Magazine article Inroads: A Journal of Opinion

Proulx Report and the Role of the State in Quebec Schools

Magazine article Inroads: A Journal of Opinion

Proulx Report and the Role of the State in Quebec Schools

Article excerpt

The Proulx Report constituted partial delivery on a promise made by the then Minister of Education (Pauline Marois) to organize a public debate on the question of religion in schools. She had announced her intention to commission a study subsequent to the tabling in 1996 of the report of the "Estates General" on education (on which I wrote in Inroads 5). It recommended the laicisation of Quebec schools. In the interval between the Estates General report and the Proulx Report, the government implemented one of the recommendations of the first report, to the effect that Section 93 of the BNA Act, which entrenched Protestant and Catholic denominational schooling, be repealed, thus removing all constitutional obstacles to complete Quebec control over education. In December 1997, upon request from the National Assembly, the Canadian Parliament amended the Act.(1)

Given that the Proulx Report deals with religion in Quebec schools, the title of this article may appear incongruous. It is not. The assumptions, reasoning and conclusions of the report raise fundamental questions about the appropriate role of the state in contemporary Quebec schools, questions which not only cry out to be addressed, but which should have been addressed long ago. Perhaps the most important contribution of the report will be to finally bring us face to face with these questions ... no mean exploit. Before proceeding to a critique, let it be said that the Proulx Report (as distinct from the commissioned studies that go with it) is a comprehensive and conceptually rigorous landmark treatment of a complex subject.

The report in fact constitutes a moment de verite precisely because what it sets before the Quebec authorities and public starkly portrays the consequences of a certain ideological mindset very much present in Quebec's contemporary intelligentsia, particularly the middle-aged intellectual and cultural elite who are the first-generation beneficiaries of the public-sector expansion accelerated by the Quiet Revolution.

I will first review the mandate given to the task force, its interpretation of the mandate, and the location of the authors in the educational firmament of Quebec. From there I take on one of their assumptions, to wit, that the public schools are an extension of the state. I then place the idea of greater state control over public schooling in the context of educational reform in contemporary Western societies. Quebec is shown to confirm the diagnosis of educational reformers that a root cause of the deterioration of public education is the erection of state monopolies. After reiterating what I believe should be the proper and necessary role of the state in public education, I lay out five reasons to shelve the Proulx Report.

A report for the state, by the state

Straight off, the authors tell us that they began by reflecting on what might be the interest of the state in education: "nous nous sommes longuement interroges sur l'interet que l'Etat pouvait porter, en rant qu'Etat precisement, a l'education religieuse des citoyens qu'il represente." When they take pains to clarify what they see their mandate as being, they insist, "nous tenons notre mandat de l'Etat."(2)

It is particularly important to note their seeing themselves as mandated by the state. They could have interpreted their mandate quite differently. Admittedly, their instructions came from the Minister of Education and the mandate does indeed say that their report is to be submitted to the Minister of Education. Nonetheless, the Minister, whose announced purpose was to set the stage for a wide public debate on the role of religion in Quebec schools.(3) had indicated upon creation of the task force that their report would be referred to a parliamentary commission, as indeed the Proulx Report authors themselves point out.(4) And she in fact did just that.

Given these circumstances -- that the report was to be the catalyst for a wide public debate and that it would be brought before the National Assembly -- the authors could have seen themselves as mandated, via a minister of government, by the National Assembly. …

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