Conseil supérieur de l'éducation
Catholic Committee: SCHOOL and RELIGION

by Guy Côté,
President of the Catholic Committee


The task force on the role of religion in school will soon be submitting its report to the Minister of Education. The recommendations contained in the report are expected to be debated by a parliamentary committee, and the Catholic Committee asked for its opinion as a government agency with specific responsibilities to the Catholic population, but also to the general public. Mandated to advise the Minister, it must take into account the entire social, cultural and political context surrounding policies governing religious instruction. It is in this spirit that the Committee will consider the task force's report.

It is to be hoped that all involved will want to reach a true social contract on this issue. Different expectations and views may be legitimate in their own right and, as far as possible, will have to be taken into account in order to have as many groups and partners as possible support the solutions eventually adopted by the Minister. Otherwise, the uncertainty and animosity will be ongoing... to the detriment of us all.

Dimensions to reconcile

To arrive at such a social contract, various dimensions of common interest will have to be reconciled. In this short article, I will discuss two areas of concern that I consider fundamental.

The first challenge entails simultaneously taking into account the social objectives of the schools and the requirements of young people's personal growth. Schools must promote cultural integration, the ability to live together with our differences, and social cohesion. At the same time, they must meet young people's needs as individuals seeking humanization, and take into consideration their capacity for learning at the different stages in their growth. This means that decisions related to religious instruction should not be based exclusively on sociopolitical considerations, but should incorporate the goals of a well-rounded education and take into account the psycho-pedagogical dimension of the proposed solutions.

A second challenge consists in linking the espousal of a specific tradition with the development of a culture of citizenship. This challenge is at the heart of the debate raised not only by the question of the role of religion in school but also that of the integration of minorities in a pluralist democracy, and of national cultural identities in a context of globalization, increasingly marked by a single train of thought.

Opening young minds to universal truths

Most people would probably agree quite readily that eliminating cultural differences would result in an irretrievable loss in terms of the human quality of our lives. It is also generally acknowledged that openness to universal values normally follows from having roots in a place, history or heritage based on which we make personal choices, relativize our own views and undertake a journey toward others. This is also true of religion. We do not, as children, awaken automatically to the essence of spirituality. We are born into a tradition, which is our doorway to the religious experience and the starting point for any other exploration of meaning. We are initiated into this tradition by our family and, in the case of some children, a congregation. However, this does not mean that public schools do not have a role to play : not to promote certain religious credos per se, but to ensure a transition between initial loyalties and integration into a civil society. To do so, schools must allow young people to explore their original tradition positively and critically while progressively encouraging them to recognize and respect other forms of experience. These two tasks are not incompatible. Rather than seeing specific cultural or religious characteristics as automatic obstacles to social cohesion, thereby running the risk of instilling a feeling of misunderstanding or rejection in the different groups, schools should help students to discover in which ways their own tradition and the traditions of others can enable sharing of certain fundamental values, contribute to humanization and open minds to universal truths.

Panorama • Volume 4, Number 1 • February 1999


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