makes you a good person to comment on the topic. Sorry if I offend – I am just trying to make a point.
I can assure you that I will continue to get involved in things I know nothing about as it's the only way to learn about something in the first place. On the topic of Ontario's separate school system I can assure you I already know a great deal and enjoy learning more as opportunities arise. In my entire lifetime I will never know everything. I enjoy changing my mind when a convincing argument is laid in front of me.
Your closing comments did not offend me, so there is no need to apologize to me for making them. They do however diminish the power of the rest of your arguments and tempt me to simply ignore you altogether. Nonetheless, I'm choosing to engage with you anyway. There is always the chance that, devoid of innuendo, you will present a convincing argument and change my mind partially or completely.
That is after all how I learn everything in the first place.