‘Family values’ versus public education

TheStar.com – opinion/editorialopinion
September 17, 2012.   Jeewan Chanicka

As an administrator in public education, a Canadian who embraced Islam many years ago, and someone who has been involved in public education for the past 20 years, I am concerned about the “family values” letter that has surfaced in several boards across the GTA.

The recent legislation — Bill 13, which is now enshrined in the Education Act — is designed to protect all children from bullying, including Muslim children. This would have been great legislation to have post-Sept. 11, but the point is, due to hard work on the part of many, we now have legislation in place that will support any students who experience bullying.

Canadian Muslims expect their rights and freedoms be upheld in the public school system — and so they should. We live in a society in which the rights of all people are protected and enshrined in the Charter of Rights and Freedoms. Muslim children who go to school should see themselves represented at all levels, especially in the curriculum.

However, this same right must be afforded to all children — children who are Hindu, Buddhist, no faith, gay . . . We cannot say we want schools to be equitable for some but not others. Public schools are exactly that — public schools. They must be equitable and represent the diversity that exists in our society. Equity must be equally applied to all stakeholders, for all of our neighbours and fellow citizens.

The public school system does not endorse one religion or way of life over another. Public schools may teach about different beliefs but they do not attempt in any way to “convert” children to any type of belief system.

In fact, the public school system has gone to great lengths to try and accommodate students of all faiths, including Muslim students. Under the direction of the Ontario Ministry of Education over the past four years, the equity and inclusivity strategy has been used to try and ensure that the public school system is inclusive and reflective of our communities and the world we live in.

Usually when sex education is being taught, letters go home informing parents and accommodating those uncomfortable with the material has not been an issue. The Grade 11 world religions course helps our children gain insight into the diverse world in which they will live for the rest of their lives.

No community should expect to impose a burden on public schools that, as a system, we cannot and should not bear. Quite simply, if faith is important to any group of people, parents and guardians must be responsible for teaching it to their children.

Furthermore, this should be done in the context of the universal values that pervade all belief systems, such as justice, mercy, compassion and understanding.

Families who are being encouraged to sign the “family values” letter need to stop and reflect on what its promoters really are asking. Understand that we live in a diverse society that protects our rights as well as everyone else’s rights.

The “family values” letter is an attack on public education and an attack on the many inroads we have made protecting the rights of all students (including Muslim and Christian students).

We live in and enjoy the freedom offered by a cosmopolitan society, and we must strive to protect that. In so doing, we in turn are protecting faith, freedom of belief and the freedom to live life in the manner we choose.

Let us engage with the public education system in a way that is healthy and productive. The public system welcomes all stakeholders who actively interact with our children so they gain an understanding of their own beliefs and those of others, while learning to participate in society as active citizens who work for the collective good of all.

Jeewan Chanicka is a vice-principal in York Region District School Board.

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