Roman Catholic Schooling in Ontario: Past Struggles, Present Challenges, Future Direction?

Article excerpt

Introduction

The fight by Roman Catholic communities across Ontario to achieve equal status and monies has been a public struggle since the earliest European settlements some 200 years ago. In 18th century British North America, English Protestant colonists claimed territory and governance over all other ethnic groups, especially non-Protestant Roman Catholic communities. Associated inferiority came not only with imperially assigned titles on the colonized Indigenous populations, but also with those groups who were historically marginalized in their homelands of Britain, Ireland, and mainland Europe. Diasporic groups who imagined the new lands to which they had immigrated to be free of ethnic, racial or religious judgment were challenged again to accredit their space and identity as legitimate.

Roman Catholics were especially alienated in the newly Protestant-established territory of British North America. Roman Catholics formed community alliances, eventually banding together in their own villages and towns, forming their own network of trade groups and establishing their own schools and schooling practices. The main purpose of creating their own school system by the early 19th century was to avoid assimilation and the erosion of their culture, customs, and values. The rudimentary government system at this time did not demand acculturation, and allowed independent Roman Catholic communities to remain active with limited political involvement (Dixon, 1976; Manzer, 2004). Slander and ridicule haunted Roman Catholic communities, including their educational system, and they were constantly on the defense to nurture and mould their youth on their own terms in the face of illegitimacy.

Roman Catholic high schools in Ontario today house a diverse range of students who identify with being English as Second Language speakers, who cover a diverse scope of socioeconomic conditions, and align with other Christian or non-Christian denominations (Ornstein, 2006; Strategic Research and Statistics, 2005; White, Leake & Hunter, 2005). Parents and students who also admit to not reflecting on faith, or admit to agnosticism or atheism are also amongst the school populations. The inclusive nature of a modern Roman Catholic school now represents the multi-dimensional ethnic, racial, and faith-based communities that exist throughout Ontario and, in particular, the Toronto Census Metropolitan Area.

The public secular school system also represents the multi-dimensional, diverse communities that exist in Ontario but the main difference it shares with the Roman Catholic school system is the acknowledgement of faith as an aspect of spiritual identity. As various adaptations to teaching and learning within an environment of faith evolve across Ontario and around the world, global society must take stock of the nature and existence of "religious" education, and ask whether it is upholding colonial ideals that persist marginalization or if it offers a progressive alternative within an ever-growing secular world.

A single-case study methodology was employed to gather research data on youth identity in schooling, education, and anti-colonial oppression versus community empowerment in Ontario Roman Catholic secondary schools. The methodology incorporated survey and interview data from 10 schools across the Toronto Census Metropolitan Area (CMA), analyzing critical ethnography through an anti-colonial discursive framework. The intent of this research is to present a critique of the current Roman Catholic secondary school environment using the voices of youth. Based on this research, I argue that the modern Ontario Roman Catholic school system is still a site of colonial supremacy, which dictates and delivers Euro-centric assimilationist knowledge while ignoring the lived histories and identities of the current youth in the system.

Prior to confederation: Ryerson's legacy

From its inception, Canada has been a nation molded by religious and lay voices as strong as those of the Fathers of Confederation in laying the foundational itinerary of the Canadian constitution and subsequent political and social policies, including education. …