Tuesday, September 25, 2007

The Faith Schools Debate

For those of you who aren't in Ontario, on October 10th we're having a Provincial election.

I always vote. But, I don't always have a strong opinion on an issue. I usually have thought it through, but usually my vote is based on a number of issues along with the person running. For instance, if I really really like Howard Hampton I may vote NDP if I didn't majorly disagree with something. I've also been known to vote against someone I can't stand.

But, this election is confusing me - and it's all over the faith schools issue.

Let me fill you in briefly - the Conservative party wants to make faith schools part of the public system - and that involves about $500 million dollars going to these schools as long as they follow the Ontario curriculum. The Liberal party (their opposition) is standing firmly against this issue saying that public schools should represent the public and that all religions are welcome.

Here's the problem. I see both sides of the issue so very clearly that I'm not sure how to vote. I went to a "faith school" for 8 years. It was a wonderful experience. And, I am extremely grateful that I attended that school. However. It was a very strict Christian school. There were strictly enforced rules there that would never have been enforced in the public system. We said prayers, recited Bible verses and yes, learned creationism. And, the school also had the right to expel students if they were not living up to the standards or acting in a way that was inappropriate. In short, my Christian School education was very very different from the 6 years I spent in public school.

But, at the same time I'm choosing to send my son to public school. Why? First of all because I want him to have a public education. The school is by our home. I want him to experience growing up with kids from all faiths and backgrounds. I think that's the beauty of the public system. And, if I want him exposed to religion (which I do) I will bring him to church.

And, this is the thing - church is free. I mean, yes you are asked to tithe (just like in most religions, if you are a member of a congregation you give money to support the place), but if you want your child to get to know God you can send your child to Sunday School and not have to pay. To me, going to a faith based school is additional. I'm not sure why it should also be free.

More than that, I believe that we have created a public system for kids no matter their faith. And, the more money tax payers put into it the more resources we are going to have. To take $500 million out of the system is a lot of money - and I guess I'm worried that the resources are going away. I'm not sure how that will benefit people. And I worry that in the end we'll just pay more taxes to get these resources everywhere.

My other thought, and my big concern, is the issue of separating kids so much. Yes, I think there is a place for faith schools. And, yes, I think that parents should have the right to send kids to these schools. But, I think that if you open it up so much and announce that you're going to pay for kids to go to whatever faith school they want, you're going to segregate kids a whole lot more.

I'll be the first to admit that I knew nothing about the Muslim or Jewish faiths growing up. It amazes me and impresses me when Matthew comes home singing the Dreidel song or telling me about a new food he tried at daycare. I love that he's learning about different cultures and faiths at such a young age. And, living in a country that's so multicultural I'm not sure that I understand saying "okay, let's let our kids hang out with kids of only their faith." Across the Board - it's a scary notion.

But the thing is, I also don't think it's right to say that kids can only access faith based schools if they have the financial means. There are some grants, but certainly not enough. So, maybe it should be extended. I just don't know.

What I do know is that this should not be an issue to hang an election on. I realize that it would still be a vote in Parliament ... but still. If enough people are voted in it could get through.

I really disagree with some stuff the Liberals have done. I hate that right when we had no money we suddenly had to pay for eye exams. I hate that he said he wouldn't raise taxes and then he did. This certainly isn't a pro-Liberal blog.

I just think it's really scary to go down this path. I don't know.

And, the ironic thing is that I have all these questions for the politicians, and yet not one has come to our door to discuss it. Nor have I seen them at the GO station. I actually know someone working on the John Tory campaign. So, I think I'll send her this post and ask for her thoughts. I'm curious - is it just me, or is anyone really debating this issue?

PS Despite saying I disagree with McGuinty, I have to say that when I was a 1st year journalism school student I was at Queen's Park for radio class and I was taping a broadcast. I had no idea how to "plug in" and I was all alone. A really nice guy came and asked me if he could help. He actually showed me how to make it work and then helped me understand how the whole day would work, scrums, etc. I introduced myself at the end and he introduced himself. I remembered his name (Dalton McGuinty is pretty memorable) and a couple of weeks later I actually found out who he was. His kindness that day was really cool - and it was before there was any sort of election going on.


Urban Daddy said...

As a very pro-Conservative individual I'll try to help you break this down in an easier way so you can see the light. :)

Liberals - liars.
NDP - Why waste your vote, might as well vote Green, or Libertarian, or for the Undecided Party (they do exist)

Conservative - Better, John Tory - Ran the Canadian Foot Ball League and Rogers Cable... Not bad. I think he can run Ontario too.

Hope that helped. LOL.

SciFi Dad said...

Sadly for UD, the Conservatives are liars too.

While conceptually full funding for faith based schools is a good idea, I don't think practically it is the right answer. As more provinces legislate one publicly funded system (including Quebec, the province with a higher Roman Catholic population than Ontario), going the opposite route seems foolish.

Perhaps some alternative curriculum could be developed where faith-related courses are available as options to high school students? As for elementary school, a world religions survey course could be added to the social studies curriculum.

(And as an aside, there is a lot more to this faith based schools funding debate than meets the eye. Don't be so sure it would pass, even with a Conservative majority.)

Steph said...

The Liberals may have promised not to raise taxes and introduced the health premium but Ontarians need to understand that it is each Ontarian's investment in healthcare. A quality healthcare system with access to services, shorter wait times and sufficient funding is not free. Take away the health tax and the situation will be much worse- how do you expect to pay for healthcare without added funding? Would you rather that McGuinty kept his promise, not saw the need for more money and then you wait nine months for a certain type of scan at an acute care facility? Money is not going to fall from the sky. Doctors are not going to work for free. Take money away from education? Of course not. This notion that healthcare is free is ridiculous. At least it wasn't a general tax increase- the health premium is an investment in York Region citizens being able to have a hospital in the coming years, in not waiting two years for an MRI and in seniors being able to age in their own homes and communities. The Liberals have increased access to services, enhanced services for seniors, decreased wait times and allowed for healthcare funding to flow to LHINs who determine spending at the local level with a local view to needs. The Conservatives and NDP are promising all things to all people without a plan as to how they will pay for it. Are Ontarians really so absent minded that they don't wonder how we'll be able to pay for the increased stuff the NDP and Conservatives are promising when we can barely pay for what we have now? Education, healthcare and all of the other priorities cost money. The number of competing priorities and areas of spending in this province is enormous. The best way to describe it is like an average individual trying to comprehend the number one billion. We know what a billion is but truly trying to comprehend just how big a billion is is like trying to understand the number of competing priorities facing the government on a daily basis. Just my two cents.

LoriD said...

Before this election geared up, I was definitely NOT voting Liberal. I was upset about the same things as you (eye exams, health tax) after the last election - not just that it happened, but that McGuinty sold it as not his fault. I hated that more than anything.

I like John Tory. I think he is smart and charismatic and would make a great Premier. THEN, he introduced the notion of full funding for faith-based schools and I was left asking, Who do I vote for now? He would have had my vote if his platform was one public system instead of two, but he went in completely the opposite direction and I just can't see how that is good for children or the province's finances.

Private schools exist in the province and parents choose to send their children there for a variety of reasons: special arts programming, smaller classes, and religion, to name a few. The public schools will never get better if we keep cutting their funding.

You have such a unique perspective as someone who did attend a religious school and now makes choices for your own child. Thanks for sharing!

Laural Dawn said...

UD - It surprised me when you said you were conservative. I actually like John Tory, but this policy worries me

Steph - I totally agree with you about having to pay for health care, etc. I think what angered me was that he stood so firm on the no tax thing and then wavered. I saw where he was coming from but to stand so firmly on something and then waffle turned me off. But, yes,I would rather pay for some services than have the huge line-ups.

Lori - I think we're on the same page. That's exactly my concern - schools need the money to survive.

SFD - I think that's a great idea about faith classes. Why not.

But, my big question is - why aren't we allowed to weigh in on this outside of the election?

Steph said...

Thanks Laural for writing this post- I thoroughly enjoyed it and everyone's comments! I think that a lack of real, timely issues for this province has made more peripheral issues (faith based schools and not education as a whole) the centrepiece of campaigns. Apart from going back on his word about taxes, McGuinty hasn't had made major screw ups and the province isn't too doing badly economically so issues that the Conservatives associate themselves with by lack of other hot topics become hot topics themselves. I totally agree that this should not be an election issue. While I'm sure the Conservative party has researchers and such, this is a policy decision which requires the proper research, discussion, analysis and vetting through the proper policy development process that exists in the government. Then again, if there is such protest against it, perhaps it is better to know about it now rather than a Conservative majority government (ha ha) implementing this through the policy/legislative process where it would pass essentially no questions asked. Fun times in Ontario!

Teena said...

I'm not political at all and rarely vote ... they are all the same to me.

I don't have a problem paying towards public schools. But I do have an issue with paying towards religious-based schools, regardless of the religion. And it's not because I'm not religious ... I just feel that providing public schools is enough. If someone whats to send their child to a specific religious or private school, that's their choice and they should be prepared to pay for it.

infectiouslaughter said...

as awkward as the post and comments were today, I value your interesting posts this week that have been accompanied with lively debate.