Conseil supérieur de l'éducation
 
Catholic Committee: Seeking a SOCIAL COVENANT

by Guy Côté,
President of the Catholic Committee

 

It is encouraging to note the convergences ensuing from the work of the Parliamentary Commission on the Role of Religion in Schools. For instance, everyone agrees that we must respect fundamental human rights, differentiate between the school’s mission and that of religious communities, and promote mutual understanding among students with different philosophical or religious beliefs. Non-confessional public schools and government structures are increasingly envisaged as possible, provided that adequate guarantees be given for service where religious education is concerned.

Achieving a social covenant on the role of religion in schools is eminently desirable on several counts: in this subject area, young people are entitled to the same clearly defined, properly supported services as for any other subject; parents and schools staff need to know what to expect; religious minorities expect fair recognition. Important steps have already been taken towards bringing viewpoints together. It should be possible to make further progress in this direction if all involved feel that their rights and legitimate expectations are being respected, all the while agreeing not to consider their vision as the only justifiable one.

Diversity and flexibility

While it is widely acknowledged that the religious dimension has a role to play in young people’s overall education, there is still some uncertainty as to how to integrate this role into the school’s educational mission. Many of the groups heard by the parliamentary commission stated that religious instruction must enable young people to explore their own religious tradition while pursuing their existential quest for meaning and hope. Others would prefer having schools limit themselves to providing a cultural introduction to religious diversity based on the social sciences approach. No consensus has as yet been reached on how to best recognize the rights of religious minorities.

Tolerance and respect for freedom of conscience will necessarily require some diversity and flexibility in the arrangements eventually made. For example, we will, no doubt, have to find a means for satisfying both the demand for confessional instruction and for a historical or sociological approach to the religious fact. In keeping with the overall aims of the current reform, it will also be important to leave some leeway within programs of studies for schools to be able to offer services corresponding to their community’s specific composition and expectations. On several occasions, the parliamentary commission was told that "wall-to-wall" solutions would inevitably fail. The system’s coherence cannot be based on a denial of life and its complexity.

Rigour and depth

All the more people will rally to eventual decisions regarding the role of religion in schools if these decisions are based on solid foundations and social and educational objectives that have been clearly identified. A choice of society as crucial as the one Québec is preparing to make requires more than a purely managerial approach. It requires a readiness to go beyond certain simplistic ideas; for instance, holding that religion and modernity are contradictory, or that cultural/religious identity precludes universal open-mindedness/common values. Without rigorous thinking, the spirit of openness and flexibility would merely be a very precarious concession to the spirit of the times.


Panorama • Volume 5, Number 1 • February 2000

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