When the MOU's were reached, the MOE had made it quite clear that they intended to enforce the terms upon all concerned. Now that promise isn't worth the paper it was written on, just like the MOU's themselves. I have been a strong supporter of our Catholic teachers and indeed OECTA on this independent all affiliate blogsite over the past three years. I also totally disagree with the Provincial 2012-13's Executive decision to ratify the July 5th MOU, and the way many local units spinelessly followed suit. A recent challenge by a few of them to try to crucify Richard "Bad Boy" Brock [OECTA Halton Elementary] for leading the charge against such folly is another story altogether. For now please know that I will get back to this unannounced news story later, after I have had a chance to speak directly with Richard.
My regular readers will recall that I stepped down from my local OECTA executive and decided to retire from active teaching as of July 1st this year. I salute + support 2013-14 President James Ryans return to office to try to save OECTA from itself after having defeated past president Kevin O'Dwyer at our spring AGM. Nonetheless, it's now time to be quite candid about the Catholic School crisis, much more pointedly and directly than I have in the past, without having to look over my back all the time as I dodge the schools and union wrath.
Contrary to popular misconceptions you can't buy a stairway to heaven, Led Zeppelin notwithstanding!
Let's be quite clear: It is of course totally deplorable and unacceptable for the Catholic trustees, principals + school boards to continue to choose from the MOU terms as they see fit. They do so out of a sheer sense of privilege and control over their supposed teacher + support staff "flocks". It is likewise dead wrong for the MOE to stand by and do nothing as they unilaterally cherry pick what to or not do within the terms of the OECTA + now the OSSTF MOU. Clearly such arbitrary actions should not be allowed upon the public dime used to fund the Catholic school system. Indeed, they are not just content to tell OECTA what they will do as they shamelessly take the money and run. They now are also telling OSSTF that as far as our Catholic support staff are concerned, to go stuff it too. The Catholic school situation has reached beyond the end of it's publicly funded tether.
The Catholic church has historically + institutionally been built upon a now outdated hierarchical "god the father" top down decision making methodology. On a wide number of issues our school system has reached critical mass. As the GSA debate showed the question of denominational rights, whatever that might exactly mean, verses ones constitutional human rights has reached an impasse.
Indeed the Catholic school's blatant disregard towards our gay students is one thing, but the question of how they treat our gay teachers has not yet even been broached. It is clearly oppressive and used to bully them with the fear of being exposed, denied promotions and threatened with dismissal. The teachers are completely vulnerable if they insist upon their basic human right not to be discriminated against because of their sexual orientation. Not only does this concern their personal relationships with a married partner but their family benefits as well. On this and many other so called "Gospel" values the situation has become totally intolerable from a legal let alone a caring perspective.
In my years of service in the Catholic board I met many social justice teachers who lived and taught according to compassionate and caring Catholic values much more so than those espoused by their fiercest critics. Likewise I have worked with many traditional Catholic hardliners who are genuinely concerned and upset with all their heart and soul that their orthodox Catholic teachings and beliefs are now constantly being attacked and undermined in our often sadly spiritually devoid modern secular age.
The winds of change ...
I believe it is important for society to respect the basic principles of life from the womb to the tomb. I have tried to be a strong advocate for this especially in my role as our local executive Religious Affairs liaison over the past few years. It was a tight balancing act. I have also tried to be a strong supporter of our Catholic social justice wing in the wider sense, for example through my union work and in providing developmental educational aid through the Cuban Schools Project. Hence, I suppose whichever way I go with the proposition to follow I will inevitably anger somebody on either side of the coin, but so be it.
It is time to frankly reassess the possibility of a better more realistic outcome with the Ontario Catholic school system for all concerned. Maybe public funding should revert solely back to the elementary level where the schools have long flourished in teaching young Catholics the tenets of the faith? If it came to a supreme court challenge under the BNA Act it is quite questionable whether our basic Catholic school denominational and constitutional rights, especially in regard to public funding would extend much beyond Grade 8 anyway. Originally it was only extended as far as the junior or primary grades if I am not mistaken.
The Catholic secondary schools could then revert to being private schools again. They could practice the strong undiluted inculcation of church teachings academic and behavioural standards for which they once earned such well deserved accolades within the Catholic community. When I was a youngster the parishes would provide the financial cost for the student families who could not otherwise afford the opportunity to attend. Why not now? We all clearly understood it was a privilege that we needed to apply ourselves to and respect. Dare I ask, are we any better off today with fully extended public funding up to Grade 12? Is that even just? Or have we just inevitably traded off quality for quantity somewhere along the way? Let God + time be their judge as we let the Catholic elementary + private schools go their own way in a more publicly limited + easier approved way.
That was then. Now is not ...
Catholic studies could be offered as a separate department within the public school system. Yes, it would be optional. Only those who truly believe that it is important will take the program but they will do so with others of a like mind. The students will continue to mix in a secular world just like the one that exists outside and inside our own school doors today. That has unquestionably been a big uncontrollable part of our lives for the last half century or so whether we like it or not.
The big question then becomes what happens to our OECTA teachers union? It is not a union principle for one to raid another for members, so I do not think it would be right nor fair that OECTA just becomes absorbed into the other affiliates. This would create a huge problem regarding seniority, placements, amalgamation and fair political representation as well.
OECTA at its finest has become a strong, vibrant social justice wing for our province's Catholic teachers. We could be a valuable asset within a larger modified public school system beyond that which currently exists. For my doubters I'd note we are but a First World variant that has long become alienated from the orthodoxy of the Catholic church across much of the rest of the world where its largest traditional congregations and base of support exists today. Do you really think the church is going to change for us within the existing Ontario Catholic school system be it through the Council of Bishops or the Vatican in Rome? Likewise can we realistically continue our good work under these circumstances upon bended knee without compromise for much longer?
The Catholic left, if you will, could also face a big challenge in pursuing our goals and beliefs like any other group within the more pointed left wing verses right wing political dichotomy that often plagues the public school system. It's regretful to say, but perhaps we would be in better company there? At any rate we have never been strangers to adversity. We might even flourish.
There aren't any easy answers to the Catholic school dilemma. It 's high time we seriously consider at last our realistic options for change within the Ontario public school system before our own, as it now exists, totally collapses from without or within. Most regretfully, all indicators are that the latter is inevitable. A publicly unaccountable and divided Catholic school system cannot continue unabated. We can't turn back the clock, nor can we continue to march much further under the school and churches own drummer. So what else can we reasonably do that has any chance of success?
I have considered a few possibilities. I look forward to your comments and input. This discussion is just too timely and important not to be straightforwardly addressed.
Additional Links [forthcoming]