Values … again, this time in classrooms

I believe that the universal public educations system, which I trace back to John Knox in Scotland when, in the middle of the 16th century, he proposed “a plan for ‘the vertue and godlie upbringing of the youth of this Realm’,” is one of the key foundation stones of our Western, liberal, democratic socio-cultural and political “systems” and, indeed of the (relative) success of the whole 21st century world. His plan was (same link) to provided for the establishment of a national education scheme, which encompassed parish primary schools, burgh (district) grammar schools (junior high schools), high schools and the ancient universities:

statue_of_john_knox_in_new_college_quadrangle_edinburgh“Therefore we judge it necessary that every several church have a schoolmaster appointed, such a one as is able, at least, to teach Grammar and the Latin tongue, if the town be of any reputation. If it be [rural] …… then must either the Reader or the Minister there appointed take care over the children and youth of the parish, to instruct them in their first rudiments, and especially in the Catechism …… And further, we think it expedient that in every notable town …… there be erected a [High School] in which the Arts, at least Logic and Rhetoric, together with the tongues, shall be read by sufficient masters, for whom honest stipends must be appointed. …… Lastly, the great schools called Universities shall be replenished with those apt for learning.”

John Knox

cumberlandhouseIt was there, in remote, cold, impoverished Scotland, in 1560,  that, in many respects, the most vital of all foundation stones for the 21st century was for America, Bhutan, China, Denmark and England, and, and, and … for all of us. Knox’s education reforms provided, in the edag-light-car-sharing-concept317th and 18th centuries, almost all the factors (the literate and numerate young men who manned the trading posts) for the Hudson’s Bay Company that, more than anything else, “opened” Canada, and, three hundred years later, it provided the essential tool for Steve Jobs and the mobile, internet based revolution: brainpower …



It is true that we have a multitude of sources, beyond the public schools, of first rate bessler-and-studentseducations for our children … from private religious schools that combine ancient socio-cultural traditions with modern “civics” and 21st century science, to the colllibyposhest of English private (they call them public) schools where future monarchs study side-by-side with extraordinarily bright scholarship students. But, that being granted, for about 95+% of us the public school system, which in some Canadians provinces might have a confessional (religious) sub-systems, is the mainstay of our future. It is the public schools that provide most of the “smart people” that make our world better.

But this gemstone of Western civilization is under attack from some individuals from some “communities” who want, essentially, to run a “private,” and “religious” school within the walls of the public school. This must not be allowed to happen, and, to it credit, as Marcus Gee reports in the Globe and Mail, at least one school board is drawing clear lines.

One reason that Canada’s experiment with multiculturalism is succeeding,” Mr Gee opines, “is that no one tells newcomers to abandon their beliefs or way of life. We don’t demand that they embrace the mainstream. We don’t expect them to adopt Canadian habits overnight. As long as they obey the law and pay their taxes,” he goes on, then “they are free to dress, act, eat and pray however they choose …[and] … You won’t find cops roaming the beaches, as they have in France, telling women to take off their burkinis and bare their flesh in the name of secular values. Schools don’t mind if girls cover their hair. Women don’t risk being stopped for wearing a burka in public. Schools strive to make allowances for kids from families with conservative religious backgrounds. It’s live and let live.” I think that’s a pretty fair description of multiculturalism in Canada in 2016 … live and let live, but your right to swing your fist stops where my nose begins, etc. In other words we try to not trample upon one another.

But,” he reports, “even in this tolerant country, there is a limit. A Toronto father crossed the line when he demanded that his kids be exempted from music class because, under his interpretation of Islam, all music is haram – forbidden.

As Marcus Gee says, “If parents object to what is being taught in the public schools, they can always pull their kids out and educate them at home or in a religious or private school.” But he lays out the costs and benefits, to all of us, of a good, strong, secular, public education system and makes it clear that we, citizens, must protect it.

Zarqa Nawaz, creator of Little Mosque on the Prairie and author of Laughing All the Way to the Mosque, says, in another Globe and Mail article, that “The school did its best to accommodate the father’s requests by offering alternatives to his children such as not playing instruments and writing a paper on Islam’s long history of religious-inspired music. But those compromises were rejected. Accommodation has to be a two-way street for it to work. To continually reject a reasonable compromise is also a form of extremism … [and] …if you’re going to be extreme in your response, then typically downloadwhat happens is that people find enclaves to live their lives separately with their own set of rules.” She uses the example of the Mormons in Bountiful, in the interior toronto_18graphic.jpeg.size.xxlarge.letterboxof BC as an example of an extreme community that has established an enclave. Most Muslims reject such a solution and Canadians should not tolerate ghettos, voluntary or not. The more likely outcome of extremism has been seen on our streets and in our court rooms. But the lesson we have learned is that we do not surrender to extremism, we do not “accommodate” extremism and we do not “tolerate” extremism. We do what the Toronto school board did and draw a firm, clear line.

The first line of defence of public education is the school trustee, the elected member of a school board, supported by the administrators and managers hired by the school board .

I am always a tiny bit ashamed when, comes municipal election day, I have to make a last minute scramble to find out enough about the candidates to cast an informed vote for my public school trustee. Our public school system is, as I said, a gem and it is the very IMG_9990foundation of our system of values and institutions that make our liberal, democratic system work as well as it does. I am a committed Conservative (even if some of my conservative interlocutors, of a certain ilk, think I am some sort of a flaming Liberal) and I worry about our national and provincial politics and, therefore, I am an active supporter of both the Canadian and my provincial Conservative parties. We don’t have formal political parties at the local level (although the Liberal, NDP and Conservative stalwarts on my (Ottawa) city council are well known for their party affiliations and loyalties) and that may be a good thing (or it may, just, be a facade of non-partisanship that makes a few people feel better) because, at least in school boards, while I think fiscal conservative instincts and values are essential I also think that socially PG1332-bravo-zuluprogressive/liberal values are also vital, and I commend the Toronto school board  trustees for hiring and backing officials who will do the right things ~ no exemptions from mandatory programme, while trying to do things right ~ offering some , limited compromises.

It doesn’t matter if the Toronto school trustees are Conservatives, Liberals, NDPers or honest-to-goodness indepenedents; they are defending Canada just as if they were members of the Canadian Armed Forces.

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