By Luke Fevin
As I slowly learn more about this crazy education system of ours in Alberta, sometimes there are moments of clarity where the fog lifts and the madness is truly self-evident. Let me try to share a moment with you.
I live in one of the best places in Canada to raise a family and in St. Albert; I pay the taxes to prove it. So what are my education options for my 3 young children in one of the wealthiest and most highly taxed communities in Canada?
My public school division is Greater St. Albert Catholic Schools (GSACRD - pronounced G-Sacred, really). The problem is not only do these schools permeate Catholicism (which is not really for me), they actually require that I sign a form saying I understand that Catholicism fully permeates all of the divisions schools teaching – and even though it is my public school division, and it is unconstitutional, I am not allowed to opt my children out of the religious indoctrination.
(Yes GSACRD, the School Act applies to you the same as all other schools. You get to do the Lords Prayer and 30 minutes religious instruction at the end of the day. You are not special and have been openly flouting the law and, as per the legislation, your failure to meet these requirements will cause your “office to be void” – or it would if Alberta’s Education Ministers weren’t either staunch Catholics or “void” in the cojones department.)
On a side note, a quick bit of advice for St. Albert’s teenagers. Fed up with going to school? Want to slack off but still get your grades? Here’s how. Sign up for your nearest Catholic school. Then provide (in your best parent’s handwriting) a signed letter that you wish to be excluded from any religious education (as is your right under the Alberta Human Rights Act). The school conveniently provides you with documentation saying religion permeates all of its education. You show up in the morning for registration and then go home. Repeat this until graduation. As your Catholic school permeates everything with religion and you are allowed to opt out of anything with religion “with no academic penalty” (AB Human Rights Act) you should confidently arrive at your graduation pleasantly relaxed at having taken the last few years off school. You’re welcome.
Anyway, back to my dilemma – how to best get my children educated in ‘family friendly’ St. Albert. If you’re not Catholic, don’t panic! We have a backup plan. Our ‘separate’ school division – the ‘Protestant’ school division. Now, I know it sounds religious, but actually the Protestant school division has really been operating as more of a secular school division, so you’d think that we’d be OK(ish). But there’s a catch. Actually there are several catches. So maddingly loopy that Catch 22 seems fair and logical.
If I don’t want my children taught by GSACRD and their education to be about God, and how to avoid burning in hell for all eternity and why being gay is wrong, and why we shouldn’t bully other people (oh, irony) I now have to send my children to a Protestant school.
Except because the Proddy school is not my ‘public’ school I lose a couple of rights and take on a bit of risk. First, my children do not get a guaranteed seat. They do at the Catholic school, because it’s my public school – but not at the Proddy school. Here’s the problem, the Protestant schools are bursting at the seams and the Catholic schools are increasingly empty (Burning hellfire not as popular with people as it once was). Our closest school is so full they timeshare the playground between grades. Really.
So what happens if I enroll my 7 year old in a school and my 5 year old doesn’t get in? Or my 7 & 5 year old make the cut, but my 3 year old has to go to a different school. See? Theoretically I could end up with 3 children in 3 different schools. Getting stupid isn’t it?
But it gets stupider. I’m an involved parent, fortunate as a Dad that I get to drop off and pick up my children from school most days. I like to get involved with their school – except because it’s wouldn’t be my ‘public school’, for me to be able to do things like vote for our school trustee I would have to sign a piece of paper that says I’m a Protestant. Which would be lying – and would also cause a skew in the census numbers which are so important. So I can lie (like most people are forced to do) and mess up the numbers or I don’t get a say.
Even better, if there is ever a bit of chicanery between the school boards and who’s the ‘majority’ and who’s the ‘separate’ it is quite conceivable the Protestant school board would REintroduce prayer and formal Christian study back into their curriculum to help maintain their ‘separate’ status.
And how do we sort out which is which? We currently have a census in the St. Albert / Morinville area. It asks, are you, “Catholic”, “Protestant” or “Other”. Really, that’s how we slice our 21st century population? Firstly, a recent PEW study found that fully 33% of Canadian Catholics don’t believe in God. So is the question relevant to choosing whether religion should be in our schools? Obviously not. What about our Protestants? According to PEW, 28% don’t believe in God and according to the census definition of Protestant (“a Christian who is not a Catholic”), that would then include Mormons and the other 1,000 plus different Christian denominations that aren’t Catholic. Way to accurately represent our community.
Just because someone identifies culturally with a religious history does not mean that they are religious, or that they think religion should be in schools. The census is another bureaucratic waste of money that asks questions that are completely irrelevant to the matter at hand. Unless of course you think an education system that splits our communities into “Catholic” and “Everybody else” is an appropriate way to manage education in 2011. I think the census bureaucrats should count the crayons in my children’s art box, and let my kids work out what’s really going on in our community. My kids would be closer to getting it right.
So amongst all this madness, when you find a great little school right on the outskirts of St. Albert, just 6 minutes from your home (a place where no non-Catholic school has performed the Lords Prayer in any regular or public manner for over 15 years) and is part of a school division where none of their other 14 schools performs the Lords Prayer and the closest the school comes to saying anything about religion is the “optional religion program” over and over in its websites and brochures – and when you visit and there is nothing to suggest religious affiliation, including amongst the framed Vision and Mission statements in the entrance way – you get really, really fucking annoyed when you find out that the school is forcing your children to listen to the Lords Prayer every day.
The Alberta Human Rights Act says you have to give parents notice of religion in school. I would have thought being forced to listen to the Lords Prayer everyday qualifies.
Best of all, when you politely raise the issue that “errr, you’re forcing my children to pray and that isn’t really OK – can we do something about it?” (a request that would seem reasonable in most of the rest of the Western civilised World) the parents (sic Christians) turn on you and the school and board try to hide behind a legal anomaly over a century old.
While this madness is going on, in NE St. Albert the community needs a new school. The demographics show it. But not enough for a Catholic school. Not enough for a Protestant school. So no school. More kids walking further. More busses. More traffic. More risk. More cost.
We’ve got Catholic schools with lots of room, Protestant schools bursting at the seams, we’re paying god-knows (yes, it was intentional) how much money to pay for redundant, duplicate systems that under serve their communities. At the same time we’re cutting budgets, firing teachers, pulling over $100 million out of our savings account and why?
In the 21st Century (where everyone else lives), it is understood that the only way to accord every child the equality, respect and opportunity that they each deserve – without discrimination, exclusion or humiliation is with a secular public school system. This is not “anti-religion”; it is “freedom of religion”.
Equality seems like a reasonable request, especially when talking about children. But sadly it is human nature for those who dominate and control to want to continue to dominate and control, even at the cost of others.
For Albertan tax payers and for Alberta’s children to get an education that treats and considers all equally, without discrimination or exclusion, to get a system that operates efficiently and with no hidden agendas, for each community to get the schools it deserves, for us to reduce the cost, risk, traffic and travel time associated with many of our children – and finally, for us to save and reinvest far more than $100 million plus that we are currently borrowing from our savings fund to merely limit the cuts – that is going to require both the politicians and the religious to do not what is self-serving, but what is Right. And that just might take a miracle.