Last week an editorial column appeared in a local newspaper that provided a one sided opinion on the place of independent schools in British Columbia.
Let me begin by stating that I support independent, partially funded schools in British Columbia. My philosophical rationale, like it states on Federation of Independent School’s website, is based on the idea that,
In a democracy, justice demands that governments do not discriminate on the basis of values, directly or indirectly. Thus society, having assumed the responsibility of funding education, should fund all schools, regardless of philosophical or religious underpinning.
Funding should be withheld only when schools fail to demonstrate that they are educationally responsible. The practice of tolerance allows the educational needs of minorities to be served as well as the needs of the majority, without either infringing upon the rights of the other.
While I am in no position to speak on behalf of all independent schools in BC – nor would I think it is my place to do so - as principal of an independent school community, I was saddened and offended by how the column portrayed students and parents – particularly as it pertains to my school community.
The parents in my school are no different from every other family in British Columbia. Some are single parent families others are not. Some are new immigrants to Canada. They have the same joys, struggles, tragedies and worries like everyone else. Their decision to send their children to our school does not make them immune from the daily struggles and joys of raising children or the worries of losing their jobs.
Based on my experience, our parents (as the article suggests) do not “grab some money out of the big jar of hundreds they keep by the front door, next to the key rack for the Porsche” nor are they merely “more middle-class folks, who have to scrimp and save.”
Our parents make, primary for faith based reasons, the choice to enroll their children at our school. They make significant financial and personal sacrifices, like most parents in the province, to educate their children.
The article implies that independent schools, and the students within them, have an unfair advantage when it comes to the Fraser Institutes ranking of schools. The main argument being that the students that attend these schools are somehow “different” (because they wear a uniform??) from their public school counterparts.
Really? Let me tell you about my school:
I work in a wonderful, faith based, learning community. All of us (students, parents and staff) work hard to meet the needs of a broad range and spectrum of learners. We enroll ESL learners (at last count 50% of our parents do not have English as their first language) and students who require special learning needs. Our learners come from a wide variety of cultural and ethnic backgrounds – including new Canadians and First Nations students. Our mandate is educate the whole child: intellectually, emotionally, spiritually and physically!
For the record, I too, have concerns with Fraser Institutes ranking of schools (like some of my public school counterparts).
To imply that all independent schools are academically elite and provide homogeneous learning environments is disingenuous and only serves to devalue and depersonalize the students at my school!
Funding Issues and other nasty metaphors
Another major assertion that the article makes is that independent schools (private schools as the article states) are not really “private” because they actually receive some public funding. Furthermore the author implies that independent schools have “truck” loads of money because they have been sucking from the “public teat”.
The author states this situation is like a “boil” that nobody wants “to lance for fear of the horrible stuff that would seep out.”
Really? What horrible stuff? Might it be that:
· By law, we are required to have an independent auditor review our finances annually?
· Our school has, in one form or another, government inspections every two years, to review our finances, school administration, and educational program?
· Our budget is tight and that tough decisions need to be made annually?
· Our main school building was built in 1935 and that we have parent volunteers who come on weekends to clean and maintain it so that it continues to be safe, functional and a something our families can be proud of? (capital expenses are not covered by government)
· In a recent survey of our 500 students, virtually every one of our students felt safe at school and enjoyed coming to school?
· We graduate 100% of our students?
· Some parents can’t afford to send their children to our school, yet they are supported by their faith community to ensure that this happens?
· 100% of our staff is involved in some sort of extra-curricular activity with students after school?
(I can go on but I won’t)……
At the end of the column, the author suggests we “cut off all those not-so-private schools….then we put all that money we just saved back into the public system. You know, the system starved for cash, with school librarians for 5.5 hours per week and a couple of aging portables for the third-graders?”
According to my basic thinking (I’m not a financial wizard), this financial scenario is somewhat flawed for a few reasons. Firstly, parents who send their children to independent schools still pay taxes that fund public schools. In addition, independent schools do not receive funding for capital expenses. I am not sure how, by simply adding students to the public school system, this would automatically raise the per pupil government grant figure.
My preferred future
Ultimately for me, at a time when we are looking to make our education system in BC stronger and responsive to the needs of the 21st century learner, this type of article (and the rhetoric contained within it) only serves to divide our system and make it weaker.
I would hope that in our pluralistic and democratic society, where fundamental freedoms are respected and embraced, we can accept our differences to our mutual benefit.
As I continue to collaborate with colleagues in the public and independent school system, I look forward to coming together, to share our successes and challenges.
In end, I write this not to convince anyone of the philosophical rationale or merits of partially funded independent schools in British Columbia, but instead to set the record straight about my school, the students who work so hard, the parents who support them and staff who mentor them.