The latest government intrusion into the classroom poses a special threat to religious and private schools as well as to people who teach their kids at home, parents and teachers warn.
The Common Curriculum, which is being developed and implemented at a rapid pace by the Ministry of Education and local school boards, is intended as a major restructuring of the way all Ontario students are taught. Many are concerned as much for what isn’t in the document, as for what is there.
Religious traditions could be left behind in the grand scheme of a common curriculum, and common values, for all Ontario students. And opponents to full government funding for Catholic schools are saying this is what they have always feared – the watering down of their religion in the separate schools by a government intent on controlling the way all students learn in the province.
“How are we protected as Catholics?” asks one Ontario teacher. “Specifically it (the Common Curriculum) offers no protection to Catholic parents.”
There is only one mention of the separate school system in the entire document – in a footnote in the introduction where it states Roman Catholic separate schools are constitutionally protected and responsible for their own religious education programmes. But other than that, it treats all schools and students the same. It says the curriculum for all students will be similar except for the isolated religion programs in Catholic schools.
“It’s not any mistake that it’s called common,” says the school teacher, who made The Interim aware of the document. She suggests that parents go to their trustee and say there is no specific guarantee that Catholic schools will be able to teach from a specifically Catholic world view. “The Catholic parent has to hold the government accountable if we lose Catholic education ten years down the road.”
The document talks about values which are shared by all Canadians, and are the principles underlying the curriculum but doesn’t really outline what these are. It doesn’t acknowledge that Christian or Jewish values could be the dominant principles in private or separate schools or in a home-schooling situation.
The vision of the new curriculum is for a “holistic” approach to teaching for all schools and students. But as Brian McGowan, an official with the Ontario English Catholic Teachers’ Association says, the assumption is that a Catholic school is indistinguishable from a public school “except for the existence of a discreet religious education programme.”
McGowan analyzed the Common Curriculum in the December edition of the OECTA magazine, The Reporter.
“In Roman Catholic Separate Schools, how can you have a curriculum that calls for personal integration and value formation, by isolating religious education from the rest of the curriculum?” he asks. “What gives integrity to an integrated curriculum in a Catholic school if not religion.”
He says despite the fact there are two constitutionally protected distinct school systems, the Ministry of Education talks about education as if there were only one. He says the Catholic nature of the separate school is “trivialized” by the government. He adds the Common curriculum “unexamined and unrevised” could represent a “Trojan horse into the system.”
McGowan sees a great deal of merit in the Common Curriculum but he says it has to be revised substantially for separate schools if they are to retain their reason for existence. He says the document is political in nature rather than merely a teaching tool. “Indeed, it would be easy to describe the Common Curriculum as the educational Magna Carta for the NDP government’s social policy,” he says.
He joins many others involved in education to urge parents, teachers and trustees to quickly mobilize in support of their schools and their beliefs.