Stand up for education

  • September 27, 2011

The biggest threat to Catholic education is not creeping secularism, political apathy or stressed government finances. It’s Catholic complacency.

When Catholics take their schools for granted, they lose them.

Fr. Leo English, a Redemptorist from Newfoundland, shared that warning in a recent speech.

“We took what we had for granted,” English told a Saskatoon audience. “This is an all-too common practice. Do not take what you have for granted, because there are storms everywhere.”

English experienced the fury of a storm that hit Newfoundland 13 years ago. Believing their schools were protected by the Constitution, Newfoundland Catholics were sideswiped by a referendum that voted “no” to publicly funded religious schools and then they were powerless to stop a 1998 constitutional amendment that abolished them.

“Complacency at so many levels led to an inadequate response,” English said.

His warning is timely in election-rapt Ontario where Catholic education has become so sensitive a topic that  major parties are ignoring it. But just because campaigning politicians walk on tightropes doesn’t mean Catholic parents should climb up behind them. As the Catholic Civil Rights League cautions, a challenge to publicly funded Catholic schools is “never far from the surface.” An election is when candidates should be held to account.

The issue politicians are most keen to deflect is how Ontario’s new equity policy will be applied to Catholic schools. The question is vital because the issue has become a Trojan horse for lobby groups that would use a secular definition of equity to challenge Catholic education’s very right to exist.

Catholic schools, of course, have long endorsed student equity and inclusiveness as core values. All students must be treated with respect, compassion and dignity. Equity is not the issue. But the government’s equity policy becomes controversial when it is interpreted by non-Catholics to mean Catholic schools must adopt a secular morality that rejects the Church’s moral teaching, particularly on explicit sex education in elementary grades and propagation of high-school support groups for students experiencing same-sex attraction.

This is where proponents of Catholic education, as English cautions, can ill afford to be complacent. Church and school leaders play a primary role in ensuring Catholic schools remain Catholic. But parents, by their sheer numbers, have a particular responsibility to know the issues and be vocal in support of Catholic education.

That doesn’t mean, as some propose, rushing into lawsuits. It does mean firmly but respectfully interacting with teachers, principals and trustees to oversee the implementation of government policy in ways that promote Catholic values. It also means engaging in the electoral process to promote Catholic education and to press political candidates to declare their stand on the issues. And then support those who support Catholic education.

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