School: A Place For Faith?

There has been much recent hype and discussion surrounding the Progressive Conservative Party’s promise to extend public funding to Jewish, Muslim and other religious schools in Ontario.

This controversy has recently come to light for two reasons. The most obvious is because of John Tory’s $400 million election campaign promise to introduce public funding for faith-based schools. The second overlaps the former point, which is Mr. Tory has been supposedly “listening” to continuous complaints for the past 30 years, as he puts it, by religious groups protesting the lack of educational funding to their religious denomination.

During this debate, many critics of the current “exclusionist” educational policy - as they would describe it - have created a faulty understanding and argument on the topic that it is their fair and just right as citizens of a democratic society to be given the same privilege and right that Catholics currently enjoy.

Approximately 53,000 students in Ontario currently attend faith-based schools. The root of the problem isn’t the existence or presence of religious schooling institutions, but that only Catholic education is currently being funded.

This is where the crux of the problem remains. When one religious group sees another receiving public funding, the logical outcome occurs where the question is asked “Why are they receiving funding and we aren’t?” In a democratic society one would think that funding would not be faith-biased. In this case the bias favours Catholics. What about other religious groups in Canada such as Protestant, Christian Orthodox, Muslim, Jewish, Hindu, Sikh and other Eastern religions?

The ironic side of this argument is that these very same pundits fighting for religious schooling are the same ones that oppose teaching homosexuality in the classroom. Are we now going to propose funding for Gay schools? Should they be included in the group of peoples seeking recognition and funding by the Ontario government?

The purpose of public education is to enable us to become independent thinkers – not religiously-inclined ideologues. Education also serves as an avenue for critical thinking and adapting in a multicultural setting. Since one of the major concerns is the teaching of religion, more funding should go into offering more theoretical courses in World Religions as part of the Ontario public school curriculum.

Rather than proposing funding for the establishment of faith-based schooling – which would likely result in a bigger mess than we already have – the Ontario government should focus on strengthening the existing public school system by providing schools with the necessary supplies such as textbooks that are currently outdated and depleted, newer technology in the classroom and the hiring of more highly-qualified teachers.

Ontario needs to encourage students to be in a setting where various ethnic and religious backgrounds engage each other in debate and intellectual conversation in the classroom. Encouraging an initiative such as faith-based schooling does not allow for that and excludes young students from the learning and understanding of other cultures and religions. It also manufactures consent to one specific religious school of thought; excluding religious and intellectual debate, not allowing students to think outside of the box. After all, isn’t that the purpose of education?

Written By: Yaseen Hemeda