"A Rising Tide Lifts all Boats," argues the Cardus Education Survey 2012 report released last week. The graduate data from non-government school sectors in Canada are evidence that public education—education in the public interest and for the common good—is also being provided outside of the publicly funded education system.
Yesterday, I spent a few hours with a prominent journalist-turned-academic who took some issue with this line of argument.
He didn't dispute our data or methods; his argument was philosophical in nature. Public schools are essential to teaching Canadian values, he argued, and "allowing" students to be educated outside of a publicly funded system would ultimately prove detrimental to society. The state, through the public education system, has a responsibility to ensure that those who come from the diverse backgrounds present in our multicultural society became "little Canadians" with Canadian values. Right?
It took some persistence for me to make the point that the evidence gathered by our survey actually showed the opposite to be true.
We found that the eight per cent or so of Canadian 23-to-39-year-old who were educated outside of the public education system are now contributing to the public good at similar or greater levels than are their public school counterparts, and in some areas (especially charitable giving and volunteering) in significantly greater levels. My argument to him was as much as he believed that to be the case, my side of the debate was actually backed by the scientific data regarding what sort of graduates non-government schooling is producing. He could continue believing what might be or should be, but it would take denying the data to insist that it actually was so.
I pointed out (and to his credit he fully agreed) that the public stereotype against non-government education leads some to make arguments reflecting a narrow secular dogmatism that contradicts the Canadian notions of tolerance, in whose cause it is usually championed. A few years back, Trinity Western University had to go to the Supreme Court of Canada to have its teaching program certified. The argument against the program was that because the students were being taught within a religious framework which had particular views regarding human sexuality and marriage, by definition its graduates would have intolerant views regarding those issues and should not be qualified as teachers. Thankfully the Supreme Court dismissed this misguided logic, confronted as it was with evidence showing that in practice TWU graduates had an exemplary record of respect. The arguments against TWU were based on fears rather than facts.
These conversations illustrate how embedded is the belief that a single public education system is the glue that holds society together. This is an article of faith for many in our society. Don't misunderstand—I am supporter of public education. I believe it is a societal task to ensure there is education available for all of its citizens, and I believe we are all better off when the public education system is thriving. The question, however, is not about the availability of education but whether the public system, through government monopoly, should have exclusive domain over education. Ironically, most of the voices in support of exclusive rights tend not to come from religious private schoolers but rather from orthodox secularists, who fear that education provided outside of the public system will prove socially divisive.
It's an interesting time when those arguing for Canadian secular morality and values are the ones who are appealing to faith, while those who argue for plurality and inclusiveness in education are the ones who are citing the evidence and data in support of their position.
In answer to those who insist on their outdated ideas of a monopolistic public education system: be blinded no longer by your faith, and instead consider the evidence.