Catholic educators must stand up for rights

  • October 30, 2009
{mosimage}MISSISSAUGA, Ont. - Catholic schools need to fight for and preserve their “Catholicity” in a social and political climate that is becoming increasingly hostile to publicly funded Catholic education, say some educators.

John Kostoff, Dufferin Peel Catholic District School Board’s director of education, says Catholic educators need to “take a step back” and re-assess their goals and identity.

“My fear is that if we don’t have that conversation, we’ll wake up one day and say, ‘How did we get to this part, this place?,’ ” Kostoff told The Catholic Register at the 14th annual When Faith Meets Pedagogy conference held here Oct. 22-24.

In an Oct. 23 presentation, Kostoff spoke about the importance of minority rights, specifically the constitutional right of Catholic schools to exist in Ontario. A future referendum on whether to continue the public funding of the Catholic education system would spell trouble for Catholic schools, he said, recalling the previous provincial election which catapulted the issue of publicly funded faith-based schools into the media spotlight.

“When you represent 39 per cent of the population, you don’t even need to bother printing a referendum form,” Kostoff said. “You can’t have minority rights determined by the majority.”

Kostoff also told the crowd Catholic teachers and boards should not lose their core focus.

“Catholic schools need to be faithful, not successful,” Kostoff said. Catholic educators should consider the culture of their schools and whether it is “simply because of our crest or letterhead that makes it a Catholic school.”

“Without stepping back and having that conversation, we remain Catholic in name only,” Kostoff said, adding that religion should not just be an “add-on.” Rather, religion should be integrated in the school’s curriculum and budget priorities.

For high school teacher Branko Tomasovic, Kostoff’s message hits home.

“From what I see, Catholic education is being taught as ‘feel good education,’ as character education, where the religious stories aren’t being taught,” said Tomasovic, 34, a religion teacher at Mississauga’s Father Michael Goetz High School.

The problem, he said, is that some teachers don’t feel qualified to teach religion and “don’t have a background to teach it.”

On the curriculum, Tomasovic said some of the Grade 9 material talks about “how to be good in certain situations,” while missing the Catholic story.

Other teachers also said there has been a lack of Catholic content in educational material available to teachers. Lynn Pearce, a special education teacher at Our Lady Immaculate Catholic School in Strathroy, Ont., said she “hadn’t seen anything explicitly Catholic” reading books for different reading levels for some years.

But Pearce said she found a welcome change at a workshop at the conference on new reading books for students which feature Catholic symbols and celebrations.

Meanwhile, Sr. Joan Cronin, the Institute of Catholic Education’s executive director, said despite the challenges of secularism and evolving church-state relations affecting the political context of Catholic schooling, there are signs of hope. Children’s rights activists Craig and Marc Kielburger, who gave the conference’s keynote address, are examples of the fruits of Catholic education, Cronin told teachers at an Oct. 23 talk. Their Free the Children organization fights for children’s rights around the globe.

Cronin said “proliferation of new faces of atheism” have caused students to have discussions about faith and reflect on what they believe as Catholics.

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