Conseil supérieur de l'éducation
Catholic Committee: Making the OVERALL DEVELOPMENT of Students a Must

by Guy Côté,
President of the Catholic Committee

Québec's education system is in the throes of far-reaching change, the ultimate purpose of which is to improve student success rates, promote social cohesion, and consolidate professional qualifications. While there is indeed cause to rejoice at these efforts, we should remain critical as to certain trends shaping up more or less explicitly in the reforms under way.

It seems to me that one of the questions we should keep asking concerns the definition of the school's aims : to instruct, socialize, and prepare students for the workplace. Taken separately, these sweeping goals may meet with unanimous approval. However, when they are used to define the entire school experience, they may give rise to certain misunderstandings.

On the one hand, it is altogether understandable that we should want to re-direct schools towards goals which are their purview, and to relieve them of the all too many missions we managed to burden them with in the name of overall student development. This led to what some people sardonically termed "feel-good schools". To get back to basics, it is understood that we will henceforth have to refer to them as schools of learning, effort, rigour, and cultural and social/professional integration.

Valid as these new focuses may be, we have reason to query the balance they presage. By putting the goal of overall student development on hold, at least insofar as the statement of the school's aims are concerned, we risk reducing education to its functional aspects at the expense of its existential quality, and blocking certain important dimensions of the human experience. Elementary and secondary school students are more than future citizens or economic agents. They have dreams that they are trying to follow; they have to learn how to manage their lives and deal with reality. Preparing for the human adventure involves challenges such as learning freedom, the art of loving, the ability to make commitments, a sense of the common good and solidarity, selflessness, acceptance of limitations and vulnerability, awareness of suffering and death, and the ability to hope beyond hope. Subject matter which is not taught by rote, but which requires room for research, experience, and deliberation to develop in school and elsewhere.

A touch more humanity

Unquestionably, to educate is to help grow in humanity. Without this basic tenet, all other educational missions lose their foundation and meaning. If Québec schools were to deviate from their humanist vocation which we have thus far assigned to them, we will be correct in thinking that our society would register a new kind of deficit. As we approach the third millennium, we must count on a "touch more humanity", to borrow from Bergson's concept of "more soul" elaborated on the cusp of the 20th century. The goals announced as part of the current reform contain certain components likely to contribute to this global project of humanizing students. However, their overall arrangement, internal logic, and major emphases do not make it their centrepiece, contrary to UNESCO's International Commission on Education for the Twenty-first Century report (Delors report, 1996), which enshrines this "humanization" program as the fundamental goal of the education process, going so far as to call it a condition for the survival of humanity at this time in our history.

Clearly, refocusing schools on their essential missions cannot mean giving short shrift to a preoccupation which is central to the development of students as persons. We would therefore have expected to see it mentioned in the statement of the school's goals. Be that as it may, we must trust the school community to interpret and put the reforms into practice in such a way as to keep this crucial concern alive and well.

Panorama • Volume 3, Number 1 • February 1998


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