Since the elimination of denominational schoolboards in Quebec in 1997 in favour of linguistic ones, Roman Catholic and Protestant instruction in public schools has been on the decline. Already, such instruction was optional; students not participating could take a Moral Education class instead. This was seen as a fair compromise on a sensitive issue, though it created scheduling headaches for the schools.
Now, it’s been announced that it will be phased out entirely by 2008.
In sharp contrast to the controversy stirred back in 1997, most people in Quebec seem to be backing this new plan, with polls showing about 75% in favour of the elimination of instruction and replacement of it with a “culturally inclusive” course about religion in general. Quebec is a fairly secular society these days, and it seems most people are inclined to accept that education belongs in the classroom and religious instruction belongs in the home.
As it happens, I agree. Ironically perhaps, since I’m a product of religious school myself.
Many Americans are surprised to know that religious instruction still exists in public schools here. It’s admittedly not been a huge issue since most of Quebec outside Montreal is overwhelmingly Catholic by denomination, even if their level of adherence to the religion varies. The Protestant schoolboards were mostly English and that was where most of the Jewish kids went if they weren’t attending private Jewish schools. By the time my generation attended, they were fairly secular and the religious aspect was mostly nominal.
But the system still created awkward situations. And in some cases even the new linguistic system as it stands can ostracize kids if they’re the only ones opting out of religion classes. That’s not cool. Montreal is a diverse, multi-cultural, multi-ethnic city, and even if this diversity isn’t reflected province-wide, schools that offer only Christian instruction are really limiting when we consider how many religions coexist among the student populations.
Religion doesn’t really have a place in public schools, in my opinion. But parents should still have the option to send their kids to (heavily subsidized) private schools if they feel religious instruction is important. That’s what a large portion of the Jewish community does. I think we’ll be seeing more private Christian schools cropping up after 2008, to fill a need that the phasing out of such education in the public system will create. And that’s okay too.
It’ll be interesting to see whether this gets more press in the coming days, or how people will react.