Separate Schools for Minorities:
Lessons of Multiculturalism
for Public Education
By: Sushil Jain
From: Currents Vol.6, No.3 pp. 13-14
© 1990 Urban Alliance on Race Relations
Recently an umbrella multicultural, multifaith group has
advocated separate ethnic schools for specific groups like the
Jews, Sikhs and Muslims. It is argued that since the State
provides public funds for separate Roman Catholic schools it is
discriminatory for the State to deny such consideration and
privileges to other religious or ethnic minority groups.
Such an argument is justified on legal grounds. Section 93 of the
Canadian Constitution, which delegates the responsibility
of education to provinces, also provides for the establishment of
separate (Christian) denominational schools. With the change in
our demography and a rising number of non-Christians now living in
Canada, it is quite appropriate to argue that the constitution be
interpreted in favour of establishing state-funded non-Christian
Furthermore, the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms and the
Universal Declaration of Human Rights would also seem to give
credence to such demands. Freedom of religious conscience and the
parental right to give children the "right" kind of education
cannot be denied
However, such an interpretation may go against the true intent of
a multicultural society as opposed to a segregationist model. In a
multicultural society children of all hues and religions should be
prompted to attend non-sectarian unitary schools without any
distinction of colour, creed or nationality. The rationale behind
such a unitarian system would be that children can best learn
other people's cultures by living, learning and playing with
people of cultures other than their own.
Canada's unique contribution to the concept of multiculturalism is
much different from that of South Africa or Muslim theocratic
states. Canada's multicultural policy, as envisaged in the early
1960's, did not promote separateness. Early philosophies and
policies of multiculturalism in Canada were benign. They were
based on toleration and accommodation and harmonious relations
between different groups and races.
But multiculturalism in the 1990's seems to be taking a different
shape. It has become akin to ethnocentricism, i.e., displaying
"the emotional attitude that regards one's own group or culture as
superior and is contemptuous of other groups and cultures" (The
World Book Dictionary, 1969: 716). We say this because such an
attitude seems to be quite evident in the demands for separate
ethnic schools being made by the multifaith, multicultural
organization as reported on the CBC radio (Windsor) on November 7,
The basic argument is that their children are special which, no
doubt, they are. They state that the linguistic and religious
needs of their children are not being met by the present-day
public school system. Since the Roman Catholic and other Christian
denominations have state-funded private separate schools, the
ethnic minorities must also have separate, publicly funded private
schools for their children. The staff of such schools will
probably come from their own ethnic communities.
The curricula of such schools will contain, if not emphasize,
teaching and learning of their ethnic languages and religions.
Ideally children of other ethnic or linguistic origins will not be
enroled in such schools. This argument is in line with the
expressed opinions of some French parents who do not want
non-French children in their schools (The Windsor Star,
November 7, 1990).
In fact these arguments ask for a segregated system of schooling
based on children's ethnic heritage. This is the kind of system
South Africa has now. Is this the shape of public education we
want to see in the near future? Is this what multiculturalism has
taught us in the last twenty years?
I hope not. But if this is the message our multicultural policies
are giving to the minority ethnic communities, I am against it. I
am of the opinion that such an approach to "multicultural"
schooling is a segregationist policy for separate schools for
separate people. If Canada is to remain a united nation and wishes
to call itself a multicultural nation, the government must refrain
from funding private ethnic or religious schools.
It is in the interests of ethno-cultural communities to have a
unified system of public education which is attended by children
of all races and religions. The only system of education that the
government should support is a unified system of public education.
If ethnic schools are to flourish they must be at a private
expense, not public.
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