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Need for independent schools.

It appears that the time has come for Catholics in English Canada to reconsider the question of schools. Both public systems, secular and Catholic, have fallen under rigid bureaucratic government and union control. In order to recover an educational view which will be radically different from the present conformity to a distintegrating culture, Canadians should consider adding independent, tax-suported schools to the existing structures, with minimal government control. One political party, the Family Coalition Party of Ontario, has favoured this approach since its founding in 1986.

Dr. Adrian Guldemond is the Executive Director of the Ontario Alliance of Christian (Protestant) Schools. He delivered the following address at a conference for Catholic independent schools in Toronto in February 1997.


The message I want to bring this morning is that it can be done! Independent schools do work and they can be successful - in fact, there are all sorts of independent schools flourishing in Ontario. There are over 600 independent schools in the province, enrolling about 80,000 students. Of these, approximately two thirds are deliberately Christian in their intent and outlook. And that number does not include the over 25,000 (actual numbers are unknown) of home schoolers who are making life difficult for the government. I was very pleased to hear that there are at least 18 independent Catholic schools operating in Ontario. Welcome to the group on the cutting edge of education.

I know that, apart from De La Salle, St. Michael's College School in downtown Toronto also has a very long tradition of being independent. It has contributed greatly to the educational excellence in this province. It is good to know that not all Catholic educators have conceded to the Common Curriculum and the Education Act.

Four success factors

In order to succeed as independent schools, there are a number of things that you need to have in abundance.

First is the determination to succeed, which is a persistence based on faith and prayer. Without that faith, having Christian education is rather pointless. However, once that is there, you are not finished. You also must have a clear educational vision which ties the school to religious traditions and faith communities.

Second, one of the more faith-derivative elements of any school must be a detailed and clear philosophy of education, which directs a distinctive curriculum. I am speaking to you as a representative of one of the groups that has, like you, made major contributions to the philosophical and curriculum debates in education. We intend to be around to continue that discussion long after the Common Curriculum disappears in the trash heap of politics.

The third factor we need is political awareness. Minorities always face the danger of assimilation to the official models. I don't need to tell you that the official Ontario public model is now anti-Christian and probably becoming antireligious. In order to avoid buying into this temptation, it is necessary to have a good support structure for any school.

One of the important realizations that my own community has come to is that it is impossible to run a good school in isolation. Education is simply too complex, the professional development demands too stringent, and administrative complexities too great for a small school to face by itself. That is why in the Alliance we have built up a provincial support structure which helps schools deal with the obvious problems of being small and independent.

Fourth, in order to avoid assimilation, the school must provide a complete alternative to the current system and it must deal with all the current issues. If the students perceive that the school really is a second-rate institution and that all the "real stuff" is happening out there in the public, then the impact of the education will be negligible. The students will generally be spending their time waiting to get out there in the real world and do the real thing. And that is why a complete education, with a complete philosophy and resources and good facilities, is essential.

Cooperation and persecution

Another reason why I really appreciate speaking here today is that one of the political goals for independence is to encourage a broader alignment of independent school groups. We are worried that even school groupings like ourselves do not have the political affiliations and resources necessary to survive the impact of the global culture.

So we must encourage dialogue among the faith groups operating the various schools. We know that each community can make its own contributions to the revival of Christianity, but things would go a lot better in the public arena if we did it together. The recent Newfoundland experience makes this imperative!

The Alliance's primary contribution is in the area of curriculum. We believe that all subjects should be integrated with a consistent Christian perspective and supported by a world view which encourages the practice of Christian virtues. This is not something that can be left to a Bible class or a devotional chapel at the end of the day.

Nevertheless, one of our major contributions has been in the area of creating more room (or tolerance) in the political-legal environment. When we began the schools back in the 1950s and `60s, the government generally ignored us on the grounds that we would go away and die off anyway. Then, in the `70s and `80s, they attempted to impose public school regulations on us for the sake of administrative efficiency and bureaucratic ease.

We have had some success in stopping that interference, and one of our goals in the near future is to eliminate all unnecessary "public school" interference and only cooperate with government policies that actually promote good education. We believe that this is one of the best ways to promote a Christian community in a culture which is essentially hostile to all religions except perhaps some ancient pagan ones.


In summary, our position is that for faith communities to flourish, education must be liberated from the state. Communities must accept the responsibility for their own schools and their own growth. We know that it can be done. You are witnesses to the fact that it has been done, and we believe that in this fashion we will be contributing to the revitalization of Christianity in the public square. We believe that we must give our children a chance to practice the Christian virtues in a supportive environment as opposed to an intimidating one. Consequently, we have no doubt about the necessity and the benefits of independent school communities thriving throughout the Province of Ontario.

Important virtues

Judging from the topics here today, it seems to me that the Catholic tradition has been very strong on two traditional virtues. One is truth and the other one is piety. It seems to me that I would not have much to contribute on that subject in this kind of a meeting, but it might be helpful for you if I focused on one of the virtues that is strong in our community, and that is the virtue of integrity. Excellence and integrity are in fact the two virtues listed in our organizational goals as Alliance. I believe they are there because they reflect the aspirations of the community. These virtues are necessary for success in independent schools!

The colloquial meaning of integrity is that a person does what he says, or he "walks his talk." If you look at the Holy Scriptures, you will notice that it is one of the three leadership virtues. There is a biblical trilogy of cardinal virtues, and they are righteousness, integrity, and wisdom. It seems to me that integrity is probably number two of the three. It is actually a very complex character trait composed of three lesser virtues. It is definitely not a natural talent passed on by heredity.


1. The first of the three ingredients of this "gestalt" is honesty, or as Alexander Pope said so well, "An honest man's the noblest work of God." I don't need to elaborate the fact that communities do not thrive because they have a number of square miles, but because of the number of square citizens in them. My view of honesty is that it is a character trait which is an openness to truth. In other words, it is a discipline of the self to be open to the world and its message.

2. The second virtue included in this trilogy is that of principled action. The person of integrity bases his or her decisions on principled positions; not on perceptions of convenience, but on conscientious conviction. John Quincy Adams said: "If you vote on principle, you will always cherish the sweet reflection that your vote is never lost." In other words, you do something because it is right or true or good for a cause or for someone, even if it hurts, requires sacrifice, or invited ridicule.

3. The third virtue is courage, or the old fortitude. I like Plutarch's old definition of it, which is that "courage consists not in hazarding without fear, but in being resolutely-minded in a just cause." If you want a really good summary of it, I found one in an essay from an American who said that "there is a certain blend of courage, integrity, character, and principle, which has no satisfactory dictionary name, and has been called different things in different cultures, but the American name for it is `guts.' "

And that is my view of integrity, a complex but essential character trait necessary for leadership. In short, a person of integrity can be trusted with important office. It is the virtue central to the implementation of a faith vision. Let me cite a few Bible texts on this topic for you. They are rather a good way to focus our attention (Exodus 18:21, Proverbs 10:9, Psalm 15:2-5, Matthew 21:28-31a).

Implications for education systems

I don't need to elaborate the fact that the current public school system is not based on any of these virtues, but rather on expediency and rewards. If the school or the teacher is hostile to the deeper spiritual values which we hold dear, then it is not likely that any significant learning will take place, except perhaps superficial intellectual mastery of the acceptable minimal skill base required to get the credentials.

If we recommend the classic Christian virtues as central in life and in worship, and then tell parents to send their children to schools that deliberately undermine these virtues, then we ourselves are acting without integrity. Consequently, I maintain that integrity in an institution means consistency of purpose, clarity of principles, and that this will make the institution successful.

Why have independent schools?

The quick and easy reason for an independent school is simply that it allows parents to operate an institution that reflects in all its aspects a single vision of education. By contrast, the public school system does not have such a vision, except that which happens to be currently available in the political realm. It has no particular educational consistency.

However, we have a public education system whose leaders deliberately attempt to sideline, or de-legitimize, independent schools by calling them private. The word "private" in English Canada, in any event, seems to mean "personal preferences," whereas the word "public" seems to mean government. Unfortunately, in Ontario, the larger American meaning of public as the common good does not seem to have much currency. We need to continue to insist on using the word "independent" to describe our schools, even though the Ministry of Education uses the word "private," and has done so despite 20 years of objections on our part.

In short, in independent schools - which are not controlled by the government - it is possible to provide a total educational vision in which knowledge, virtue, and behaviour are integrated on the same basis and in which students can understand their entire experience from one religious perspective.

There is a second major reason for having independent schools, which is that they exhibit parental choice, and parental choice is necessary in order to save the family as an independent institution. But that would bring us into a whole other political discussion with which I am sure you are familiar. It has been stressed in papal encyclicals as well, that the family is a primary social institution and that its institutional sovereignty is essential in order to retain a free society.

We need to have independent schools, first because the choice of school is a way that parents model what they expect children to do. Second, it is good for the national education policy to respect diverse communities, especially the family. Third, it is necessary to have institutions with integrity in which consistent and coherent teaching of moral virtues is practised. For a democracy this means diversity of schools. The final reason for independent schools is that an open school choice policy will depoliticize the educational debate. But that is another speech.

The nature of public schooling

I do not want to belabour the bureaucratic character of public education in Ontario. But I do want to draw to your attention to the philosophy of neo-progressivism which underlies it.

This is a widely-held philosophy and it is transmitted, unopposed, in all the teacher faculties across the country. It is a very political and complete point of view which includes a view of the nature of learning (instrumentalism) and a psychological theory (romantic developmentalism). It includes a very naive naturalistic view of pedagogy, which assumes that the child is a divine innocent. It has a very muddled, if consistent, view of the learning process, namely, as a mere information processing tool. It considers academic disciplines to be artificial and essentially useless. But above all, it is hostile to anyone who believes in knowledge, and the possibility of truth. This is very critical for those of us who value the classic positions.

The reason I mention this is not only to make the point that you should have your own teachers' college, which you should, but to make the case for radical independence. If you have an independent school and you borrow to a large extent the materials from the public school system, you are teaching a hidden theology which counteracts the Christian faith. Public school pedagogy is like a Trojan horse. If you import it into the school, before long you will import the pagan spirits which are currently prevailing in the public realm. And this will betray the trust of the parents who are sending their children to your school precisely in order to avoid that. So that is the background to why we at the Alliance do a lot of curriculum work, and curriculum work is done by the teachers in the classrooms.

I belabour the philosophy of public education in that it impacts on everyone, including independent schools. Let me give you a concrete illustration of another battle we had. A decade ago the government wanted everyone to teach French at the elementary level. We said fine, it is good for education, the students, and Canada. Then came the edict about how many hours one needed to "teach" in order to get the grants or the credits. We told the bureaucrats that we already have a heavy curriculum with additional courses, that we didn't have any spare time. They were adamant.

Then we proposed, "What if we guarantee a certain level of fluency by the end of grade 8, but we will do it in half the required time for the public schools?" They refused to budge. Apparently the only way they could "check" what schools were doing was through the time table. They were not interested in the actual educational results at all. They just wanted conformity with their view of process and regulations.

Four temptations

One of the things we found over the forty years that we have been in existence is that independent schools are subject to four temptations.

1. The first is isolationism. This is an attitude which you get when you react to the majority model. You want to be different, probably for moral reasons, but you are only reacting, you do not really have an alternative educational vision to guide your decisions. If you do this, then you mostly run around in circles because the government always changes. In Ontario education is politics. You generally end up being somewhat confused. That is why it is very important for an independent school to have a vision which guides its long-term activities.

2. The second temptation is to reinvent the wheel. It is precisely because you want to be independent that you want to do things for yourself and in so doing, do everything for yourself your way. This is very inefficient and is a real temptation when you have a lot of volunteers in the school who don't understand what the long-term implications may be. The solution to this is good administration. You need to have some professionals around who know what the consequences of a particular course of action are going to be.

3. The third temptation is for the teachers to think that curriculum construction is easy. Two decades ago we had everybody doing curriculum in the schools. This turned out to be self-defeating, because it wore the teachers out and it created a whole hodgepodge of different kinds of materials, none of which were terribly coherent, even though they all agreed with the same basic principles. Consequently, we have now reorganized that. While we generally encourage everyone to participate in our process, we have defined clear standards across the curriculum.

4. The fourth temptation is giving in to frustration caused by the other three. You think of yourself as second-rate. And then you simply give in to the prevailing views and follow the crowd.

Future issues

1. As long as independent high schools hand out the OSSD (Ontario Secondary School Diploma), which we currently all do, we will remain subject to bureaucratic interference. So one of the goals is to have a separate independent school diploma, and different inspection procedures.

2. Currently teachers and principals can only be certified if they attend secular faculties of education. Here they learn all about the values of neo-progressivism and its naturalistic philosophy. A separate degree-granting faculty of education would be very helpful in providing resources for alternative views.

3. And then there is the funding question. But that is another speech.
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Author:Guldemond, Adrian
Publication:Catholic Insight
Date:Nov 1, 1997
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