There is a disturbing phenomenon in our society right now. A movement afoot that I thought I would never live to see. The intolerant are crying “intolerance” because they can’t be intolerant. The notion is almost comical, yet here we are, and it’s actually not that funny.
Canada’s true history is not noble or pretty or fair, but the society that I have seen rise from the past and strive for greatness deserves respect. We have not achieved full equality yet, but it has always felt to me that on some level we were moving that in direction. We have long viewed our diversity as a difficult, complicated, and very worth the trouble. All the differences between us should make it impossible to coexist and yet we do. We even manage to thrive. How is that possible? Canada was built by a long series of fairly homogenous groups each trying to exert power over one another until, at last, the futility of it all changed us …… and we evolved. I wish I could have witnessed the moment when ideas and ways of being began to be exchanged as commodities but from that point we have begun a slow march towards a true multicultural society. I know there are always those who fight it, but we have begun to live at ease among one another and we have made it beautiful. All the different colours, and languages, and beliefs living together peacefully and (far from a melting pot) we have remained a polarized, messy, mosaic.
I believe in my heart that public school is a main reason. Children are thrown together and asked to manage what their parents can only hope to emulate; an environment of tolerance, respect, and equality. We place them all together, ask that the playing field be leveled as much as possible, and give them all the same chance. We have built curriculums that have the potential to create well rounded citizens who are able to follow their interests and dreams wherever they might lie. Children are given an overview of the choices available to them in a free society and take steps towards their adult selves with the same knowledge base as all their peers. There is a magical utopian quality to that. The school boards walk the razors edge between allowing every child to come replete with their own beliefs, and keeping those beliefs from colliding in destructive discourse, resentment, and conflict. They achieve this largely through keeping the multitude of intransigent religious view points out, particularly if they run counter to an inclusive, peaceful society. Now yes, I concede that there is an overwhelmingly Christian slant to most public schools in Canada. We observe the holidays, make the crafts, and sing the songs but it is more a ‘Christian theme park’ approach and it stops short of much, if any, religious teaching. I, personally, am pretty much an atheist and would love to take it all out or schools or, better yet, teach children about all the major religions in pamphlet style; give them an overview of all the major faiths and then move on.
In my opinion, Public school should be mandatory and must remain secular. There is a greater good that is served by us all learning to get along. Allowing groups to break away and learn in these little unchallenged homogenous groups does not teach the skills required to get along with everyone in the future. If you’ve learned to be together in school then you will have discovered all the ways that you are the same, instead of focusing on all the ways you are different. Let’s call it ‘competency in togetherness’ and it does not need to mean that you give up your beliefs.
An overarching rule of fairness must be in place for this to work. This means you don’t get to come in and constantly tell the other people in public school that you think they are going to your version of hell, or will only be reincarnated as a worm, or won’t get into your version of heaven. There is no practical benefit of that, no sensible place to draw the line about who gets to say, and every chance that children, REAL CHILDREN, will be hurt. The argument that maintaining a standard of non-discriminatory fairness somehow discriminates is ridiculous. It’s time to end this conversation. You don’t believe it ok to be gay, so then don’t be gay. The argument is exactly the same for whatever argument gets thrown in the mix (distasteful to me or not). You don’t believe it’s ok to marry people of another race, so then don’t. You don’t believe it’s ok to follow a faith other than your own, so then don’t. Public School’s job in every case is to say “so then don’t, but in the spirit of fairness to ALL the children that is not open to debate here”.
The best way I can think of to make my point is this: If I got to come into your church and claim that your views went against my strongly held beliefs in science, evolution, and atheism and was offending me, you would simply show me the door. You argue that Public school curriculum is, more or less, mandatory and so then you must be accommodated or given an out. But the “out” is not your own schools; the number of Christians who refer to other Christians as “not real Christians” over conflicting viewpoints illustrates why this would not work. No, the “out” is retreat to a nation state comprised of only people who believe what you do and offers the same privileges and standard of living as here …………. My guess is that is does not exist. My guess is that would not be what you would want. Me neither. I like my big messy mosaic. I like it’s conflict and diversity. I like it’s colours. I like it’s defiance of the odds. We have managed to make something bigger than the sum of our groups; a society of fairness. Public school IS my church. Don’t come into my church and ask me to make it more fair for you by making it less fair for someone else. Public school IS my church.