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Excerpt from Discipline, Devotion, and Dissent: Jewish, Catholic, and Islamic Shooting in Canada edited by Graham P. McDonough, Nadeem A. Memon, and Avi I. Mintz

From the Introduction

The 2007 Ontario provincial election brought educational questions of faith-based schools and social cohesion into high relief. The Progressive Conservative Party, under the leadership of John Tory, campaigned with, among other things, a promise to extend full funding to all faith-based schools (pre-kindergarten through high school) in Ontario. A heated debate ensued and featured a variety of concerns, including a question of whether public funding for these schools would divert tax dollars from the current public school systems. The main focus of the debate, however, became a concern that faith-based schools are a threat to social cohesion. For instance, Dalton McGuinty, the Liberal premier, said that when he travels around the world, people ask him, “Why have I not seen on your television screens what I have seen on the streets of London, Germany, Paris, the Netherlands? Why is there not more strife, struggle, and controversy?” He reported his reply to these questions: “It’s because we bring our kids together in the same classrooms.”1 But to many observers, McGuinty’s comment seemed to reveal an element of Islamophobia that is unfortunately common in the post-9/11 discourse on faith-based schooling. As Andrew Coyne wrote: “all of the examples cited—London, Germany, Paris, the Netherlands—are places with significant Muslim populations, and significant Muslim unrest—not to say terrorism. The only thing standing between them and us, McGuinty suggests, is our public school system.”2 Coyne called McGuinty’s stance on the issue of faith-based schools “fearmongering” and “demagoguery,” and others in the media were quick to pass similar judgments.3

Tory’s proposal resurrected more than simply the debate about Ontario’s current public funding model for faith-based schools. It also raised fundamental questions about the place of faith-based schools in Canada: What really are the aims of these schools? How do they nurture religious belief and culture? How do they understand good Canadian citizenship? In the 2007 debate, there was a lack of meaningful engagement with questions of the nature and practice of secular and faith-based schooling. This did not serve the public well, regardless of one’s final opinion on Tory’s proposal. What was clear in the debate in Ontario and elsewhere in Canada is that faith-based schools are often discussed in only superficial ways and are sometimes viewed with suspicion, if not hostility. While it is often the case that public discourse lacks the nuance and depth of academic scholarship, in the case of faith-based schooling in Canada, anyone who turns to academic scholarship would not find much help. The majority of such work in Canada has focused on its historical significance to Canada’s early development, the issue of public funding, important legal challenges, and the way in which religious pluralism is accommodated within secular public schools.4 The current scholarship has generally neglected to consider what Canadian faith-based schools actually aim to accomplish, how citizenship is broached in them, and how controversies are addressed in classrooms. Discipline, Devotion, and Dissent provides a starting point for understanding how some Canadian faith-based schools develop educational visions that seek to cultivate both members of a faith community and members of the broader Canadian society. Before we continue to describe the purpose and scope of this book, it is worthwhile to reflect on the political negotiation in Canada that has made faith-based schools so controversial.