But like many parents, we told ourselves that we could keep our kids on the right path through open discussions. Whenever our children came across things we disagreed with, or even in advance of certain lessons at school, we would just unteach and reteach, explaining how and why our own values were right.
So for the past several months, we tried to go along and get along. Until two weeks ago, when our mounting concerns reached a boiling point, and we made a decision. We pulled out our children and returned to homeschooling for the rest of this year.
It was a painful decision, but inevitable. Our encounter with Ontario's public Catholic school system was a huge disappointment on too many levels.
Constant pressure to conform
Okay, so Tuesdays were "spirit" days when children were encouraged to wear the school colors. That seems like a good way to encourage a healthy school pride.
But I was not thrilled about the points system: kids were awarded points for dressing up, and the class with the most points at the end of the year would win a pizza party. So kids who chose to deviate from the "encouraged" school colors were costing their classmates a pizza party!
That smelled like a setup for peer pressure and learning to conform. Especially since the school colors weren't mandatory, and yet there were rewards attached to conforming to the group. In effect, the whole setup operates as a psychological conditioning experiment: it teaches kids to self-censor, intentionally choosing the behavior (wearing the right colors) that leads to the rewards (pizza party, social approval).
This is the kind of conditioning that can have lifelong effects. It reminds me of totalitarian systems, which view individuality as a threat and strive to inculcate a reflexive conformity in their citizens.
And "spirit" days were just the tip of the iceberg. Almost weekly, "dress up" days kept popping up like groundhogs in an arcade game. There were crazy hat days, sports jersey days, pajama days and many other days, including the whole range of calendar holidays color-coded for us by Dollarama.
What a commercial victory to make harried parents so dependent on this never-ending gear and knick-knacks as indispensable to social approval in schools! My old public school days are pure bliss in comparison. Back then, the school didn't stick its nose in my closet every few days. Imagine, we weren't even "encouraged" to wear a Santa hat for Christmas assembly!
Shortly before we pulled our kids out, they came home with a poster notifying us that as part of their school's participation in Development & Peace's Share Lent campaign, they were to dress as cowboys/cowgirls on a certain day, in pajamas on another day, as "twins" with another kid on another day, and so on. Are these themes coming from D & P? I doubt our school was that original - I get the sense this was all a big factory production, and most likely, Catholic schools across the city were doing the same thing.
(By the way, gotta love the "create a climate of change" pun-intended theme of this year's Development & Peace fundraiser...yech. Check out LifeSiteNews.com and search for D & P to learn why to never donate to that leftist organization with a history of funding pro-abortion organizations).
Fighting Climate Change
Speaking of climate change...my pet peeve award goes to the school's action for National Sweater Day. On that day, the school turned down the temperature by two degrees, and kids were supposed to come to school as sweater-clad "planet pals", saving Earth from climate change.
It must have been assumed that all kids (and all parents) would go along with this climate mania. After all, the children hardly had any choice but to dress warm on a day when the school was to be frigid inside. So not only was Sweater Day an education in forced conformity, but it also ensured participation in a certain ideology with which we strongly disagree - the current climate change frenzy. It's the kind of thing I would expect in China, not in a free country. (We kept our children home that day.)
Ironically though, the current Vatican would probably love Sweater Day. It seems to fit perfectly into their recent conference on how to make children into agents against climate change.
And...still more saving the world
Why stop the bandwagon? The school also got all exited about other ra-ra days, like Pink Shirt Day and WE Day. Aside from dressing up in the colors of the campaign, there were also bake sales and other fundraisers organized for those events, and classes might do crafts or other activities in support of those events.
For older kids, our school even organized a trip to the giant WE Day rally and festivities downtown. That event was limited to schools participating in We Schools - WE Day, "which requires students to participate in one local and one global action." At the rally, participants got a pep talk from pretty boy Trudeau about how they can all change the world.
This was all very fitting, since Trudeau is what this school system is really all about. This crowned prince, the young and hip darling of the left, is indeed the consummate WE Day hero. He is the perfect example of what these kids are supposed to become: a man completely in the grip of the most popular tides of his time.
And that realization helped us to make the decision to pull them out.
The secret weapon of the school system
It is one thing to talk with our kids about erroneous ideas and teachings which they encounter in the classroom. We were prepared for that: kind of like plugging up the dam wherever it started to leak. But it is a whole other thing to try to stop a flood with a bucket.
The ideological onslaught of today's public school system is both subtle and relentless, and much of it takes place outside of the classroom. Trying to fight it with words is almost like trying to pin a slimeball with a fork.
For instance, I expect that many parents would probably defend the many days of harmless dress-up that are just "fun" ("What have you got against dressing green on St. Patty's day?" "It's so cute to dress up the kids for pajama day!"). Among public school parents, it seems almost mandatory to share the enthusiasm.
But just then, the school comes along and slips in some ideological whammies ("Don't forget to wear a sweater, planet pals!"). It's a slippery slope, isn't it? We don't want to be the party poopers, and our kids want to dress up and fit in. Pretty soon, parents are agreeing with everything, even stuff that actually goes right against their own beliefs.
There is something else, too. The secret weapon of the school system is peer pressure - and that is one force, I believe, which is next to impossible for parents to counter successfully at the dinner table. If you throw your kids on a de-facto Lord of the Flies island for 8 hours a day, don't expect them to remain unchanged. Conforming is a matter of survival.
Catholicism and strange yoga stuff
In some ways we were pleasantly surprised - for instance, the children did say the Lord's Prayer in their classes on occasion. The school also broadcast a vague meal blessing over the intercom at lunch time. Our first grader had a religion folder and learned, among other things, about the patron saint of the school.
All our children were also taught yoga at school. Our first grader was given a smooth stone to hold in her hand, in some kind of lesson on 'channeling' one's energy while chanting "Maranatha". While I'm not as strongly against yoga as my husband, and think it's fine if it is treated just as exercise moves, we were both bothered by the stone-holding and chanting. That takes the exercise to a spiritual level and we both see problems with that - click here to read our concerns.
Parents don't really matter - we're not the client
The problems with a publicly funded educational system end up looking a lot like the problems with a universal health care system. Follow the money: the parent/patient is not really the client. The teachers/doctors are actually getting paid by the government, and any individual parent/patient is just a number on their list. Our personal satisfaction doesn't actually matter. If we take our business elsewhere - so what?
We certainly got that sense at our local Catholic school.
Oh, everyone is friendly and things are dandy if you go with the flow. But when I asked to schedule a meeting so I could review in advance the teaching materials for the upcoming sex ed curriculum, my request was brushed aside with the reply that the curriculum was online. The principal made no objection when we requested to exempt our daughter from the sex ed classes, but we were clearly not going to get anything but the bare minimum of civility.
We also wrote a letter to the principal, asking for our children to have an exemption from participating in yoga, and voicing objections to the teaching of yoga in Catholic schools. We never even received a reply - no response at all.
When I finally had a chance to ask the principal if she had read our letter, she just quickly said "oh, that's fine." I was confused - what's fine? Oh yes, she said - they can be exempted from yoga. "But you know," she told me, "yoga is done in other Catholic schools as well." There was to be no budging on the matter of yoga.
What about Parents' Council? People had recommended I get involved as a way to keep on top of things...Well, I did go to one meeting. It quickly became clear that the role of this group was not to make any real decisions about substantive issues like what our kids are taught. Instead, the nine or so moms who showed up to this meeting were planning bake sales, movie nights, and other fundraisers. Why? So classrooms could get more tablets, and kids could spend still more time surfing the unfiltered Internet in schools.
So no thanks - Parents' Council may be a way for overworked parents to feel more involved in their kids' education, but it's a lot more show than substance.
What would things look like if our views mattered?
There was one incident which highlighted for me just how different things could be when the school's administration took our objections seriously.
One night, our daughter mentioned to my husband that one of her teachers had divided up the children into four groups for a play. It was shortly before Christmas, but in a politically-correct twist, this play was not just about Christianity but also about Hinduism, Judaism and even anti-Christian Kwaanza.
Yet the play that was supposed to showcase "tolerance" shipwrecked in execution. Our daughter said that her teacher had divided up the children "by skin color". Our daughter had been told that because of her darker skin, she should go to the "Hindu" group (naturally, she had been hoping to be in the Christian group). The teacher delivered this message openly in front of the class. The teacher also explained that due to another student's African heritage, he was being placed into the Kwaanza group.
We could hardly believe what we were hearing. We were outraged at such blatant racist prejudice, and wrote a strongly worded letter to the principal, CC'ing the school trustee. The very next day, I received a personal phone call from the principal. She listened carefully to my concerns, promptly launched an investigation into the matter and scheduled a meeting with us. Even the vice principal attended.
The principal was at first inclined to excuse the teacher and let the matter go (apparently the teacher was mortified, as she considered herself very tolerant and only wanted to make the play more "authentic"). Still, she treated our objections very seriously.
Eventually, the principal personally called us at home again, to inform us that she had pulled the plug on the play.
We felt like we were really heard, and like our concerns mattered. Of course, it wasn't really us - the principal knew this was a matter that would not be taken lightly by the Ontario College of Teachers and the Ottawa Catholic School Board. Cancelling the play was a compromise - it satisfied us while also protecting the teacher from further action that could leave a black mark on her teaching record.
Now, imagine that we had written a different letter to the principal
This time, not a letter of protest against racism, but rather protesting a Christmas play being diluted into a secular mini-course in world religions. Imagine if we had protested that Kwaanza should not be making any appearance in a Catholic school at Christmastime, as it has specifically anti-Christian origins.
- Maryvale Academy (has an online tuition fees calculator)
- L'ecole Notre-Dame du Mont Carmel (Francophone)
- St. Timothy's Classical Academy
- Ottawa Christian School