This year, as he launched the Budget Talks website (talks.ontario.ca) Finance Minister Charles Sousa made it clear “we’re not moving forward with any changes to the system.”
Catholic rights to public funding for a separate school system in Ontario have been upheld by the courts. Yet a significant number of Ontarians still resent their tax dollars going to support Catholic education.
Which is just one reason why a Catholic philosophy of education matters, said Fr. Mario D’Souza.
“I don’t think we as a Catholic community have necessarily sold the vision of our Catholic education as well as we could precisely to a multicultural and pluralist society,” said D’Souza.
D’Souza’s new book, A Catholic Philosophy of Education from McGill-Queen’s University Press, begins with the idea that Catholic schools have something to offer multicultural and diverse societies such as Canada.
“When Ontario taxpayers look at Catholic education as just serving the Catholic community and offering this kind of narrow, Catholic vision, that’s when we need to do a better job and say, ‘Catholic education is much more comprehensive. It serves the common good in its best traditions, without compromising your culture, your traditions, your particularity.’ ”
D’Souza was educated in Catholic schools where Catholics were a minority. In these schools of Karachi, Pakistan, while he and Catholics went off for catechism class, the majority of students went the other direction for lessons in the Koran from a local imam who came to the Catholic school to ensure the religious education of Muslim students.
In D’Souza’s view, there could be nothing more Catholic than respecting and encouraging the religious traditions, heritage and desires of everybody.
“The Second Vatican Council helped us to understand that we have a duty and responsibility of contributing to how the world sees itself in its pilgrimage, not just Catholics,” he said. “How we contribute to the greater glory of God not just in a Christian sense but in the sense of human persons created by God who are moving towards our final destiny. That means, in a pluralist society, people of different religions, different cultures.”
A uniformly Catholic student body is less a guarantee of catholicity than well-prepared, deeply Catholic teachers who are ready to teach from a Catholic standpoint, in D’Souza’s view. This goes much deeper than just what gets taught in religion class. The entire curriculum must be understood in Catholic terms.
“You cannot expect that a young person today goes through school and then goes through a secular university in Canada, then goes to a secular faculty of education and suddenly as a result of a B.A. and a B.Ed. or a B.Sc. and a B.Ed. is magically transformed into a Catholic teacher,” said D’Souza. “A Catholic teacher requires a particular way to look at the world.”
While D’Souza teaches a fair number of Catholic teachers in graduate theology courses at St. Michael’s College, University of Toronto, he knows this further education is voluntary and the majority of Catholic teachers don’t want to pursue endless degrees while they struggle with a heavy workload in their schools.
“There’s a certain responsibility at the level of school boards to say, ‘All right, you’ve got a B.Ed. Now, how are you prepared to be a Catholic teacher?’ ” said D’Souza.
The sort of ideal world of strong, bustling Catholic parishes filling up their local Catholic schools with an endless stream of Catholic children — children who arrive at the school door with the assumptions of a unified Catholic culture — simply doesn’t exist. But Catholic schools have something to offer to a multicultural society, said D’Souza. The Catholic take on multiculturalism goes deeper than steel drums, samosas and saris.
Because Catholics take their own religious identity and ultimate calling seriously, they are prepared to take other religions and cultures just as seriously. For D’Souza, a Catholic school exists “to try to show a diverse country like Canada that a Catholic system is of service to the student in his or her integral humanity, recognizing their religious distinctiveness.”
The battle for Catholic schools isn’t to build a wall that might contain an idealized Catholic ghetto, he says, but to offer an approach that takes the task of becoming truly human, both individually and as a society, seriously.