When my husband and I were raising our family, education was a priority second only to faith. In fact, a true education is an extension of faith because to understand this world – our history, our culture, the laws of nature – requires knowledge of the Author of it all in order for it to make sense. This is something the youngest of children can understand. Stories about Salvation History and God’s plan for us are of great interest to them. Creation, the Fall of Adam and Eve, and Noah’s Ark are among the stories that children enjoy and help to illustrate the relationship between God and humanity and set the stage for the coming of Christ. These are the stories of Who We Are and they fit in with the other stories we tell our kids, about how things were when we were young, or how Mom and Dad fell in love, or whatever else they ask us to explain.
When it came to our children’s elementary education, we faced a number of challenges because, while we did not expect schools to be responsible for the faith and values we wanted to impart to our children, we were adamant that they not undermine what we were teaching at home. When my eldest entered school, it was just prior to the educational reforms that would lead us to an eclectic mix of schooling choices. At that time, there were two parallel streams within the public school system, one Catholic and the other Protestant, which was mostly secular. Within each stream, there were English schools and French schools.
The English Catholic school in our neighborhood had closed years before, so we began with a local school in the Protestant school board. We did not have major issues with the school, although there were a few concerns here or there, both academic and in terms of underlying values. After a couple of years, we decided to investigate the nearest Catholic school and eventually chose to bus the children there. Although the religious element was pretty tepid compared to my own education, it was a positive influence and we were happy with the move.
After a short time, the first round of government reforms took place. The school boards were realigned along linguistic lines. There were now two streams, French and English, each with Catholic and Protestant (secular) schools. (The stories of the political sleights of hand required to do this are for another day. In short, our constitutional right to Catholic education evaporated with a single, unanimous vote in the National Assembly.) The Catholic expression of a given school was up to that school’s governing board, which was inevitably dominated by non-Catholics, so the pretext of confessional schools was dropped within a few years. The children returned to their “Catholic” school the following August and most of the Catholic teachers had chosen to retire, as did the principal. The new principal, a non-Christian, had removed the statue of Our Lady from the entrance. The writing was on the wall.
By the end of that year, it seemed pointless to have the kids traveling on the bus, because what little Catholic presence had been in the school was no longer there. To clarify, I would have been content with a school that was secular but respectful of Catholic beliefs and values. The fact was, the curriculum (from the government department of education) was also being revised, and there simply was no escape from values that undermined what was being taught at home. Another move seemed inevitable.
Tomorrow: The Home School Years