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?