Religion in Daycare and the recent changes in Quebec

On Facebook the other day (yes, amoment2think has its own Facebook page!) I shared an article via PhdinParenting (which I believe Annie wrote). It is about a recent announcement from the provincial government of Quebec that they will no longer provide subsidies for daycare’s which provide religious instruction. Here is an other article about the issue via the National Post to take a look at: Quebec Toddlers Can See Religious Symbols but Can’t Have them Explained. Take a read and then head back here.

So, as I mentioned on Facebook, I have been puzzling my thoughts on this all week. First some background. Quebec has a publicly subsidized daycare program, unlike the rest of the Canadian provinces. Other Canadian provinces subsidize some proportion of low income households, but does not guarantee $7/day daycare for all like Quebec does. (I’m jealous!) Also, many provinces provide some financial support to some religious primary and secondary schools via separate school board systems. (See some information via Wikipedia here.) Alberta has a “Public”, “Separate” (aka Catholic) and a “Charter” school system, all which receive some public funding. I know when we vote we indicate if we support the public or separate school system and I assume this has an impact on funding. This article via CBC is a great overview to the issues. Obviously, this is a much much bigger issue. And one that has been going on for a very long time. This change in policy in Quebec is just a catalyst to bring it all up again. Not to mention that Quebec has a unique culture and language and there are often debates there about culture, religion, language and the role of government.

Here are the issues as I see it:

1) Separation of Church and State

In theory, there is suppose to be a separation of Church and State. But in reality, that is not the case. Based on the articles I read in doing a bit of research into this issue, the Canadian Constitution does provide provisions for Catholic school boards in some Canadian provinces. Not to mention the non-secular experience of many students in Public primary and secondary schools across North America. (This post from Parenting Is Political about just that issue is very much worth a read.)

The question remains, to what extend should the government be funding education which is linked to religious instruction? Particularly if that funding funds some religious denominations and not others.

2) Tax dollars funding of Religious instruction

Further to that point, the natural extension is that if the government is funding religious education then, we, as tax payers are funding religious education. And, as I discussed in this post, there is a pretty negative view of religion in general in much of our society right now. So if you happen to be someone who believes that religion is all indoctrination and brainwashing- then reasonably you may be pretty upset that your tax dollars go to fund that. Or, if you are comfortable with religion, but question the teaching of it to children, preferring that religious education wait until they can make their own decisions; or prefer that if children are to be taught religion that they be taught a wide range of religions in a neutral manner and have the opportunity to make their own decisions about that information; again, this use of tax dollars may be concerning. If, on the other hand, you believe that religion is central to some peoples lives and/or cultural heritage or if you tend to be very supportive of religious education, you might be more inclined to not take issue with that use of your tax dollars.

3) Accommodation of Diversity

The next issue is to what extent should our government support diversity when it comes to religious education. What I think is interesting about the Quebec daycare case is that it involves daycare’s which are run by a diversity of religious organizations; Jewish, Muslim, Catholic, Protestant. Unlike the Catholic primary and secondary school issue, where only one religious group is being supported in the education system, these daycare’s represent a diversity of religious organizations. Is allowing religious education to be a part of (very) early childhood education part of the reasonable accommodation of diversity? Particularly when all religions are welcome to be represented, so long as they have enough families who want to enroll their children in the program.

4) Parental Choice in how their children should be educated

So what is wrong with parents choosing to send their kids to religiously affiliated daycare’s with some component of religious education? If all religions can receive public funding and parents have full choice as to where to send their child and there are lots of daycare spots which are secular as well, then what does it matter? Is it hurting anyone? What is the harm? Part of the Quebec’s government’s argument is that it negatively impacts children’s ability to integrate into Quebec society. I find this argument odd. How is understanding and learning about your families religious background having a negative impact on integration into society? Furthermore, isn’t part of the value of Canadian style multiculturalism that people here are like a mosaic. Many people retain their cultural identity while fully participating in Canadian society.

5) Societal values regarding a secular society

I think what this really comes down to is our values around a secular society. Part of what got me thinking about this issue so much is wondering if the government has any right in dictating secular education? If parents want their children to receive particular religious education as a part of their educational curriculum, who is the government to say that that is not appropriate? Is that any more appropriate then the government dictating that children should receive a particular religious education? If there are parents out there that want to send their toddlers to a Catholic/Jewish/Muslim/Protestant/Buddhist/whatever Daycare, why should the government withdraw the funding for that? And as a taxpayer, why should I have say over how an other parent wants to raise their kid? So long as there is equal access to the service…

And I know, there is the argument that if parents want their toddler in a religious daycare program then they could pay for a private one (do they have those in Quebec?) But really that just means that the rich can choose how their child is educated but the poor can’t.

I really don’t know on this one. I do believe in parents having choice. And trusting in their choice. You know what is best for your kid and I know what is best for my kid. What business does the government have in imposing secularism in our lives? At the same time, our education system, which in Quebec includes the daycare system, is the business of the government. How we educate out kids with public funds is very much the governments business, and the government has to make decisions to that effect based on the values of the society. If Quebec’s political culture is one where secularism is a core value, then perhaps it is appropriate to dictate that in the education system. Although, if that is the case, I certainly hope that goes far enough to prevent the type of non-secular activity as described by Parenting is Political— if the government is not going to let  religions provide religious education in their own daycare’s then let’s hope children from non-Christian religions do not have to feel alienated by our non-secular-secular public system. I think my major concern over all this that is should be one way or the other; either all religions have equal access to public funds for education from Daycare on to High school OR all Daycares, Primary and Secondary schools are truly secular. Or all teach a wide range of religious beliefs and practices. From my understanding, Quebec is trying to move towards all schools being truly secular. I wonder what those secular schools look like this time of year.

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6 responses to “Religion in Daycare and the recent changes in Quebec

  1. Annette @daNanner December 21, 2010 at 1:14 pm

    Interesting problem that we don’t have here in the states. If you want your child to receive religious instruction (and there is only one under-funded, under-staffed daycare program for low-income parents) you have to send them to private daycare. Sometimes there are scholarships available, but not usually.

    Visiting from ICLW.

  2. northTOmom December 21, 2010 at 7:55 pm

    I too am conflicted about this issue. I think the problem for me (and it’s what I was trying to bring to light in the post you referenced) is that, at least here in Ontario, public schools which purport to be secular, are still often effectively Christian. Not in the sense that religion is actually taught—although it *is* taught in the publicly-funded Catholic schools, but that is a whole other can of worms—but rather in the sense that Christian symbolism predominates (especially at this time of year), and major school breaks are organized around traditional Christian holidays. You actually summed up my position when you said:

    “I think my major concern over all this that is should be one way or the other; either all religions have equal access to public funds for education from Daycare on to High school OR all Daycares, Primary and Secondary schools are truly secular.”

    I agree with you, and I think the trend is towards the latter, if only because the former option is more complicated and bureaucratically unwieldy. But to move in the direction of true secularism in education, certain provinces, like Ontario, would have to circumvent the constitutionally guaranteed right of Catholics to send their kids to separate, taxpayer-funded schools. Other provinces have ended the funding, though, so it’s not impossible. It’s also worth noting that funding for separate schools was guaranteed by the British North America Act (1867) under drastically different historical circumstances, at a time when there was significant discrimination against Catholics in Canada. At any rate, I do think true secular education will eventually become the norm in Canada, but I also happen to believe that it is not incompatible with a kind of religious pluralism within the curriculum. I would rather kids learn about *all* the religions that surround them and make up our world, than that they remain ignorant of them all. Why allow creches or menorahs to be displayed in schools or daycare centres, but not allow teachers to explain their meaning? Explaining something is not tantamount to teaching it as the gospel truth. As parents, most of us have said to our children at one point or another, “some people believe . . . .” I don’t see why schools couldn’t do this as well, providing kids with a multicultural religious education befitting the multicultural society that we have become. I guess that’s the kind of system Quebec is stumbling towards—albeit somewhat awkwardly.

    • amoment2think December 21, 2010 at 11:40 pm

      “I would rather kids learn about *all* the religions that surround them and make up our world, than that they remain ignorant of them all. Why allow creches or menorahs to be displayed in schools or daycare centres, but not allow teachers to explain their meaning? Explaining something is not tantamount to teaching it as the gospel truth.” YES! This! I hear you on all counts. I think that while I may value cultures and ethnicity’s being able to practice and express their cultural and religious practices, education and Daycares are probably not the place when publicly funded. I think, as I ponder this more, my preference is for a secular system where all religions are discussed as a part of the curriculum. I think what seems wrong to me here is to have particular groups told that they can’t provide religious instruction in daycares, and yet have so-called ‘secular’ centers still very much centering around Christian symbols and practices.

  3. Rach December 21, 2010 at 7:55 pm

    Hmmm interesting post and not one that I have any input on mainly because I’m not a believer in God and so I tend not to discuss or comment on anything religious [though at times it’s hard!].

    I did like this comment of yours tho:

    “And I know, there is the argument that if parents want their toddler in a religious daycare program then they could pay for a private one (do they have those in Quebec?) But really that just means that the rich can choose how their child is educated but the poor can’t.”

    Because it’s true but I’m not sure the answer is for the Government to fund religious daycare programs…..

    ~Happy ICLW~
    #14 http://themissruby.blogspot.com/

    ~May your Christmas be filled with Peace~
    ~And your New Year with Hope~

  4. Justine December 22, 2010 at 8:19 am

    I love your blog … thoughtful, provocative! We send our son to a private daycare right now, Montessori … which supposedly teaches tolerance and respect for diverse perspectives. I’m not sure it always does that well … but I suspect it does so better than the public school system, which as you put it, is “non-secular secular.” Your previous entry about religion was interesting to me, too … we started attending a UU fellowship about the time my son was born, for the community and shared values, and it’s helped me to see the value in religion again, and in collective action towards a more socially just world. Are all religions perfect? Definitely not. And it’s not for everyone. But it has been useful for me, as a focus.

  5. Annie @ PhD in Parenting January 3, 2011 at 4:41 pm

    Thank you for writing about this issue.

    I think it is important to note that there is instruction in Quebec schools about religion. There is not, however, religious instruction. That means that teachers can teach children about different religions, their history, their culture, and their meaning, without actually instructing children in one religion or another.

    This curriculum has materials starting at the preschool level, so I assume that daycares with older children could easily incorporate them.

    What is prohibited, however, is focusing exclusively on one religion and actually practicing that religion (through prayer, religious teachings, rituals, etc.) in the classroom. It is the difference between saying “some people believe that we go to heaven and other people believe that we are reincarnated” versus saying “when you die, you go to heaven”. That is oversimplified, but hopefully makes the point on what the distinction is between the two.

    I think that religion is a personal thing and that parents who want their children to have religious instruction should make arrangements for it to happen outside of daycare/school hours.

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