With mere days left before the provincial election, the three major political parties are making their final appeal to Ontarians, saying whatever it takes to win their votes. The Greens, in advance of their inevitable loss, have spoken the truth more freely, saying that the Catholic and public school boards should be merged.
GPO leader Mike Schreiner has two reasons for this: One is that it's unfair to other religions to single out the Catholics for special treatment, and two, that the money saved from merging both school boards – over $1-billion annually – could be spent elsewhere.
While the overall point is good, neither one of the arguments used to justify it is especially cogent. We could surely save billions by merging the elementary and secondary school systems, or by putting every two classrooms together. To say that the Catholic school board should be merged with the public one simply because it will save money is an observation, not an argument. It's interesting, but not convincing.
As for the argument that non-Catholic religions are being unfairly discriminated against – that implies that all religious schools should be publicly funded. This is an argument based on inequality: If one boy gets a slice of pie, all the other boys should get one too. This misses the more fundamental point that no one, at least not at this table, deserves that particular pie.
Religious schools shouldn't receive the public's money because religious schooling is detrimental to the public good.
What makes public education a public good is that its school system, at least in theory, imparts knowledge. People who are knowledgable contribute to our social welfare, creating the works of art and science and literature that elevate the human condition. We fund public education for the same reason we fund hospitals and social programs: because we recognize that we're all in it together, and one day, if that day isn't here already, we'll have kids who get fevers and cousins who need welfare and jobs that require us to have an education.
Whereas public schools have an agenda designed for the general public, religious schools have an agenda designed for a particular denomination. To fund the latter with money from the former is to support a private agenda at odds with the public good. Religious schools teach scripture. Scripture isn't based on reason, but faith. As even the Bible says, faith has no basis in knowledge. We can call a devoutly religious mind "knowledgable" only in the sense pertaining to that religion, and not in a broader, social sense.
A case in point: In Catholic schools, children are taught that homosexuality is unnatural. Yet homosexuality, or what we call homosexuality, exists in nature, and whatever exists in nature is natural. Homosexuality is therefore not unnatural. By teaching otherwise, Catholic schools are teaching things that are not true in that they do not accord to reason, and are thus detrimental to the public good.
It only makes sense that whatever is detrimental to the public good should not receive the public's money. We wouldn't fund schools that served kids poisonous lunches, or schools that teach the Holocaust is a myth. Why, then, should we fund schools that teach that same-sex relationships are sinful?
As the leaders of Ontario's three major parties point out, the funding of Catholic schools is upheld by Section 93 of the Constitution. In a similar vein, one might point out that a committee of the U.N. has twice scolded Ontario's legislatures for not amending the Constitution, that Newfoundland did so and no longer funds religiously-based education.
The debate in this election has been too heavily focused on jobs and the economy – things for which, it almost goes without saying, an education is required. How we fund that education and for whom, is also a topic that needs discussion.
Zander Sherman is the author of The Curiosity of School. Follow him on Twitter @zandersherman.