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Catholic Education: the Quebec Experience.

Spencer Boudreau, Catholic Education: the Quebec Experience, Montreal, Detselig Enterprises, 1999, 110 pp., $18.95

This small, very readable book describes the process of virtual annihilation of Catholic education which has occurred in Quebec over the last thirty-five years. It is a mini-history of the development of Catholic education in this province, particularly since the Quiet Revolution. The role of the English Catholic community and the impact of the revolution on that community are noted.

The history of Catholic education in Quebec dates back to the very founding of New France, when St. Marguerite Bourgeoys and other religious established schools in the seventeenth century. With Confederation, education came under provincial jurisdiction, and Catholic schools were run by a committee of Catholic bishops. In the 1960s, the Lesage government introduced sweeping educational reforms. The Ministry of Education was formed and, with it, an advisory group, the Quebec Superior Council of Education, of which the author, Spencer Boudreau, is a current member. It is the Catholic Committee of this advisory group which determines the future of Catholic schools in the province.

"Through the Catholic Committee, the government and the Church co-ordinate their actions in matters of confessional education," explains Boudreau. "The Catholic Committee is part of the structure of the state but it receives its mandate from the National Assembly, not from the Ministry of Education or the Catholic hierarcy." Although the Committee is outside her direct control, the Church appoints five of its fifteen members and must approve the rest.

The Catholic Committee, like its Protestant counterpart, has regulatory powers. It approves, from a moral and religious perspective, the various texts and teaching materials to be used in Catholic schools, and in particular the Catholic religion curriculum. It also determines the qualifications of teachers of Catholic religion courses.

The establishment of the Catholic Committee may have appeared to offer adequate protection for Catholic education. However, as Boudreau points out, the Quiet Revolution in Quebec was paralleled by a revolution in the Church. He examines a series of documents produced by the Catholic Committee from 1974 to 1980 that reflects the philosophy that led to the eventual secularization of Catholic schools.

As anti-clerical sentiment and the "spirit of Vatican II" swept through the province, the Catholic Committee, having declared that the society was now secular, condemned any form of "indoctrination" that is, traditional Catholic instruction. As is so often the case, it was Catholics themselves who sold out. It was the Catholic Committee that advocated for students to have the right to opt out of Catholic religious education in favour of "morals education" and, likewise, for teachers to have the right to conscientiously object to teaching it.

The Committee protected its own self-interest by affirming the relevance of religious education, yet at the same time it recommended a system of values clarification which was totally incompatible with Catholicism. It explained away the obvious conflict by simply stating, "A method can be followed without subscribing to the underlying theory."

In a 1980 document, the Committee describes the evolution of Catholic education: "From a pastoral work that was formally based on transmitting well-defined truths and practices, we changed to pastoral work that was centred on the life of youngsters, on the experience of pupils and adolescents, on their hopes, to which we try to give a Christian interpretation."

In 1988, Bill 107, the Education Act, became law and the plan for linguistic school boards was introduced. It took a decade, until Section 93 of the Constitution was scuttled, for the law to be implemented. The new structure ensures that Catholic schools will politely go away, in deference to the secular society.

Spencer Boudreau has written an interesting account of the deconstruction of Catholic education. He believes there is something to be salvaged, but his view is that Catholic education, in any meaningful sense, has been dead for nearly twenty years.
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Title Annotation:Review
Publication:Catholic Insight
Article Type:Book Review
Date:Jun 1, 1999
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