Thursday, May 03, 2007

Waitasec...Just Whose Idea of Xtian Are We Talking About?

On CBC this morning, I heard that the Rocky View School District is starting a "Christian Program" this fall.

Presumably, this is, much like the various linguistic immersion programs, an optional program.

However, there are significant differences between linguistic programs such as French or Spanish Immersion and a religiously centered program.

While the argument over which dialect of French should be taught (Quebecois or Parisienne) can be heated enough (it certainly was when I was in school), religion is another thing altogether.

Just whose particular notion of "Christian" is going to be taught in the proposed program? Christianity is hardly a monolith of consistent belief - it is like any other large faith community significantly fractured in regards to the interpretation and practices surrounding scripture. From Catholicism to the United Church, and an assortment of literalist sects in various areas, there is only a limited degree of commonality in how scripture is interpreted. One has to wonder just whose idea of 'Christian' is going to be taught in this program, and what kind of oversight will be in place?

One could imagine that we have teachers spouting Ken Ham's uniquely broken view of Creation? Or teaching some particularly harsh notion of "Christian Values" (whatever that happens to mean to the individual)

... and if we do, how do we deal with it?

Religious community is naturally exclusive of others. It's not intentional, nor is it necessarily malicious. The fact is that faith communities tend to attract "like-minded" individuals to them, and will push away those who differ too much or challenge the "local orthodoxy". I worry that the program being proposed in Rocky View is essentially saying to non-Christian students "go away, we don't want your 'kind' here".

Yes, I recognize that Alberta has a taxpayer-funded Catholic school system, but there are specific historical reasons unique to the constitution of Alberta as a province that put that in place as recognition for the contribution of the Catholic Church during the early stages of settling the region.

As is pointed out, the other options are private schools which are expensive. These do not bother me particularly - if you want such a specialized education, then that's the price you pay. Calgary has a long tradition of private schools that are focused on specific faith communities, and I do not have a big problem with those schools - the parents are paying the bill for something that is specialized to their particular philosophy of life, and that's fine with me. (I suspect I might express some concern over a neo-Nazi private school, but that's a hypothetical scenario)

However, I object on general principle to the use of taxpayer funds to promote a specific faith. Faith, unlike language, is deeply personal for many, and the creation of a publicly funded "faith-based" program like this is deeply unsettling. The sense of "Otherness" that pervades interactions between students attending our Public/Catholic schools is bad enough, without expanding it further. (In some respects, I wonder at times about dismantling the two school systems and rationalizing them - on that basis alone)

Do I argue that there is no place for religion in our public schools? No. I merely argue that such education should be comparative in nature - exposing the students to the breadth of faiths in the world, rather than narrowly focusing upon a single faith, or a single sect of a faith. Like discipline and morality, I believe firmly that faith is a topic that is a primary responsibility for parents to engage their children in a manner that is suitable.

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