In Conversation with Lita Bablitz on a Two-Tier Education System

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By Scott Douglas Jacobsen

Scott Douglas Jacobsen: You have been in some of the Canadian news cycle over blogging what you term a two-tier system with some educational provisions inaccessible to families with tight budgets.

The province made an announcement about cuts to school fees, especially with two sons riding on the Edmonton Transit Service or the ETS. However, only some students qualified for free or reduced-cost ETS access.

What happened? What was the rest of the context for you?

Lita Bablitz: No actual changes came of my blog/concerns. I hope I was heard. The Education Minister has advised that I “stayed tuned” for further initiatives.

I realize the Province isn’t made of money I just felt that ignoring the incredibly wasteful 2 public board system and all of it’s cost redundancies while simultaneously creating financial barriers to any kind of choice was a huge step in the wrong direction.

It effectively created a 2 tier public system; the very thing most Pro-Public Education advocates fear most.

The issue of choice is complicated, but there must be some common sense number somewhere between offering no choices and offering a vast array of (often pedagogically and developmentally inappropriate) programs because public boards are competing with publicly funded faith-based boards for students.

Furthermore, programming choices should be accessible to all. They missed an opportunity I think.

Jacobsen: What was the target of the blogging – awareness, frustration, change in funding dynamics, and so on?

Bablitz: I blog to work through issues for myself. I have written blogs on many things ….. from Colonoscopies to parenthood to politics. Some get read by 10, some by 2000. If I say anything that resonates with anyone or helps them make sense of something they are worrying or wondering about then I am happy.

But I write for myself. My blog is not monetized …. is that the word? I simply find I stew and agonize over things less if I can sort out a way to express my thoughts.

Jacobsen: As you dished out $940, how did this affect personal budgeting if I may ask? How does this impact families with even less money for transport?

Bablitz: We live pretty close to the bone financially but we were able to pay the $940 and keep our boys in French immersion. However, I was terribly worried that it would be deciding factor for many families leaving.

We feel very fortunate to live as we do so I don’t wish to seem like I’m complaining about our life. We are so very lucky. It just seems we never get ahead and there is always ‘just one more cost’.

We have only one car, and neither my husband nor I drive to work often, we walk or use transit. We rely on transit for our kids to get to school. I am certain the added cost would be too much for many families to juggle.

It sent a clear message that choice was only for families who could afford the additional cost or afford to have a parent drive them. 

Jacobsen: Now, with respect to two-tier systems, and as you well know, there exists debate around the Catholic and non-Catholic school systems in Alberta – and in other places throughout the country.

What is your own angle on this? How do you feel or think the situation is progressing, especially with organizations such as IDEA emerging with prominent educational names, including David King, Patricia Grell, Marilyn Bergstra, and others, coming to the fore?

Bablitz: I think it is time to end publicly funded Faith-based education. Churches have protections and guarantees under the law. Individuals have personal religious freedoms within the law.

But there is no rational reason to continue funding a Faith-based school system. And unfair to only offer it consistently to one Faith. It is an institutionalized privilege and we need strong leadership to end it. It’s time.

However, I think people can be very resistant to change and it must be done respectfully and with a focus on equality, fairness, science, and public good. But continuing to do something just because we always have is no reason to continue.

Sigh, it’s going to be a tough battle but well worth it I believe. A strong, inclusive, secular school system with help build “we” where there has been “us” and “them”. 

Jacobsen: As this seems like an inflection point in the history of education within the province of Alberta, where can people across the country look to become involved, whether to donate finances, expertise, time, or contacts?

Bablitz: I honestly wish I knew. 

Jacobsen: Any final thoughts or feelings in conclusion?

Bablitz: We have to do a better job promoting secularism. I think people of Faith often believe secularism is somehow nihilist and lacking in all values. I get very frustrated by that. Studies are certainly showing that isn’t the case.

A secular society can create a rich set of values and ethics, still respect and protect religious freedoms within the law, and function from a confident position on scientific and social matters.

Jacobsen: Thank you for the opportunity and your time, Lita.

Scott Douglas Jacobsen founded In-Sight Publishing and In-Sight: Independent Interview-Based Journal.

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