School for thought

Keynote Address by Dan Kingdon
TRACE Conference, April 3rd, 2003, Saskatoon

The second challenge this time from without comes from Julia Stanbridge.
The dilemma for Catholic teachers, she says, is how to operate within
today's neo-conservative political and educational climate from a Catholic
faith perspective. She is particularly interested in Catholic school Mission
Statements and the dominant political philosophy of our time. Many of
you are familiar with the work of Fr. James Mulligan and perhaps have
heard him speak here in Saskatoon. He shares many of the same concerns
as Stanbridge. She says that students are seen as commercial citizens
while being community citizens becomes a secondary priority. Human
potential is not being developed to foster the common good but to serve a
particular good which is predominantly commercial self-interest. What
Stanbridge does is a little different from Mulligan (who sees the danger to
Catholic schools from within) she offers an explanation to the Catholic
teacher why their within and without are in conflict. She roots the
problem in the strongly Puritan ethic which appeared at the end of the
English Reformation which laid the basis for a radical individualism
which forms the basis of much New Right education and government.
Catholic school teachers are right to be concerned at the forces from
without. Catholic schools that value each member of their community,
and who decide to allocate a disproportionate sum of money to that
person's education, are penalized when the criterion of success are
diploma exam scores rather than successful integration into society. The
danger for Catholic schools is that we accept the philosophy of those who
are in political power as adequate or sufficient to describe what we do in
Catholic schools. We must respectfully resist. I had a strong experience
of this at a School Council meeting...
When achievement tests for all core subjects at Grades 3, 6, 9 and
Provincial Diploma Exams were re-introduced at Grade 12, principals
were obliged by the Department of Education to report their school's
results to the parents.
This I arranged to do through our School Council, but not without laying
out a broader vision of Catholic schooling.
After presenting the results of the tests and the exams (we were a K-12
school), I began to express my concerns that Catholic schools should be
evaluated solely on these findings. Before two minutes had gone by I
realized that these parents did not need convincing. They realized that
they were raising their children in challenging times. They wanted their
children to do well at school, and to know that their child's school was
academically sound, but they were not fooled by the government's
educational rhetoric. At the same time, we weren't sure how to have the
government hear our voices.
They're kidding, I assume. "Today's neo-conservative political and educational climate?" "New Right education and government?" This New Right education? Perhaps this New Right education? This one?

And how many Catholic parents do you think are really excited to have their children unable to pass tests?