10/15/07 freedom

One thing has been on my mind lately is freedoms and the role of the state. How much freedom is too much, how much is protectionism? In education, I think as long as the outcome is the same, what difference does to method make? The main goal of schooling is to prepare young people to be active, productive members of society as adults. I keep hearing about outcome based education and standards. Standards are good since they give a goal to work toward. However, it assumes everyone learns to same and at the same speed, which is totally untrue, especially in elementary children. Also, not every family values the same goals.

What got me started thinking on this was an article last month from Roxton Falls, Canada about a group of Mennonites who ran their own school. They didn’t teach the state mandated curriculum since evolution and sex ed went against their beliefs. Their teachers aren’t state endorsed but came from their church community. However, the province of Quebec told them they had to teach the mandated curriculum in total with licensed teachers or be shut down. This would have put the school in the position of teaching something very against their beliefs. They even threatened to take the kids into foster care if they didn’t comply! So instead these families chose to move to the neighboring province of Ontario. The families weren’t doing anything wrong, just educating their children as they believed. It wasn’t like they were teaching the kids to do something evil. The community supports the school too. The mayor of Roxton Falls is even petitioning to allow them to stay. It is a small town so the loss of these families will make a big impact. The Quebec government says the school, which teaches 11 children between the ages of six and 13, is illegal because it does not have a permit, its teachers are not licensed and it doesn’t follow a standard curriculum.

Does it matter as long as students are learning? According to Radio-Canada ( , there are up to 4000 students (K-12) attending illegal schools in Quebec whose diplomas aren’t recognized by the province. The government says they don’t know (read control) what is being taught and by whom in these religious schools. Some school boards are filing petitions to get them shut down and force the students to attend the public schools. These children still learn the basics of reading, writing and math. Considering that according to one report I read which says more kids drop out than graduate in Quebec, I think it is commendable churches and parents want to take over educating their own kids. They aren’t taking government funding so they are saving the government money.

It seems the Mennonites are constantly being forced out for their peaceful, Biblical beliefs. Originally they were forced out of Switzerland. They were given refuge in Russia under Queen Catherine, however, the czar broke her promise about compulsory military service and the Mennonites left for Germany. They left there for Canada and the US at WW1. Mennonites left the Canadian providence of Manitoba in the 1920’s after it passed laws requiring the children to attend public schools which contradicted their beliefs. The Roxton Falls group were the only Mennonites remaining in Quebec. Ontario has 69 Mennonite schools with an enrollment of more than 3,000 children.

Is this an infringement on freedom of religion or a state’s strict insistence upon equal education? Logical arguments can and have been made for both sides. However, it is the children and families that are suffering as this debate goes on. I hope the US doesn’t start to force strict curriculum upon everyone. However, with benchmarks, standards, and penalties for “underachieving” schools under No Child Left Behind (NCLB) I fear we may be moving in that direction.

On a personal level, I met some of the Ontario Mennonites on our vacation this summer. They were very nice families. The children were polite and seemed well educated. My kids enjoyed playing with them. They did not play guns or violence like other children. This was very refreshing since we don’t allow gun play either. It was hard at times to tell the kids not to play (stick) guns with the other kids at some campgrounds. My kids wanted to fit in but the other kids didn’t want to stop so they played apart. I thoroughly enjoyed talking to the women. We shared fresh popped popcorn at one campground.

On another subject. We only have a few chapters left on our current read aloud, Swiss Family Robinson. I have decided the next shall be Surprise in a Boot. This is a collection of 22 short stories from Rod and Staff which I bought with the last Christian Light order.


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