Editorial: How about charity and wisdom

  • September 21, 2023

Prime Minister Justin Trudeau is urging left-leaning activists to sharpen their listening skills if they want public support. Pray the Ontario English Catholic Teachers’ Association gets the message.

OECTA whipped up a social media storm recently (which, admittedly, is like saying a hurricane brought high winds) with a post that gusted from aggressive to nasty but whose defining quality was ideological tone deafness.

“Premier Ford’s recent comments — which accused school boards and teachers of ‘indoctrinating’ students, by protecting students’ right to use gender pronouns of their choice — are shameful, disrespectful, and potentially harmful,” said a post from OECTA President René Jansen in de Wal on the platform formerly known as Twitter.

“Catholic teachers will continue to strongly condemn any attempt to spread hate and bigotry in any form — including any attempt to pursue reckless or harmful policy. We will continue to stand in solidarity with 2SLGBTQIA+ students and communities, and will continue to create safe learning environments for students,” it added.

A longer statement on the union’s website contained blessedly added nuance. Alas, it was still permeated by over-the-top vituperation. It brought nothing of Catholic charity to the debate about parental involvement when children decide to live differently from their biological sex-gender. (See Sr. Helena Burns’ column in these pages for a clear Catholic effort to define that fraught term.)

Without question Ford’s foray highlighted the sort of instantaneous insensitivity that is the base of his political brand. Strictly speaking, though, he did not accuse anyone of “indoctrinating” anyone. His sentence, despite distortions to the contrary by the hysteria-whipping group-think media mob, was: “It’s not up to school boards, it’s not up to the teachers, to indoctrinate our kids.”

Sheer the woolly politics off those words and they become a statement of fact. It isn’t up to school boards or teachers to indoctrinate students. A proper response from the parties ostensibly offended, then, should be: “The Premier’s right. It isn’t, and we don’t.”

Specificity for Catholic education might add: “Our call isn’t to indoctrination. It’s to doctrine. Our raison d’être is teaching critically minded Catholic students the doctrine of our Holy Mother Church essential to their salvation.” Pointe finale.

But no. In place, from educators, we got a jumbled heap of rag-picker adjectives: shameful, disrespectful and potentially harmful. (Digression for discussion in a high school English class: can anything possibly be both shameful and respectful?) We got OECTA pledging to “stand in solidarity” with designated victim students (Digression #2: Does anyone ever take a flying leap in solidarity? Or does proclaiming solidarity, by its nature, demand an upright posture on a soapbox?)

Of course, “hate and bigotry” also had to be disgorged to please OECTA members who enjoy the emotional hiss and vinegar of detesting Premier Ford. Or did they have to be? How essential, really, is a reflexive, even reckless, accusation of “spreading hate and bigotry” to an educational organization with Catholic in its name? Prime Minister Trudeau’s caveat at the Global Progress Action Summit in Montreal on Sept. 16 argues that, on the contrary, such invective is worse than unnecessary. It is counter-productive.

“If we’re not responding to where people are in their daily life, we’re not going to connect with them,” the PM said in the presence of left-leaning luminaries such as former New Zealand prime minister Jacinda Arden and Norway’s Jonas Støre.

Even non-partisan Canadians might wonder why it took eight years, and a plummet to the bottom of popular opinion, for our prime minister to illuminate us with such wisdom.

It is wise nonetheless. Its sagacity should penetrate deeply enough to enlighten even unionized firebrands at OECTA. Parents, in their daily life, live their lives with, and through, their children. It is inherent to being a parent. For a Catholic organization to fail to respond to that reality, for it to opt instead for a storm of cliché-ridden abuse of an ideological foe, is to display a kind of disconnected deafness to the call for charity and wisdom taught by the very Church it claims to represent.

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