Schooling: whose responsibility is it? - T.M.P. Vanderven

Taken with permission from Clarion Vol. 46, No. 10 (1997)

In most countries of the world, education is, by law, the responsibility of the state. In Canada, this responsibility is given to the provincial government. Although there is consultation among the ten provincial Ministries of Education, there is no federal Ministry of Education which decrees what ought to happen in the schools across the country. [1] In turn, the responsibility for and control over the schools is delegated to regional school boards. These local Boards of Education [2]are responsible for establishing schools and support services in their region. The Hamilton Board of Education controls all public schools in the City of Hamilton; the Halton Board of Education does the same for the political region of Halton, which includes the City of Burlington. Each Board has appointed a Director of Education who oversees the schools on behalf of the Board. In this manner a hierarchical system has been developed from the Minister of Education (in Ontario located in Toronto), right down to the classroom teacher. This pattern, [3] is followed across Canada, and is generally accepted as an appropriate and efficient way to provide all Canadian citizens with a good education. Canadian public education is government-controlled and therefore also, in all aspects, government funded . [4] This means, of course, that a portion of the taxes paid by citizens (property owners) is used for education.

In many countries across the world, Christian parents have joined forces to establish parent-controlled Christian schools. These parents desire an education for their children which is in agreement with their own - Biblically based - view of education. These schools have been established at great cost and with great effort, and their maintenance requires even greater efforts, particularly in those areas where there is no government funding of any kind, as is the case in Ontario.[5] Why are such parent controlled schools not the usual pattern for the educational system in Canada, as is the case in the Netherlands, for example? [6]The answer to this question must come from history.

From the early settlement days in North America, the pioneers were vitally interested in all societal activities, including schooling. The economic survival, the very livelihood of each settlement depended very much on the co-operation of all citizens. Having a school became an economic status symbol for many a settlement. Higher education was provided eventually on the basis of financial co-operation between a number of settlements, an arrangement which in basic outline is still in place. In the seventeenth through the nineteenth centuries such co-operation among citizens was made possible, among many other things, by the fact that, despite differences, there was a general acceptance of Judaeo-Christian values. The United States and Canada have always been considered Christian nations because the citizens accepted Christian values and morality as the standard for societal behaviour. Thus it did not take Ryerson [7] much to convince the people that it was the government's responsibility to provide its citizens with a good education based on the principles of Judaeo-Christian morality.[8] Public schools were established from the late seventeenth century onwards. In Lower Canada (now Quebec province), predominantly Roman Catholic, these schools were under the control of the Roman Catholic Church. The priests were often the only literate persons in a settlement. In Upper Canada (now Ontario), the prevailing religion was Protestant, and thus the early public schools were Protestant schools. Eventually this arrangement became enshrined in the unwritten Canadian constitution, the British North American Act (1867), and remains so to this day. The Protestant public school system changed overtime into the secular system we know today. The Protestant churches apparently did not have the dominating interest in education as demonstrated by the Roman Catholic Church.

The history of Canada's educational system shows that Canadian society has always considered that the state has responsibility for education. The state acts on behalf and in the interest of the common good, the good of all citizens, rather than the religious interest of some. In North America, the very idea of a Christian school is rather unusual, often considered with suspicion since such a school serves the partisan needs of an elite group. This explains why, at least in Ontario, Christian parents have found it impossible to convince the courts via legal argument of the first right of parents to choose the kind of education they wish for their children. The Ontario courts have maintained that the prior obligation for providing education rests with the state, and that the state is not obligated to assist those parents that wish not to make use of the public school system. In other provinces, private (or independent) schools have been more successful in their quest for some government funding because of the political pressure brought to bear on the governments with the help of the Roman Catholic school communities. However, in most cases such funds come with requirements, often in terms of curriculum and staff certification.

The history of Canada's educational system shows that Canadian society has always considered that the state has responsibility for education.


A more recent (1985) government report [9]underscored this view quite strongly: public schools have a most important role in strengthening the social fabric by providing a common acculturation experience for children. Compulsory schooling is necessary for the good of society, the commissioner argues, and schooling should be made available to provide, among other things,

for the shared responsibility of the government and family; the family exercising its natural interest in and responsibility for the welfare of the child and the government acting on behalf of the wider interest of society and as protector of the rights of the children.[10]

The great diversity of Canada's society is in itself considered to be a good thing, but it also underlines the importance of the schools' responsibility to seek a common unifying core. Within this context there may be a place for private schools, but only as an alternative form of public education. Based on the argument that it is the public, government-controlled, school which exemplifies best the educational goals appropriate for all citizens, funding of private schools is denied unless the se schools are willing to become associated schools, essentially privately operated but government-controlled schools. The Canadian Reformed schools in Ontario have not been able to accept such conditions.

It will be clear that the question, Who educates our children?, will be answered in different ways, depending on what educational roles are accorded to the government and to parents. Whatever the arguments, as reformed people we maintain that "to be educated" is not merely a right of citizenship, but that "to educate" is the divine calling of parents. Therefore the responsibility for schooling cannot be the sole responsibility of the government. The government does not have a control task with respect to education; it has an enabling task. As Christian parents we desire that the government would enable us to exercise our God-given educational responsibilities. This not only means that we value a freedom of choice, but also that this parental freedom be enshrined in legislation. May the time come that the government of Ontario acknowledges that the schooling provided by Christian schools is, indeed, legitimate, and therefore worthy of at least taxation concessions. [11]


1.Return This is one of the reasons why the educational system differs somewhat from province to province. Taken altogether, the similarities are far greater than the differences.

2.Return The members of these Boards are elected by the taxpayers of the region. These members have a political rather than an educational function. Parents can exert influence by approaching the local Board of Education directly if they are not satisfied with their local school. Recently, parental action to ban a novel used in a local high school was front page news. Most public schools have a parent committee to facilitate the contact between home and school. In this way parents can actively influence the school's educational programs.

3.Return More recently, this pattern has been broken by the emergence of charter schools. These types of schools are essentially public schools operated by private interest groups and funded in full by the provincial government. They have come about as a result of political pressure: parents desiring to have much greater control over the education of their children. The idea of charter schools is not without controversy: public school supporters, including teachers' unions, consider them a threat to the public school system.

4.Return The attempts of the various provincial governments to restructure its financial commitments in order to combat the deficit have not left the public schools and their organization untouched. We might well see important changes that will have an impact for years to come.

5. ReturnIn Ontario Christian parents do have to pay an educational tax to help fund the public schools, as well as contribute substantially to their own Christian school. To date, all lobbying efforts to remove this "double taxation" have failed. Today, Christian parents who send children to a Christian elementary and a Christian high school must contribute almost $10,000 per year to these schools.

6. ReturnAN INVITATION: It may be of interest to our readers to hear how school systems have developed in other countries, particularly the history of the development of Christian schools.

7. ReturnEgerton Ryerson (1803-1882) is considered the father of modern, state-controlled public education in Ontario. In 1846 he founded the first teachers' college: the Toronto Normal School.

8. ReturnThe phrase is taken from the current Ontario Education Act (1993). The relevant paragraph reads: It is the duty of a teacher and a temporary teacher. . . . to inculcate by precept and example respect for religion and the principles of Judaeo-Christian morality and the highest regard for truth, justice, loyalty, love of country, humanity, benevolence, sobriety, industry, frugality, purity, temperance and all other virtues; .... Would the originator have read what the apostle Paul had to say about Christian living? .

9. ReturnThe Report of the Commission on Private Schools in Ontario. Bernard ). Shapiro, Commissioner. Submitted to the Minister of Education in Ontario on October 31, 1985.

10. ReturnThe state as protector of children is a notion which goes against the responsibility accorded by Scripture to the parents. This is not to deny that the state has a responsibility to oppose evil within society, including the evil of child neglect and abuse. May the Lord give us, as Christian community, the fortitude to deal with these problems in a truly Scriptural manner.

11. ReturnIt would already be very helpful if the "double taxation" were removed, and if the full parental contribution to the schools could be tax deductible, as is the case with those who do not have children in school. Full funding will undoubtedly come with a great deal of government control, risking the very reason for having Christian schools in the first place.