Faith-based or fatally biased

In a speech delivered last July 23, John Tory, proposed government funding for faith-based schools. It didn’t come as a doctrinaire statement, but included implementation proposals such as extensive public consultation and a fairness implementation commission. The flap today may have begun with Tory’s speech, but it has roots reaching back at least two centuries. 
The establishment of the Catholic separate school system dates back to the 1840s – long before Canada took its present form. Sadly, a history of discord over religious schools began in bigotry and, in my opinion, continues in that vein today. We often think of Egerton Ryerson as the diplomatic genius who settled much of the discord of his day by setting up a protestant school system for the masses, but also allowing a separate school system to appease the Catholic Church. But Ryerson himself didn’t really rise above bigotry when he claimed his approach would avert a "pestilence of social insubordination and disorder." He feared the Catholic minority whom he described as "untaught and idle pauper immigration."
The concept that began with Ryerson became embedded in law in the British North America Act of 1867. Since then, the Catholic system has gained public funding and grown, while the Protestant system has mutated into the present public system, choking out most evidence of Christianity. That gave rise to numerous protestant schools that receive no government funding. With the arrival of immigrants from other cultures, we now have more schools outside the system representing other faiths. The issue is really about fairness.
Some suggest in fairness we should cease funding Catholic schools. To do so would mean repudiating two centuries of history and tradition and demand a constitutional change. I suspect it would be an easier task to change Ontario’s first language to French, Dutch, or Cantonese, than to expect a large part of our population to give up their school system.  
Others fear that faith-based schools would further divide our society. They forget that 600,000 Catholic, and 53,000 other students already attend faith-based schools. Funding for the 53,000 would bring them into Ontario’s approved curriculum. I see that as a move toward unity, not division. 
Another major argument says that funding all faith-based schools would draw money out of the public system, especially as numerous new faith-based schools appear. That argument has some truth when applied to existing faith-based schools, but not new ones. 
Let’s illustrate with a primary school arithmetic problem. Farmer Brown has three dozen eggs in his hen house worth $1 per dozen.  What is the value of his eggs? Answer: $3. Now he removes one dozen from the hen house and places them in the kitchen. Now tell me the value of his eggs? Answer: obviously still $3. Moving 12 eggs didn’t change their value. 
And just because we move children from a public classroom to a private classroom does not mean the cost to educate them will change. A proportionate percentage of the costs would shift from the public system to the faith-based schools. The public schools, with fewer students when properly managed, would reduce costs. 
So if no great fiscal advantage exists, what really prompts the attack on faith-based schools?
I believe it grows out of bigotry too often embedded in small-L liberalism. They want all of us to support the system, their system. That includes a cookie-cutter educational program designed to produce students with the same politically-correct values.
Sorry, I’m for diversity – and for any politician with the courage and skill to work within our changing, multi-cultural, and complex Ontario.

Ray Wiseman