You Need a Survey for This? March 27, 2011

You Need a Survey for This?

Canadians in Alberta, what the hell is going on in your education system?

It’s not like most American schools are anything to brag about, but at least the notion of secular education isn’t up for debate:

The Greater St. Albert Catholic Regional Division will conduct a survey to determine how many people in Morinville want their children to receive a secular education.

The Greater St. Albert Regional Catholic Division runs all four schools in the town north of Edmonton: two for elementary grade students and a junior and senior high school.

This issue has been going on for months and the survey is surprisingly a step forward, considering the school board outright rejected parent Donna Hunter‘s request for a secular school back in January.

At the time, Zak at Canadian Atheist put the blame on the politicians instead of the school board:

I side with the Catholic schools on this one. They’re in the business of promoting their silly religion and are fully entitled to receive full funding according to the law. There is little we can do about it other than using it as another example why we need to abolish the separate school system. Our opponents are our provincial and federal governments who have the power to make these changes, not the individual boards who are only concerned about their own interests.

I don’t understand how there could be so much debate over having a school focused on education without the distraction of forced prayer. There’s more information on the issue here.

(Thanks to Angel for the link!)

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  • Alex

    I’m not terribly surprised that this might happen in Alberta, notoriously the most conservative, culturally monotonous, god fearing part of the country. Could this happen in Vancouver or Toronto, or even Montreal? No.
    In most places in Canada separate schools and public schools coexist fairly well, though I don’t agree that religious schools should receive public funding. I don’t approve of my taxes being used to suspend peaceful pro-choice activists.

  • Ashlyn

    Alberta, the Texas of Canada.

  • Yeah, I’m not surprised either. I’m also against religious schools receiving public funding, especially as they’re already well funded on their own without the public support. Friends of mine have chosen to send their kids to the Catholic schools, not because they’re actually Catholic but because the schools are better funded and have better equipment. It’s sad when the churches still get government money to buy our children from us.

  • Michelle

    This is happening in an area that was primarily Catholic when it was settled, so the “public” board is Catholic. I definitely think it needs to change, and think that it just may be time to abolish the “separate” system altogether.

    Unfortunately, the public system in the rest of Alberta is far from secular. The province is the bible-belt of Canada, and there are some extremelly fundamentalist areas here (it can be hard being an athiest here…I have to be very careful about how vocal I am.) There are publicly-funded christian schools within the system, as well as the “LOGOS” christian program. We chose not to send out kids to our neighbourhood school to avoid exposure to this program.

    Now that my eldest is in Jr High (french immersion program), he is in the same school as the LOGOS students. So I keep a good watch on how much influence LOGOS has on the whole student body and do not hesitate to speak up in favour of a secular education. I’ve already voiced my concerns about the kids being taught “WAIT training” for sex ed (don’t even get me started) and will continue to argue against it, while teaching my kids healthier attitudes towards sexuality. And If there is even a hit about creationism in the classroom, I’m becoming even more vocal.

  • From what I recall from the paper – this is the -only- school in the area. This is frankly outrageous that in this day and age in Canada people are being forced in to religious schools. Did they learn nothing from the “residential schools” and how they attempted to destroy the native culture of children?

  • I live in Ontario so I can’t speak for Alberta – but here we have the public system and the catholic system (separate) – which are both funded through taxes. The other option is to pay for a private school out of your own pocket (or homeschool). I knew this had come up before the UN. Here’s a short article:

    Nothing ever changed after this. Same old – same old. It does seem like a very backwards system. I’ve never come across too many people complaining about it though – we’re so used to it I guess.

  • Kev

    There is a great deal of opposition to publicly funded religious schools here in Ontario. During the last provincial election, the Tory party was well on it’s way to defeating an unpopular government, that is until they announced midstream a policy to extend public funding to all religions. Their support crumbled leading to the defeat of their leader and the re-election of the unpopular incumbent government

  • Redheaded Ninja

    This issue is beyond ridiculous; the sad part *IS* that that the survey is a step forward. It’s completely beyond belief that a town with FOUR schools is adamant that those 4 schools must remain Catholic – the implication being that Catholics, of course, have a monopoly on teaching children to be honest, forthright, moral, healthy human beings. What a crock. Every person that has spoken up in support of the status quo has used spurious, racist, elitist arguments and thinks that doing so proves beyond a shadow of a doubt how valuable having NO CHOICE is when it comes to your child’s education.

    What’s particularly galling is that the majority of people in Morinville (79%, according to a recent survey) are NON-religious and do not attend Catholic churches, services or identify in any other way with the Catholic faith.

    I’m from Alberta, and to see this sort of elitist, backwards thinking makes me ashamed to live here.

  • Richard P.

    Alberta is one of the most conservative provinces. With our tax system you can choose whether your taxes go to the separate (religious) or secular schooling. The reason for predominant catholic schools in the area is because of peoples choices as to where that funding goes. It was a very Catholic area at one time. It may have been that the there was not enough funding to justify a secular school board due to the overwhelming catholic presence. So, now that religion is in it’s demise here in Canada these inequalities will become more apparent.

    Really, this is a very good sign.

    A few things to note about our the Catholic schools here is, on average they offer better student to teacher ratio, they follow government curriculum, you don’t see creationism taught in science class. They are generally safer and have fewer problems with violence and other stuff. They also seem to have better programs and higher grade standards.

    My son chose to go to a catholic school. Other than one religious class, there was virtually no religious influences. He wasn’t even required to be catholic.

    Don’t get me wrong there were a lot of christians that went there too. He made a lot of xian friends, got saved and spent three or so years chumming around with them. He then woke up, and realized it was all bullshit, then left it behind.

    That was just part of the journey he took and I don’t really hold the school responsible for the life choices he made. It was fun to watch.

  • Philip

    The separate school boards, at least in Ontario, used to be a necessity because the public school board was functionally Protestant. When that stopped being the case, they should have merged the boards and gone secular, but I guess entrenched bureaucracies don’t go quietly.

    Even as an Atheist, I thought the Tory platform of funding all religious schools equally was more fair than the status quo. I couldn’t vote for them (I don’t agree with their other policies). It enraged me when Dalton McGuinty (the incumbent Liberal) went on TV and defended his discriminatory funding policy by saying only that he “liked our public schools because they’re public”, and still he managed to get elected somehow.

  • Bleatmop

    The issue with the Mornville school board has a history dealing with the cutbacks during the ’90s where there wasn’t enough money for both a Catholic and Public school board, so they did a unique solution where they merged the two. Well respected Albertan blogger Dave Couroyer has a good history on the event and what is happening now here:

  • Angel

    @Ashlyn – I say much the same, but I usually finish it with “but with more oil, more money, and more moose”.

  • @Angel and Ashlyn

    Don’t forget the Mountains, better beer and better beef. Which does not make up for the “more Mormons” footnote.

    As far as the public vs catholic debate. When I was in school it wasn’t much of a difference. Actually the more extreme Christians viewed the catholic school as too liberal. Hell, long before I was an atheist, while I was still in public high school one girl told me “I’m sorry, I can’t date you because you don’t believe in the same god I do.” Later that year, one of my teachers had to send permission slips home to let him use the two stories of genesis as literature. (Oh he was also the first person I ever heard refer to himself as an Atheist). This should tell you about the types of Christianity and the fear of parental uprising. So the problem is definitely not structure, it’s society.

    Good luck Donna

  • The “separate” school board has a right to exist. The issue is that it runs all of the schools in the town, meaning that there are no options for parents who don’t want their kids to go to the “separate” school. (You might ask what it’s separate from, if there are no other options.) There are several possibilities here: for example, a public school board could open a school in the area, or the kids could be bussed to another town.

    I really don’t think anyone should expect the separate school board to provide a secular school. That’s not their mandate.

  • Alex

    I almost don’t mind when people send their kids to Catholic schools, my parents did (up until high school), there’s better equipment and nothing will make you an atheist faster.

  • No surprise. Alberta is like Texas, only much colder and with different accents.

  • Michelle


    We have fewer guns than Texas too…but probably have more rifles per capita than other Canadian provinces. 😛

    I still haven’t figured out why I moved back here, or why I’m staying.

  • Ibis

    @Megan, technically the protestant school board was the separate school board in St. Albert as it was originally the minority religion there.

    In any case, Zak is right. We need to advocate for a single public secular school system in provinces that don’t have them yet. I wish the Liberals here in Ontario would run on amalgamation as a cost-saver. I think that would be extremely popular with voters. The money saved could be poured into health care and maybe a provincial daycare system like Quebec has (assuming the fed. Libs don’t get there first).

  • Zak

    Catholic (separate) schools in Canada are a leftover from confederation when Catholics and Protestants were given rights to run their own public schools. This was a good idea at that time because it gave everyone access to public education. However the Protestant schools have evolved into the secular public school while the Catholic schools remain.

    The issue is complicated because according to the constitution, Catholic schools have the right to exist and be fully funded which also means discrimination laws can’t be used against them. It’s a yucky situation but there are quite a few of us working hard to fix it.

  • Ibis

    And may I also say that this situation, as undesirable as it seems now, is actually a relic of something we should be proud of as Canadians. So maybe you should be a little more curious and a lot less judgemental, Hemant. It’s just an accident that this is happening in Alberta instead of Ontario, so the whole Alberta=Texas North is a bit of a red herring. Oh, and Chris? This is the exact *opposite* of the residential schools (for which we ought to be justly ashamed). Instead of forcing those of a minority culture (Catholics in Protestant areas, or Protestants in Catholic areas) to attend schools run by the other church, the constitution guaranteed that parents could send their kids to the schools which respected their language rights and freedom of religion while still providing a publicly funded education. No assimilation of French or English. If only they had learned *that* lesson and applied it to the First Nations. We might have *three* publicly funded school systems now: Protestant, Catholic, and Aboriginal. All to be merged into a singular secular system now that religion’s influence is waning. They’ve passed constitutional amendments already in Quebec and Newfoundland. It will happen in Ontario and Alberta too.

  • I guess I can’t be too surprised of Alberta, but being from Ontario this is really weird to me. I grew up in a small town where the only schools within about an hour driving radius were public (two elementary, one high school) and I didn’t even know that religious schools existed for a long time. I can’t imagine there ever being a part of Ontario where that could happen in the first place.

  • Ibis

    @ryan That’s because you don’t know your history. It wasn’t very long ago that your “only schools within about an hour driving radius” were in fact *religious* schools. They were public schools of the Protestant majority in that area. Go back a few decades and you would have heard prayers during morning exercises etc. Over time those schools became more secularised until it was made official in 1990. The only difference here is that the Protestant system voluntarily reduced the religion in their schools (likely because they started out having to cater to all Protestant denominations and so were more generic about the religious aspects to begin with; add to that non-Christian immigrants and waning religiosity in general and you arrive eventually at a secular school).

  • Noophy

    Thanks Ibis. I get tired of the historical illiteracy. I live in Alberta, I wouldn’t want my kids going to a Catholic school, but I at least understand why the situation is the way it is. It’s one of the reasons we are not American. I would recommend people read ‘John A: The Man Who Made Us’ by Richard Gwyn. One of the reasons we didn’t join the States is that they were a bunch of traitorous atheists. This is part of that heritage. Funny that now we are less religious than they are, but that’s history for you.

  • Angel

    @Michelle – And in reference to myself…neither can I.

  • Michelle


    Unfortunately, the public school system has never been fully secular here (I’m not sure that’s any different than in other provinces), and the push for Christian education within the public system is growing. For those who don’t find even those Christian offerings to be fundie enough, there is the option of homeschooling, with which comes a full educational support system and community.

    We’ve done our best to avoid the Christian programs/indoctrination, but I still have to keep watch and be vocal enough when schools start crossing the line (eg WAIT Training in Jr High and handing out Gideon Bibles to grade 5s.)

  • Well we have no traditional Separation of Church and State, I hope that it may happen in the future… Fat Chance, the minister of sci and tech is a creationist (young-earth).

  • I think the push for Christian education is happening in the U.S. too. Times are turbulent and evangelical thinking is up. All very interesting.
    Just at least keep music in the schools!

  • sadly here in Canada we don’t have anything equivalent to to Establishment Clause. In fact, the entire Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms is null and void. The Charter states that Canadians have fundamental freedoms of religion, speech, the press, free assembly and association, and guaranteed equality. This same Charter, stating all these freedoms and equality for Canadians, also says that the federal OR provincial government can withdraw these freedoms by passing simple restrictive legislation.

    Hurray for the freedom to restrict freedom.

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