According to my ‘magic Google machine’ Alberta was providing at least some level of publicly funded, publicly provided Education in every jurisdiction in the province by 1905. The fight to create a public education system in Alberta, and throughout Canada, was not accidental nor easy. It was a deliberate attempt to create a system which supported equality, promoted democratic principals, and attempted to sow the seeds of a civil pluralistic society. It had many detractors, and there are so very many ways it has fallen short. It was a noble idea which for decades still practiced exclusion. Just a few of the sadly notable examples are exclusion of Chinese Canadians, and exclusion of our own First Peoples. We’ve lost our way time and time again, but as we push wider the circle of inclusion, as we invite more and more in, we grow closer to the ideal …….. we get closer to living up to the incredible potential of what a great public system of education can be. But we’re still fighting this ghost of exclusion, and in the case of private schools, we’re still paying for it. It’s time for that to stop.
See, a Private Members Motion (504) stands before the Provincial legislature calling on the current government to “affirm its support for private and charter schools.” And the cost of doing so, it appears, is at least 200 million dollars a year. 200 million to further this idea of exclusion. 200 million for Private schools who hand pick their students, and can reject any student who they don’t feel make the cut. 200 million to allow them to select only students who are very unlikely to ever fail, and then pat themselves on the back when those students succeed. 200 million for segregated schools. I think it’s time to use that money on the system that does it’s best to take them all as they come and sees no child as more worthy than another. I’m disappointed that we’re still fighting over whether or not that is an ideal worth fighting for.
I understand that some private schools are attempting to fill gaps in dealing with certain special needs. I still think we can fight harder to improve how those needs are met within the public system. Inclusive education is a mountain to climb, but we’ll climb it in much better company together. Let’s not lose sight of that.
I understand that some private schools are attempting to meet the needs of various cultural or religious viewpoints. I believe wholeheartedly that families and churches can teach their own beliefs but that the goal of public education must remain secular. 4 years ago I wrote another blog (sort of) on this subject http://seriouslymom.blogspot.ca/2012/05/but-you-see-public-school-is-my-church.html and I said “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”. I also said “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”. I’m not sure I can say it any better than this now; we either believe we can learn and live together or we don’t. I believe we can and must. I’d like to put 200 million on that please. Let it ride.
I understand that many private schools attract parents through fear. Many families, particularly those new to Canada, are manipulated and frightened into believing that Public education is lacking, inferior, and insufficient. Instead of taking the time to understand that an education is more than marks and test scores and rankings posted by think tanks that think they can sum up a school by looking at marks on a page. It’s time to fight back against the fear. It’s time to proclaim loudly that each of these kids is a diamond in the rough and the greater goal of Public education is to prepare them for a future that is yet unwritten in a land of every people in a bold wonderful experiment that we don’t yet know will work. Just a few days ago I wrote a related blog http://seriouslymom.blogspot.ca/2016/03/the-gift-of-nearly-perfect-delightfully.html and said “Our school system here in Canada isn't perfect. Never has been, never will be. But it's based on this beautiful and noble idea that if we give every child the same well rounded knowledge and experience then they will come out the other side happy, and knowing enough to know a little about everything and a lot about who they are. It's a dream ....... a goal ......... an important solution to this problem of balancing a future full of open doors with a slow enough pace to enjoy and appreciate what's behind each one. We know a school aged child's mind won't be ready to see that, so maybe the gift is teaching them nothing more than to be curious enough to open lots of doors and wise enough to figure out the ones to walk through”. Again I believe any Canadian (new or old) has already doubled down on the crazy idea that this wonderful mess we’ve made will work. Let’s not let people opt out of Public Education out of fear it won’t.
Lastly, I understand that some people simply, sadly, view themselves as superior (or at least somehow more deserving?). And they want to be able to pay their way into something they consider “better” …… and ultimately they have the wealth to back that belief up. I wish they didn’t feel that way. I don’t think they’re better than me, or you, or my kid, or yours ……… the whole notion doesn’t gel with any of my close held beliefs on equality, but I probably can’t change people like them. Probably not. Sigh. But I can ask that we stop helping them to the tune of 200 million dollars. Just saying.
Look, I know all about privilege. I am so darn privileged it’s not even funny. I am educated. I am healthy. I have 2 gorgeous children who, aside from being weird like me, have no major challenges to learning. My children never worry about where their next meal or their clean clothes will come from. They arrive each day at school fed, clean, well-rested, and with the things they need to learn. I live in one of Edmonton’s most expensive areas. But it is also an area with a large tract of CHRC community housing. This means my kid’s elementary school is likely Edmonton’s school with the widest socioeconomic spread, and an incredibly diverse population. My family chose to go there, in part, because of that not in spite of it. Because we don’t believe in segregation. Because we believe in equality and the principles behind it. Because we believe everyone has something to offer, everyone has something to learn, and that happens best in a diverse setting. Because we believe they are all diamonds. Because it's just a really great place to be. It’s hard and I know the school struggles under the weight of its diverse challenges at times; somehow they make it look easy …….. but I know it isn’t. The school community there rallies around these diverse needs and differences and helps where it can. It’s really so very beautiful …… and so much more than the sum of its marks or it’s grades (though they are actually very good) or it’s ranking on that piece of paper from some right-wing think tank who has never bothered to come visit. And despite it all I know it will still launch many, many children (from all socioeconomic levels) who will take the world by the tail, and furthermore I believe they will be well-rounded and have a great perspective on life. So why do we need to let people ‘opt out’ of that? And why do we need to spend at least 200 million a year to help them opt out?