Academic journal article Canadian Journal of Education

The Wisdom of Youth: How Modern Ontario Roman Catholic Students Challenge and Resist the Persistent Colonial Agenda

Academic journal article Canadian Journal of Education

The Wisdom of Youth: How Modern Ontario Roman Catholic Students Challenge and Resist the Persistent Colonial Agenda

Article excerpt


Youth are very intuitive. Their language and expressions are forthright and genuine. They want to fit in. They want to be respected and appreciated as individuals. They want to share their stories, their beliefs, their concerns, fears, and joys. They want to learn and develop skills that will ensure a successful professional and progressive home life. School is a natural space for youth to expand and manoeuvre their lived experiences and emotional growth toward achieving these goals.

Yet today's youth, both Roman Catholic and non-Roman Catholic, are not experiencing the complete freedom of an identity that is unique and valued in their schools. They describe the Ontario Roman Catholic school system as if it is still an agent of colonial forces, maintaining imperial power through denominational religious elitism. Youth saliently acknowledge marginalization and the need to hide their true identity and faith in their discussions and actions within the corridors of Roman Catholic secondary schools. They demand a change in the system to modernize in both the form and method of knowledge delivery and content toward the goal of acknowledging the diversity of racialized and religious bodies in the corridors.

In order to investigate resistance to colonial norms through diverse religious and spiritual identities in secondary-level youth, a single-case study methodology was employed using a critical ethnographic approach within an anti-colonial discursive framework. The methodology incorporated survey and interview data from 10 Roman Catholic secondary schools across the Toronto Census Metropolitan Area (CMA), of which 600 surveys were randomly distributed to students and their respective parent or guardian. Students returned 71 surveys, and parents returned 69 surveys. Of the 71 student surveys, 15 students volunteered freely, and with parental permission, to participate in an interview process. Ten informal interviews were also conducted with Roman Catholic administrators and teachers. The primary research objectives were to investigate how youth in modern Ontario Roman Catholic schools define their own identity, what identity in faith they may claim, and how their schooling environment supports their identity. This research intends to fill that void, offering an investigation into a particular identity of youth in Roman Catholic schools from the perspective of a non-Roman Catholic sociologist raised in the public/secular education system of Ontario, Canada.

Freedom of Identity: Confidence, Challenges, and Miscues

What is missing consistently within all the political, social, and economic debates on the form, function, and impact of religious schools and schooling are the perspectives of the clients who are most affected by the evolving environment and educational output: their youth. The lack of student perspectives and voices in modern sociological literature reflects society's tendency to ignore their voices (Dei et al., 2000). Within Roman Catholic secondary schools across the province of Ontario, these youth voices are often presented through the assumptions and representations of religious educators or associative agencies, such as the Institute for Catholic Education. To provide youth with a voice in an anti-colonial discursive framework and critical ethnographic study is to solidify not only a right to expression, but also to legitimate influence on power in privilege in discussion and action. If youth are not empowered with the knowledge that their histories and subjectivities are of equal or greater value to the lived experience in modern schooling, then the system itself cannot be a safe space of genuine inclusivity.

Fifteen youth were interviewed for this research. Their voices are genuine and critical to understanding the lived perspective of faith and Roman Catholic schooling. However, this small representative proportion of Ontario Roman Catholic secondary schools speaks to either the apathy of the generation, shyness of self-exposure to teachers and the school community at large, or fear that exposure of religious diversity or environmental dissatisfaction might prompt a public outcry to reconsider funding, equal status, or legitimacy of the system to the provincial public. …

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