Promoting a conversation about the unification of separate with public school boards should focus on the issues. But, as often happens in political discourse these days, some people will quickly turn the conversation away from the principles, policies, and practices, to focus, instead, on personalities and personal circumstances.
This initiative is only five days old, and the following letter has appeared in the Edmonton Journal –
Re: “Former education minister launches campaign for one public school system,” -- The headlined story appeared in the March 30 edition of the Edmonton Journal (here)
“David King never tires of criticizing the Catholic school system. His children went through the education system many years ago. Someone ought to ask King which system he chose for his family. I had the pleasure of teaching his children in the Catholic school system. Enough said.
(signed) R.C. Newcombe, Edmonton
Mr. Newcombe apparently believes that my advocacy of unifying separate school systems with public systems is based on some unhappy experience that my children had in the separate school system in years gone by. In fact, I hold my position notwithstanding good personal experience. My concerns are about principles, policies, and practices.
But, my life and my family are interwoven with Catholicism, and since Mr. Newcombe or others may come back with other reflections on my family, let me put widely known facts about my family on the record. (Anyone who knows us knows our circumstances.)
My wife is an active Roman Catholic and was, for more than 30 years, a very happy teacher in a separate school system where she was well-treated and where, I am confident, many children received the education the province and their parents expected them to receive. (I know that my wife poured herself into her teaching.)
I am an active member of the United Church. My father, my grandfather, and many other relatives have been clergy.
My wife and I generally attend both Mass and a United Church worship service on a Sunday morning. For more than a decade I was a reader in our local Catholic church. My wife and I were married in a Roman Catholic church in the Diocese of St. Paul, and my father participated in the ceremony, with the prior approval of the Bishop.
One of my early jobs was as Research Director for the Edmonton and District Council of Churches. The then President was a Roman Catholic priest who became a life-long friend. He baptized our eldest son, who subsequently became a Knight of Columbus and a Squires leader. (My father baptized our second son.)
Because my wife is Roman Catholic our children had the legal ‘right’ (or privilege) to be educated in either the public or separate school system. Together, they were educated for 10 of 36 years in the separate school system. (If, at the time, there had been the current controversy about G.S.A. clubs, or the recent controversy about vaccination, they would not have been educated in the separate school system at all.)
Faith is important to me personally, and I respect the faith of others, although I sometimes disagree – even strongly -- with doctrinal positions, including the doctrines of my own denomination. However, it is not faith or family experience that brings me to my position (except that, for reasons of faith, I believe strongly in the separation of Church and State). Nor is it the quality of the teaching in the separate school system, or the results that separate school students achieve on Diploma exams that bring me to my position.
With this, I believe that I have made full disclosure. I would certainly have done this earlier if I had suspected that it would be germane to anyone’s response to the invitation to a conversation. If any reader has concerns about how my own and my family’s faith journey impacts my approach to this issue, I look forward to hearing from you, perhaps directly. Otherwise, I would like the conversation to return to the principles, the policies, and the practices that lead to proposing unification.
1. Separate school education is an anachronism that was invented 250 years ago, more than 3,000 km away, for reasons that are simply not relevant in Alberta at the beginning of the 21st century. In Alberta at the beginning of the 21st century Roman Catholics do not need ‘protection’ any more than people of most other faith traditions need protection. (There is no evidence that Roman Catholics in the six Canadian provinces without separate school systems experience discrimination as a result.)
2. Separate school education in Alberta was never a condition of Confederation, and Quebec, where separate school education was invented, did away with it 20 years ago.
3. Separate school education is a privilege that is extended to one denomination and denied to all others, contrary to the Charter of Rights and Freedoms. To put the Roman Catholic Church on the same footing as every other denomination or faith community in Alberta is not a discriminatory proposal.
4. In the course of permeating and evangelizing the Roman Catholic faith, separate schools have lost sight of the fact that they are a civil institution, not a Church institution. In the course of permeating and evangelizing they are sometimes undemocratic.
5. In the absence of any compelling reasons to continue separate school education, there are considerable annual investments that could be much better used in the classroom rather than for administration, facilities, transportation and other costs.
With this, I hope that we can return to discussing the substance of the proposal, rather than the personal circumstances of individuals.