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So I did my TV show yesterday. I used to drag cameras out to events and film them so I could show those instead of my awkward self, but my self has gotten a lot less awkward in front of the camera and I’ve changed how I do things. The last few shows, I’ve just gathered people in studio and had a discussion on some topic or another.

The obvious topic this time was funding of religious schools. My guests were like the start of a bad joke – a Jew,  a Christian and a Muslim walk into a TV station … But they were great – articulate, well-informed and smart. I particularly liked the Muslim woman. She’s a very outspoken and involved woman and I was surprised, when I met her, to see that she was a tiny and very young-looking. (I wonder how many men underestimate her based on that?) Anyway, she brought her outrageously cute young son and I brought my three, and we abandoned them in the Green room with construction paper, markers and orders to behave. I wasn’t really worried – Maya is very responsible. Turns out they were all having so much fun that the little guy didn’t want to leave at the end since mine were staying while I taped my introduction.

I brought up the various arguments against funding religious schools. These were the responses:

1. It will take money away from public school.

Schools are funded based on how many students are enrolled. Just because another school is now also getting money doesn’t mean that first school will receive any less. No money will leave the system. Yes, they will have to put more money into the school system to pay for the extra students, but since we are talking about only an extra 53,000 kids (this is a very, very small percentage of Ontario students), it isn’t going to break the bank. And, as one guest pointed out, if all the parents sending their kids to religious day schools suddenly decided to pull them and put them in public school, as is their right, the government would have to find the money, and would.

2. Religious day schools are against Ontario’s values of multi-culturalism and those students will grow up less tolerant of others.

This one is just silly. The Muslim guest was a former principal of an Islamic school and pointed out that her students graduated with a strong sense of their own identity and self-esteem, and were more likely to comfortably integrate into society (which they’ve obviously been doing all along, with soccer, and neighbours, and inter-school tournaments). Providing a child with a strong sense of who he or she is does not make them less likely to be an involved citizen.

3. Tons of kids would leave the public system for religious schools, taking even more money out and segregating kids more.

Other provinces that already fund religious schools (Newfoundland, Quebec) have not found this to be the case. The numbers don’t change much. And my Christian guest pointed out what a sad argument this is – basically ‘the public system sucks so much that if you give people any option, they’ll leave.’

4. The Muslim schools will become terrorist breeding grounds funded by public money. Again, my Muslim guest answered this well. Firstly, she pointed out that the schools already exist and no one has a problem with how they are teaching their students, so why would that change with public funding? And secondly, as it stands, the schools have standards enforced by the parents, who expect a good education for their children, but they do not have to keep up to provincial standards – and with lack of funds, some of the smaller schools struggle to do so. By providing provincial funding, all these schools will be brought under the government umbrella and forced to keep to provincial standards. The extra scrutiny means the chances of anyone teaching hate or intolerance is less likely, not more.

So, it was a good, in-depth discussion. Too bad more people won’t see it.

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I think I’ve given away enough in this blog that people realize (if they care to think about it) that I live in Ontario. We are coming up to an election, and the big topic this time is funding for religious education.

Ontario is in a ridiculous position. The government funds public school and free education for Catholics. Just Catholics. The rest of us get nada, zip, zipch, nothing. Even the most hardline postion against public funding of religious education would probably agree that since our children are learning the Ontario curriculum, the government could cut us a little slack for that part of their schooling. But instead, the Catholics go free and we pay every cent of our kids’ education.

The Liberals, who are in power, insist it will stay that way. Way back when Ontario became Ontario, the constitution entrenched free Catholic education because that was pretty much everyone: Catholics and Protestants. Now when people point out the inequity, The Liberals and a lot of Catholics just hide behind that, as though that were actually a reasonable response. But the Ontario of today is a very different place.

What outrages me the most is that Dalton McGuinty, the Liberal leader, says he won’t ever fund religious education because Ontario is about pluralism and multiculturalism and he wants our children to grow up to be public-minded individuals, and religious education can’t do that. I suspect that Dalton would consider himself a public-minded individual, given that he’s premier and all, but he went to Catholic school. And so do his kids.

So why is it that if my kids go to Jewish day school, they will become close-minded bigots, but his kids can go to Catholic school and they are just fine? Because Dalton McGuinty is a huge hypocrite, that’s why.

I don’t even want my kids to go for free. I just want the government to pay for the non-religious part of their education. I don’t think that would break the bank, because I bet a lot more kids would put their kids in religious schools if it cost half what it costs now, and thereby be subsidizing the system more. I also want them to make the Catholics start paying for the religious part of their education too, but even if we get the first, we won’t get the second.

As far as I can tell, the people who are against funding religious schools come from two camps. One thinks that no religious education should be funded at all and that includes the Catholics. Frankly, even though that would do me no personal good, I can get behind that. At least it is fair.

The other, as far as I can tell, is afraid of the Muslims. They have the notion that if we encourage them band together and teach their own children, the kids will all turn into little jihadists. This is, obviously, terribly unfair to the Muslim community, as well as being generally ridiculous. No one expects that the government would just hand over the money to anyone who opens a school. There would be regulations regarding the curriculum and standards that would have to be met.

It is obvious by this point that I send my kids to religious school, a Jewish day school. This choice means that I only go to the in-laws’ cottage for vacation and have no savings. As the costs rise (Boo is starting full time this September, joining her brother and sister), I cringe and wriggle and bang my head against the wall over how much this is costing us, but I cannot bear to take them out. They love school. Sure, they whine, as all kids do, but when it comes right down to it, they love school. They are getting a solid education and have a strong sense of their own identities.

The Conservative party has promised funding for religious schools. In all other regards, I hate their policies. Every provincial election, I have walked into the polling booth not knowing who I was going to vote for – the party with the ethics that fits most with mine, or the dark side, which would at least give me money to send my kids to school. Every year, thus far, I’ve been unable to put the little tick beside the Conservative candidate, but that is going to change this year. McGuinty’s hypocrisy has pissed me off too much, and I’m holding my nose and voting for the Conservatives.

I wrote a column recently about why I chose to send my kids to religious school. I think I’ll post that tomorrow. This thing is too long already. If you want a more fact-filled history of this topic, you could go to this guy. He’s an actual political journalist who know what he’s talking about.

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