Catholic trustees should defend Catholic education
By Glen Argan
For decades, I have been hearing that Catholic schools in Alberta face an imminent threat to their existence. Having never seen such a threat materialize, I remained skeptical.
There have always been those who want to drive Christianity out of, not only the school system, but the public square itself. However, those who held power in this province always gave verbal support to the Catholic school system.
The problem with the defenders of Catholic schools crying “wolf!” is that when the wolf does arrive, their constituency can be indifferent to the plea.
However, the Alberta government’s support for gender ideology, and a recent Saskatchewan court decision maintaining that non-Catholics cannot receive tax support if their children attend Catholic schools has raised the spectre of an end to Catholic identity and witness in education.
Then there are the anti-Catholic social media trolls who launch an online cacophony after nearly every news article on Catholic schools. Add to that the attempt of former education minister David King — no longer an Alberta resident — to start a movement to end tax support for Alberta Catholic schools, and a trend emerges.
Catholic schools now really are under attack, and the Catholic community will have to respond.
In that light, what is most disturbing is Edmonton Catholic school trustee Marilyn Bergstra’s call for high school religion classes to be optional rather than required courses. The enemies of Catholic education are now in our midst.
The first response to this is to ask the rhetorical questions: Is not the teaching of the Catholic faith an integral part of Catholic schooling? Should not all students who enrol in such schools expect religion classes to be a mandatory part of their education?
After answering “yes” to those questions, we need to push the issue deeper.
A central Christian belief is that all men and women are created in the image of God. This belief is either right or wrong. If it is wrong then no basis exists for Catholic education or for the Catholic faith itself. Further, no basis exists for human dignity and human rights; we are simply complex animals who act of instinct, and biological and social conditioning.
Or, when the secularists maintain their views are based on bald reason, we respond that there is no such thing as reason alone and that, in any event, love is greater than reason.
But if we are created in God’s image then Christianity has a unique call to serve humanity. A Christian education upholds the dignity of the human person by insisting that people are not mere widgets in the running of the economic system. Our souls and our hearts are oriented toward neither money nor power, but to union with an unfathomably loving, transcendent God.
Catholic schools are no mere holdover from an era of superstition. Nor do they promote the quirky private belief system of a dwindling minority. If human beings have a transcendent dignity then the graduates of those schools offer a unique gift to society. They must constantly remind society of and advocate for the dignity of every human person — no matter their creed, race, ethnicity, sex, sexual orientation or any other characteristic on which bigots feed.
If that is a primary goal of Catholic schools then teachers and students should talk about God and human dignity in their classrooms. These things are not learned by osmosis. Religious education should be mandatory.
Catholics ought to fight for Catholic schools, but not so much because they are our birthright or are guaranteed in the Constitution. We ought to advocate for those schools because they offer society something that cannot be found in a secularized school system — a deep appreciation of human dignity. Society is diminished when the transcendent foundation of that dignity is ignored.
The Catholic Church has no desire to dominate society. But we want to make our contribution to it, a contribution rooted in the formation of our children and youth in Catholic schools.