Politics - Provincial

Faith-Based Segregation

By Ted Mitchell
Published September 11, 2007

John Tory's platform of funding religious schools is just about the most harmful thing our society could do to itself.

Superficially that would be "fair", but don't turn your brain off just yet, for there are more significant consequences that, with a little thought, are fairly obvious.

The public school has been essential in evolving our relatively nonviolent and tolerant liberal democracy. Failing to realize this is equally depressing and shocking.

I am the product of nine years of primary Catholic education, and I can honestly say that experience was almost irrelevant to establishing my personality and values.

For some reason, even as a child I decided that actions are more important than beliefs, images, and words. I noticed that even though my father and step-grandfather did not go to church, they were the most considerate and moral people I knew. Naturally, I tried to imitate these heathens.

My children now attend a public school, and I think it is one of the best schools in Hamilton; public, private, or faith-based. Not because of the results of standardized test scores (which are mediocre at best, and who really cares?), but because of the quality of people involved: the teachers, other students, and concerned parents come together to make it an excellent, tolerant learning environment.

Modern public schools are very open to and tolerant of minorities. Sadly, this is a fairly recent development. Perhaps it may have been accelerated if there was not a Catholic / Protestant split established long ago.

If you have some desire to pull your children into isolation, that is, a private or faith-based school, I have to ask: do you realize that you will expose them to ridicule from others and a toxic, boring sameness devoid of exposure to other cultures, socioeconomic groups and religions? Could anyone dream up a better form of torture for teenagers than to deprive them of exploring differences?

Isolating children in this way is a lose-lose scenario. You are asking for your child to be ignorant of and poorly integrated into the larger society in which we live. For teens, you invite rebellion. And because of human nature, some people in the larger society will view your children as freaks. It isn't right, but it is reality.

Minority faith and cultural differences, gently integrated, make our society richer. The same cultural and faith differences, if excessively isolated from the mainstream, lead to ostracism of the minority and a more homogenous, deprived society.

Funding of religious schools invites crossing that line into excessive isolation.

Sadly, some of the most surprising supporters of this terrible idea come form the Jewish community. I am surprised because it is well established that members of the Jewish faith are generally small-l liberal, well educated and very successfully integrated into mainstream culture.

Some fine children at my children's school are Jewish, and I think the integration of religion and culture from peer exposure is much more positive and educational for all of our children than any textbook could manage.

If you support the funding of faith-based schools, you might want to think again. The consequences for your children and for society might be completely opposite to your intentions.

Ted Mitchell is a Hamilton resident, emergency physician and sometimes agitator who recently completed a BEng at McMaster University. He is fascinated by aspects of our culture that are harmful, but avoid serious public discussion.


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By jason (registered) | Posted September 11, 2007 at 22:57:45

Hey Ted....interesting post. Some food for thought though: I attended a private, Christian school my entire life and don't suffer at all from the 'toxic, boring, sameness' or 'ridicule from others'. The church that runs our school has over 50 nations represented in it's membership. Isolation and segregation were certainly not a problem.

I am now planning to have my children attend the same school. Could the cirriculum be a little better? sure. could the facilities be more updated? sure. But, as you said, the key is the people. Just like you, I love the teachers and feel comfortable knowing that they have my child's best interest at heart during the hours when I entrust them with my kids.

I'm not entirely sure what the solution is from the political end of things. I don't support this proposal by the Tories because in order to receive government funding it would require that everything about my school become operated the same as the public school - same cirriculum, same teacher accredidations etc.... it would be a 'Christian, private school' in name only.
Having said that, some amount of government money would be appreciated. After all, I happily pay taxes to support the public system although I'll choose to never use it. I don't expect that same level of funding to come to my private school, but any small amount would sure help us bring the facilities and quality of the school up another level.

I'm sure there's a solution out there somewhere, but thought I'd share my experiences with you anyhow since you're quite interested in the topic.


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By Skool? (anonymous) | Posted September 11, 2007 at 23:37:52

It's interesting that our 2 major political parties seem to have forgotten 2 of the principles that are common to all democracies. In John Tory's case, it's 'Separation of Church & State'. In Premier McGuinty's case, it's 'Innocent Until Proven Guilty'. No wonder so many Ontarians will sit this election out for the 1st. time in their lives. Both of these parties offer democracy a long lingering death by inches.

If the Ministry of Education is really about education, why are they not also proposing full funding for schools for children who have learning difficulties, children who are gifted in all or certain areas, deaf or blind children? A Ministry of Education's primary function ought to be education, not religion.

(Question -Will this proposed funding extend to Native education institutions, only if they attempt to teach several hundred existing Native religions to their students, or will the province happily fund a school that teaches only one indigenous religion with students of many different beliefs & languages?)

Both the Torys & the Liberals are having a grand old time trying to purchase the votes of our newest group of immigrants & fundamentalist groups with the province's tax dollars (every one's taxes). A cultural mosaic will always be better than a melting pot but, when any persons come to a new country to start a new life there is some expectation that they do not look at that country's educational system as suspect or as a corrupting influence to young people. In some cases, our entire society (which you have to hope is based on equality & fairness) is also seen within a critical view because of cultural baggage, bigotry, racism, & homophobia, etc. brought from 'The Old Country'. The same may be said about some extreme right wing Christian sects that flourish in Canada.

In the U.S., most home schooled students belong to Christian religions that are not main stream. If people wish to opt out of the Public System, they can always home school their children. There are many reasons other than religion to home school, but this remains an option for anyone who wishes to do so.

People who are critical of our educational system, & culture, be they extreme in any faith, ought to realize that in a more rigid society, less secular society, They might be the ones facing blatant discrimination & religious persecution. It's absurd to flee discrimination in one country & come to another with the idea that you have a right to see other people as inferior on the basis of faith, race, creed, colour, gender, sexual orientation or other irrational biases.

People should either embrace those freedoms or reject them, according to their own faiths & consciences, but please don't expect the rest of the province to pay for it. Retain cultural identity & religious values by all means, but do not expect me to both bury mine & pay for the funeral at the same time.

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By Skool? (anonymous) | Posted September 12, 2007 at 00:15:18

Our family also enjoyed attending an inexpensive, small, none sectarian Christian School, & a small private public school. Both schools were excellent, & a breath of fresh air. When Harris' Torys decided to dispense with art, music, & creative English within the Public System, private schools provided a good alternative. Our interest in these schools was more of an atmospheric & educational nature that a faith issue. (With only 10 to 15 students per class, students learned more easily & had more enjoyment of learning.)

'Making do' isn't always the worst thing in the world. It often provides opportunity for creative solutions, & a more sharing & family oriented culture with the classroom.

We are not wealthy people, but by cutting back on other things, we afforded these schools. We were also pleased that with lack of Provincial funding also came lack of Provincial Ministry input/interference on the time spent on classroom activities.

Sometimes you Do get what you pay for!

I absolutely support the presence of private schools that are primarily Education based & applaud their efforts, but I didn't & don't expect the tax payer to fund them. If a school is primarily faith based (will not take teachers, staff or students who are not part of that faith, etc.) it should lose it's right to any Government funding.

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By Ted Mitchell (registered) | Posted September 12, 2007 at 12:01:31

Good comments so far.

What I think is a bit sad is that the likes of Jason and Skool are not contributing their children and ideas to the public system, which weakens and deprives it.

In some cases situations get so intolerable that the best you can do is vote with your feet - and I've done that before. But in doing so you really leave the situation, whatever it may be, to get even more run down.

Might I remind you that the larger philosophy of staying to fight for Hamilton rather than moving away (Ben?!) is what keeps this website fueled.

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By Skool? (anonymous) | Posted September 12, 2007 at 20:16:31

Sorry Ted, but to have input you must at least be listened to. We were not listened to on things from food allergies, to asthma. You document these things several times each year for school events & camping trips, & No Notice what so ever is taken of them. (Can you imagine not allowing an asthmatic child to take their puffer with them during a cross country run in hay fever season? Can you imagine presenting a child with only foods that they are documented as allergic to for dinner on a 3 day camping trip?)

Can also you imagine both parents taking time off work to attend a 'meet the teacher' event, & having the teacher keep forgetting who your child is? (to the extent of referring to them by the wrong name several times, & showing you another child's marks by mistake -twice?) To be fair, the school decided to do a mentoring program. The teacher we spoke to was a teacher our child had for only once a week. Parents did not get to speak to the home room teacher, or a teacher that could provide much input, just the appointed mentor teacher. To speak to the homeroom teacher, or other relevant teacher, you had to take more time off work & make a 2nd. appointment.) That was the last & final meet the teacher event we ever attended in a public school.

Private school teachers actually know who you child is, what their strengths are, what their weaknesses are, & their health issues. They have a good understanding of who your child is as a student & a human being. They also do not waste your time & dodge meet the teacher interviews. They answer questions honestly because there is no need to do otherwise.

How exactly would you suggest we could have handled this better? I can't even imagine how to handle it at all? In my opinion, because of budget shortages, public schools have become what we may have thought private school were. A certain group of parents decide what will happen in the school, & no other input from other parents is deemed necessary.

(Ie:A couple of Alpha Parents decide that Harry Potter is inappropriate & Harry vanishes from the library until the Board makes a decision. Or some Alpha Parents decide that they want free babysitting in the form of hours & hours of busywork homework per night & as a result all students Must do it. Homework/busywork is a very controversial subject at present, & rightly so. Children have a right to research their own interest areas, & read things that may not be on the year's curriculum. This is learning too!

Sorry again Ted, the public school system works for the few & ignores the people they feel they are not compelled to listen to.

"If democracy isn't happening at school, it isn't happening anywhere." ... W.O. Mitchell

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By Ted Mitchell (registered) | Posted September 13, 2007 at 10:32:53

Quoting Skool "Private school teachers actually know who you child is, what their strengths are, what their weaknesses are, & their health issues. They have a good understanding of who your child is as a student & a human being. They also do not waste your time & dodge meet the teacher interviews. They answer questions honestly because there is no need to do otherwise."

Actually this describes all the teachers my kids have had at a public school for a total of eight child-years so far.

If you want to talk about food allergies, that is what sends me as a doctor, because even the most rational parent goes insane when that diagnosis is predecided. So, expect LOTS of frustration from teachers and doctors on that one, sorry, because there is a very good chance that the child does NOT have a true immune-globulin mediated allergy in most cases. Not to say yours do not. But don't be surprised to be labelled as a bit of a loon, there is usually some truth in this generalization as far as teachers are concerned.

As for "Children have a right to research their own interest areas, & read things that may not be on the year's curriculum. This is learning too! " Right on, I could not agree more. We need more people to push this concept on public schools.

Another point I did not raise, but very important: Private schools go strongly against the general philosophy of density and walkability in cities. They promote car culture.

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By Rusty (registered) - website | Posted September 13, 2007 at 13:11:17


Couple of points (I saw my name mentioned! I have just skimmed through this discussion...):

  • With respect to the issue of faith based schooling I think this is, for the most part, a 'made up' issue. I'm not saying it's not real, it's just that the timing is not right. There are many more important issues for the province to be tackling right now. It's one thing for Tory to get this on the agenda but it's way too soon to start allocating tax dollars and setting policy. A discussion needs to occur first, and not as a defining issue in an election (why are we asked to vote on single issues anyway? The Tory platform has way more to offer than just this...I don't like these strategies!)
  • As for 'fixing the issue from within' that's a fine sentiment - and an ideal situation - but it's not always practical. I dedicated 6 years of my life (as did my wife and kids) to Hamilton, much of that invested in grassroots political activities aimed at moving the city forwards. It was hugely envigorating but also hugely exhausting. And in the end, given that I had no strong ties to Hamilton (no family, no history...) it was not realistic or fair (to me or my family) to stick around. As I'm sure you know, activism will burn you out if you are not careful - I see this despair all the time when we consider the never-ending nature of some of the issues we discuss - and it's more important for me to be happy and work towards affecting change within the limits of my abilities.

Thanks for reading!


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By Skool? (anonymous) | Posted September 13, 2007 at 23:26:20

Gee, Ted. You are a physician, an engineering student, & a parent & you write on a widely read web site....according to your bio. Do you think maybe there was some incentive here for teachers to listen to you?
Re the food allergy. Tomatoes in any form have always produced projectile vomiting in one child.(pasta with tomato sauce, pizza with anything more than a very small amount of sauce, tomato soup, tomatoes, ketchup & anything tomato based.)

Sometimes the vomiting continued for hours to the point of producing bile. I can't think of anything less fun than being in a tent (or sharing a tent), with a limited number of clothes & bedding with most of it covered in stinky barf for 3 days.

Food sensitivity or allergy? All I know is feeding this kid ( now over 20) anything with tomatoes is still a very very bad idea.

Private schools create 'pollution' because parents drive them there? Fine...are you in favour of a safe environment filled with Gr. 10 drop-outs?

There were probably 10 school buses picking up students at the local public high school plus about 30 parents picking up & dropping off kids each day (more in bad weather & on Fridays) plus the majority of kids over 16 who drove themselves.(usually trucks & muscle cars) Once you get out of Hamilton core, into rural areas, walking or cycling to school isn't an option, esp. in winter.

By simple arithmetic, there are few cars being driven to a small private school than a much large public one, & most private schools are located on a well serviced bus route because it's good business sense to do so.

Colin MacDonald School is located in N.W. Hamilton. It's one of the best private schools in Ontario, IMHO & also very reasonably priced.
I'm glad we found it, & do not regret anything about leaving the public elementary system, - except that we didn't leave it sooner.

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By Al Rathbone (anonymous) | Posted September 14, 2007 at 17:23:53

How else do you deal with Public schools where a large number of students and teachers hate and ridicule christians and christianity?

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By Skool? (anonymous) | Posted September 18, 2007 at 11:55:26

Mr. Rathbone -First I'd like to say that if this has happened to your children or any children within the Public System, it's intolerable. It should have been addressed by either the school or the board. (Yes, dream on. These kinds of situations never are addressed at all unless a student is physically injured.)

But I'd also like to point out to you that the shoe can be on the other foot. If you have a preponderance of students with a Public school that are of one faith, you can have other students being labeled incorrectly as "Heretics, Godless Hoodlums, & Satan Worshipers". I've seen that happen too. That shouldn't be happening either! This is what happens when you have One Right Answer to all the questions.

There are some main stream religions with lists of books that are permitted to be read by follows. In some instances, it's easier to list the books that are permitted than attempt to list the huge number of books that are not permitted. How do you balance the requirements of those religions within a secular society in an Educational institution?

One of the best teachers that we every met would not teach evolution with the Public Elementary System because of his personal faith & beliefs. We could balance that situation because he was such an amazing teacher, but both evolution & intelligent design were not presented equally with the classroom that year within the Public system.(As I recall, neither was presented at all, which is a big gap in basic education.)

Hamilton Public School Board dealt with the situation of proselytizing in Public Schools about 2 years ago. So it was happening then, & some people took offense. I can't say that I blame them. This destroys the essence of separation of church & state, & is a blatant insult to any other students & parents in the presence of, or absence of religious faith. The Public School System guarantees students freedom of religion, but it also guarantees them freedom from religion.

For the record, we are 4th. generation Humanists. This group allows belief or lack of it in a Supreme Being. It came into being during the horrors of the Industrial Revolution in Britain, & rapidly spread throughout Europe & N. America as the virtual slavery of most of the population became common place. It came into being because the absence of comment or pity from all major religions toward entire generations of men. women & children (especially children) who had nothing but thankless hard work & indentured servitude. Children did not go to school & because of their legal status, were treated as Animals. The same was true of women. It became increasing obvious to many that the Churches as institutions either could not or would not institute any sort of social change or stand up for basic human decency for the majority of their followers.

World War 1 contributed to the growth of Humanism. Men can home to find the same grinding poverty & human misery that they had left. They were physically maimed & mentally scarred after fighting for 'God & Country'. You cannot feed your children on medals & ribbons. No one stepped up for them or their families. Perhaps someone should have?

Jesus did have compassion for " The least of these" & did "Suffer little children to come unto me." He cared!

Perhaps we should just understand that large institutions, religious or not, by nature cannot/do not care because it is not perceived as their 'job' to do so? If we want across the board change, we cannot look to our Churches for assistance because they will not cross the lines of their own denominations, & dogma to 'Work Well & Play Well With Others'.

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By Kyle (anonymous) | Posted October 01, 2007 at 23:30:06

Dr. Ted Mitchell,

I'm a sheridan film student (major in documentary) and I'm working on a current affairs project during this upcoming month. The topic is "religious segregation" is there any way I can contact you? if you have e-mail please contact me at Spelyk@hotmail.com, I'm looking to learn more about the subject, and I'm really interested in what your hammerblog had to say.

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