Parents requesting accommodation based on religious preference continues to plague our educational system. A recent example was reported in a column in the Toronto Star by Roise DiManno. It involves the case of a father who enrolled his son in a Catholic high school but wants his son to be exempt from religious studies. The school has accommodated this request by allowing the son to remain at home during the morning liturgies. But the father is pushing for his son to be allowed in the school and be supervised during religious studies and liturgies.
Accommodations based on religious beliefs are being sought more and more, whether they relate to sex ed (particularly with the inclusion of lgbt content), teaching of evolution, or even having music in the classroom. This nonsense has to stop, whether it is someone sending their son to a religiously-based school and asking for exemptions from religious studies, or a fundie Christian asking for exemption from sex ed for their children, or a Muslim asking for exemption for their children when music is played in the classroom. Our public education system needs to remain secular. We already have publicly-funded institutions that provide religious education – they are called churches, temples, and mosques. Lets work to get religious indoctrination out of the public classrooms (and the Catholic school boards in Ontario should be defunded and amalgamated with the public school boards).
That is my rant about the place of religious education in the public classroom. Now I wish to touch about a second issues, the main issue of this post. In covering this story, DiManno, presents the same unsubstantiated nonsense that a Catholic school education is imbued with “higher academic expectations and certainly stricter rules of conduct”. I call bullshit on both of these points. Let’s take a look at both of these issues in turn:
DiManno, in the column, states that “Many parents who aren’t Catholic, from atheist to agnostic to evangelical, consider the Catholic system preferable to the public school system, with higher academic expectations…”. I would like to see how many atheists she has actually polled – I think she is making this up. I don’t think you would find many, if any, atheists sending their kids to Catholic schools. Most of the non-Catholics attending Catholic school are those from other faiths. More important, however, is the fact that the higher academic expectations is an illusion, or rather a delusion (as befitting their belief in a sky captain) – it is simply not borne out by the data (columnists often don’t let data get in the way of a good story :-). So what do the data indicate? (drum roll please).
First, lets take a look at the standard literacy test that is administered to every grade 10 student in Ontario – the Ontario Secondary School Literacy Test (OSSLT). As can be seen from the graph below, students from the Catholic Boards performed on par with students from the Public Boards. They were no better nor worse than students from the public school system. In fact, differences between regions far outstrip differences between the Catholic Boards and the Public Boards.
The data for grade 9 students in both applied and academic math tells much of the same story. In the Toronto region the Catholic board is outpacing the public board, but this is reversed in York region. As well, the differences across the two regions, irrespective of Catholic or public board, is wider than the differences between the Catholic and public boards.
These similarities, and differences, extend down into the elementary level as well. The differences between regions outstrips the differences between the Catholic and the public school boards. Indeed, if you live in Toronto region and you want a board with high academic expectations, at either the elementary or secondary lever, you should relocate to York region and attend a York Region public school.
So you tell me good reader is a ‘higher academic expectation’ justified by the available data?
Now let’s turn our attention to morality, the second bit of fiction about a superior Catholic school education. The ‘stricter rules of conduct’ to which DiManno refers is actually a code for moral values. Indeed, later in the article she actually writes about this stating that the father doesn’t want his son “exposed to the faith principles – I would call them “values” – that are the soul of Catholic-based education. This is a tired line that you hear all the time from Catholics and believers in other faiths as to the main reason why they send their children to Catholic schools. Let’s examine this a little, shall we.
Where do Catholics (and believers in other faiths) derive their morality? They claim from the teachings of their god as related to them in their religious texts. But this cannot be the case. There are a great many dubious moral teachings in religious texts relating to female rights (1 Corinthians 11:3; Ephesians 5:22-24), homosexuality (Leviticus 18:22; Leviticus 20:13), and slavery (e.g., Exodus 21:5-6; Leviticus 25:44), just to name a few challenges in deriving morality from ancient texts. Believers must pick and choose which moral tales to take to heart when they read scripture – which tales they must use to guide them morally. Logically then they cannot be deriving morality from their texts as they already need to bring a moral code to making a decision as to what tales they take to heart and what tales they dismiss as silly. So morality comes from without and not from within ancient scriptures. Where do morals actually come from? Well, I refer you to another post for further discussion on this topic, but suffice it to say that Catholic schools cannot provide, and does not, provide a higher moral education than is offered in public schools. So I call bullshit on this second bit of fiction about the superiority of a Catholic school education.
I submit to the good reader that a strong foundation in moral principles must be established, first and foremost, in the home. And believers are in no higher place than non-believers when it comes to moral teachings.