Sunday, October 07, 2007

Dumb arguments against faith-based funding of schools

Haroon Siddiqui has a very insightful column in the Toronto Star today. In it, he says that much of the opposition to faith-based funding is based on fear that tax money will go towards funding terrorism.

He says he is opposed to faith-based funding, but many of the arguments against it are flawed. He says:

The issue, while not complicated, offers no "right" answers, as the following arguments show.

* Let's not "segregate" our kids.

But we already do, by religion (Catholic), language (French or English), gender (all-boys, all-girls schools, albeit private), subjects (alternative schools for arts, sports, etc. within the public system).

* Public schools, the common cathedral for children of diverse backgrounds, make them Canadian.

Are students emerging from Catholic schools less Canadian?

* Public schools help integrate immigrant kids, thereby contributing to our multicultural success.

But Catholic immigrants (more a third of the new arrivals) send their kids to Catholic schools. Are those children less integrated?

* Spending $400 million on faith-based schools would weaken/destroy the public school system.

But in the six provinces that do fund faith-based schools, public schools have not crumbled. In fact, Alberta, which has the most privatized schools and offers the most competition, is touted as having the nation's best system.

* Plus, it is strange to argue that funding 675,000 students in Ontario Catholic schools has not destroyed the public system but funding another 53,000 would.

Implicit in that argument is the notion that Catholics, whom we didn't trust at one time, are now acceptable but Jews, Hindus and Sikhs are not. Or that they all are but Muslims are not. Opposition to abortion, gay marriage and women priests from Catholics can be tolerated, but not from orthodox Jews, Muslims and others.

This is not a sustainable proposition in a democracy.

*Muslim schools can't be trusted to teach Canadian values and may even turn out terrorists.

The 18 people charged in the Toronto area for terrorism-related charges (now down to 15) are products of public schools. So were the 2005 British subway bombers. So are the 100 or so awaiting terrorism trials in Britain and Germany.

Also, some of the best academic results are found in Islamic schools, both in Britain and Canada.

Are there some bad Islamic schools, with poor standards and antediluvian attitudes? Sure. But they aren't the only ones. Even if they are, it'd be better to bring them under state supervision by extending funding with strings attached: qualified teachers, standardized tests and provincial inspections.

That's what Britain is doing and that's what Tory is suggesting.

* Funding only Catholic schools is not right but it's a historical anomaly we have to live with.

No, we don't. We could fund all or none. The latter would need Parliamentary approval, as Newfoundland and Quebec obtained.

The Family Coalition Party's solution is to give parents a voucher for each child and each family can send their child to the school of their choice. Let parents decide what's best for their child. If there is a demand for religious schooling, then it will be met. If not, then there will be fewer.

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