Not a Superior Education

Guest post by Alvaro B

Why Education at Publicly Funded Catholic Schools In Ontario Is Not Superior to Education at Public Schools.

From junior kindergarten to my OAC year, (I’m dating myself there) I attended school within the walls of the Catholic education system in Ontario. In recent news, an Ontario father won the right to have his children exempted from religious observances at school. The comments that follow the article are filled with the claim of a superior education offered by the Catholic system. Having gone through that system, I stopped to ask myself if I received that higher level learning.  The answer, quite frankly, is no. I received what I call a path-of-least-resistance education: tutelage that sent me into the world and ultimately into failure. That failure manifested itself into an unsustainable photography business and a debt of $25k by the time I hit 22. Let me be crystal clear, I am a happily married, father of two with money in the bank, zero debt, a decent tool collection, a decent record collection, two turntables and a microphone. Did I mention I went to high school in the mid-nineties? I also love my job. That’s right, I’ve got it all. I put my head down, worked towards a goal and saw it through to the end. Not once did I place any blame of my failure in school on my educators or my parents. I accepted it all myself. I would now say that they do, perhaps, share some of the blame. In regards to my parents, their only mistake was believing that I told the truth all the time. Maybe they could have pushed a little bit more? We’ll stick to the topic at hand.

I am telling you of my experience to argue that it is asinine to assert that one obtains a better education from a publicly funded Catholic school than from a public school.

The Catholic school system is not truly diverse. It is a subspecies of diverse that depends upon a condition of belief. It is therefore only subjectively diverse. Within this translucent confinement, one will find various degrees of cultural, social, ethnic and political variety. These characteristics come with strings attached as once one arrives at the theological and metaphysical level, the diversity stops. The system can only claim diversity when it accepts all other faiths, even non-faith, as different versions of the same story. An idea not unheard of as Catholic disassociates and compartmentalizers would agree that that sounds great. Yet the real Catholics (yes, I said real) who do not sift through scripture for subjective tidbits know that this is utterly unacceptable. The system could opt out of public funds in a monumental gesture that would be praised by the UN for its forward thinking and by media for its non-discriminatory nature. That would make it a private system and end the issue all together. If I assert nothing else in this essay, I will assert this: The Ontario Conference of Catholic Bishops will never opt out of public money, nor would any religious organization for that matter.

My own run through the Metropolitan Separate School Board left me knowing very little about non-Catholics. The exception was a world religion class which spoke of other religions as one would comment on exhibits in an art gallery. These other religions and the people who identify with them were presented as different. What they believe is exotic and hokey with beautiful colours and imagery but ultimately wrong.  What I am supposed to believe is right, so just keep on trucking and I’ll stay part of the winning team. This must be why I vividly recall being introduced to the first Jewish person I had ever met. I was nearly 20 years old: “Wow, just like on Seinfeld!” And not much later, within 12 months, I was introduced to the first Muslim man I had ever met. “Why is this guy wearing pyjamas?” How many other people that Canada had to offer were kept hidden from me? How many relationships not facilitated by religion did I miss out on? Of course I must have crossed paths with people of various faiths growing up. I went to the Boys and Girls Clubs, hung out at pool halls and donut shops. Went to night clubs and Wasaga beach on Victoria Day weekend. I had loads of friends from public schools as I’m sure most children from Catholic schools have today. The system, by simply existing, implants a divisive instinct that appears as though it were innate. The result is a disconnection to people with different or non-religious views.

The Catholicity of the system allows for periodic opportunities of research and development. These opportunities occur during monthly mass where the whole school is expected to attend. In grade 9, I attended only the first of these masses. I did not attend a single one after that for the entirety of my high school career. I was most likely in a coffee shop smoking cigarettes and reciting Andrew Dice Clay nursery rhymes. At no point was I questioned regarding my whereabouts during these times. Anything could have happened. Had I been at a public school, I might have been in class learning.

Drug abuse among some students was a daily thing and people were always drinking on “the hill.” Acid was pretty popular as well, but I never got the chance to give it a go. One of the first instances where I smoked weed was just before 3rd period religion class in grade 11. A friend, who somehow was nicknamed after a species of fowl, carried me into the class. I slept through it with my head on my desk without the slightest concern from the teacher. It is possible that my friend persuaded her that I felt ill and simply needed to rest. But we must have stunk of weed, so she chose to do nothing. Thankfully that put me off grass for a very long time. Violence was not quite a daily occurrence, but it lurked just below the surface. When it erupted close by, we shrieked with glee, hollered and gesticulated. What really heated the blood was the violence foreshadowed. “So and so are meeting on the hill after school.” Oh, the ghoulish cackling! Guns were once found in lockers as the gangs weren’t too heavy, but they were represented. Girls got pregnant which was a definite indication of premarital sex. In a gigantic display of stupidity, I was suspended in grade 9 for muttering to a teacher, in a barely audible voice just above my breath, that I would cut the brake lines of her car. I said it to sound big to some students within earshot and I regretted saying it as soon as the words left my mouth. I was shaking with terror at how quickly things became serious. This was not a joke. When told that the teacher had the option to involve the police, I’m sure the regret was written plainly in the teary streaks on my face.

Despite these antics that dwindled and were mostly gone towards grade 12, I was a star pupil. In terms of photography, that is. Starting in grade 10, I completely submerged myself in everything about the art form. From grades 10-13, my scores in photography class started at 95 and ended at 99. The latter received for my OAC final, “Man Versus the Manufactured Machine.” I won the Grade 12 Photography award, obviously. I also attended the 1998 Ontario Technological skills competition and placed 5th. I had my own sections at the school’s art exhibition nights and got my first part time job at a lab processing film, printing photos and selling cameras. With these accomplishments, I was keen to strut my stuff in the post secondary world. I found something I was good at. Friends and family agreed. I was ready to make a career of it. I sent in my applications, paying very close attention to the presentation of the portfolio. This was paramount: “If not Humber, then it’s gotta be Sheridan and if not them, well, Loyalist it is!” I was not accepted to either. At the time, I was convinced and actually told people that it was due to my portfolio being too good and that the admission people obviously did not believe that the work belonged to me! It was, of course, my grades. To much skipping and socializing and not enough studying. Wouldn’t you think a promising student be pulled aside at least once to have the gravity of the situation explained to them. I was never taken under any person’s wing. Even my photography teacher did little more than the bare minimum and I thought I was his protégé. I received no assistance applying nor did anyone have the decency to tell me how futile the whole exercise would be. Guidance counsellor? I have absolutely no memory of that person whatsoever. Teachers were in a political fight back in 1997. I remember the strike. I also remember all the work-to-rule fun we had and that was not solely a two week stint. Staff had their hands full, so I get it: not enough time in a day to see to oneself or to one’s family let alone some kid who can take a picture. He’ll learn!

I felt the impact far more severely when I was told that I would not be graduating with the rest of my classmates later that year. That one stung. What kept me back was a failed religion class worth a half credit. Half a lousy credit! I now wonder if the school board received a full year of funding for my enrolment in that one-semester religion course. Either way, I returned to get that half-credit in as robotic a fashion as I could muster. Emotions ran their course for quite a while. Upset, yet determined to prove everybody wrong, I went at it on my own. I did the best I could for several years keeping my part time job on the side. Eventually, the lack of business training saw me with no place to turn. I began the task of digging myself out of a very large hole.

There is nothing particularly unique about my story in the grand scheme of things, and that is precisely the point. I do wish I went to a public school. Alas, nothing can be done about that. But if the Catholic system is truly superior, then why aren’t we in the process of Catholicizing the whole system. If the system does not want to spread, than why is it keeping the good education to itself? That is selfish and extremely un-Catholic isn’t it? Let’s order up the crucifixes with extra death, toss the yeast in the grape juice and dust off some tabernacles for the French language schools.

I, like everybody else, want the best education possible for my children. They’ll get that anywhere in the province as long as they apply themselves, work hard, be respectful and treat others with dignity.

If I have offended you in any way, great! Please enjoy your state of offence.

Defund Catholic Schools.

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