Why the Muslim prayer in schools issue has opened a wound with the public

The Muslim prayer in a Toronto public school has now become a Canada-wide issue. And, if Ontario Premier Dalton McGuinty and Ontario PC Leader Tim Hudak think they can avoid the discussion by fobbing it off as a “decision of the school board,” they have their heads in the sand.

For example, there is an eye-popping discussion going on over at Paul Bennett’s “Edu-Chatter.” While his post started out on the topic of the Muslim prayer program at the Toronto District School Board’s (TDSB) Valley Park Middle School, somewhere around comment 140 it moved into what’s wrong with education in all corners of Canada today.  

So, what is the primary cause of this anger and frustration? From what I can interpret, it is due to the fact that ordinary parents and citizens feel ignored — that they don’t have any way to provide meaningful input towards educational excellence or change. Yet, actually they do and don’t seem to realize it because the main avenue for input and change is, and always has been, through political pressure — which is why blogs like Paul’s and this one are so important.

For example, school principals and teachers have little or no power to change anything. Yes, they could be less patronizing when they start their “we know what is best for your kids” attitude but like other professionals, they are trained in their field and have an understanding of the process of learning and instruction that non-educators do not have.  While that view may not be popular right now, it is reality, just as lawyers know more about Canadian law and regulations than non-lawyers.

However, neither principals nor teachers have any way of advocating for change. Teachers, particularly, simply do what they are told.  Check out this handbook, for example on the duties of both. In regards to teachers, what you will find are verbs like promote, encourage, maintain, follow, participate, ensure and perform — rather than verbs like advocate. So, when a school implements a controversial decision like the Muslim prayer program, they sure did not do it alone.

It is similar with School Board Trustees and Board administrators.  They must go to their political masters on any decision that is not mandated policy. So, the fact that Premier McGuinty is saying that it is up to school boards to decide  whether or not to provide a Muslim prayer program, that is simply cowardice in the middle of an election campaign.  Remember, McGuinty, Mr. Education himself, is the very same guy who ridiculed and rejected former PC leader John Tory’s faith-based funding platform during the 2007 Ontario election. What absolute hypocrisy! 

The other stakeholders with power are, of course, officials with the various teacher’s unions and researchers within Faculties of Education. But, even they have to go to the politicians to get what they want. Yes, committees of educators develop and test curriculum guidelines, as well as conduct research. But, before anything is funded, approved or implemented, it must pass over the PA and Education Minister’s desk — for “signing off.” (I know that because I was an EA to a Harris era MPP who also happened to be the Minister of Education’s Parliamentary Assistant.)

Perhaps, then, it is long past time for the politicians to stop putting their heads in the sand and open up debate on religious accommodations and how all this fits together with the various provincial and territorial education acts, human rights legislation and the Charter of Rights and Freedoms. Simply to suggest, as TDSB Director, Chris Spence did, that the Charter supercedes all other legislation, is not helpful.

C/P at Jack’s Newswatch.

Update Friday, July 22nd: Should any politician or their staff read this, I would like to suggest that when the Ontario PCs win the October 6th election campaign, one of the new Ontario government’s first decisions is to set up a volunteer Royal Commission on School Rights and Accommodations with the Chair paid a dollar a year. 

Like the 1990’s commission on learning set up the former Rae NDP government, it can have hearings and presentations across the province, ending with a final report and implementable recommendations.

Why? Because we need to get answers to a couple of questions:

  1. When it comes to religious accommodations in Ontario’s public school boards, which law guides practice — The Ontario Education Act, The Ontario Human Rights Act and the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms?
  2. If one law supercedes the others, which one is it and what are the implications for other rights, such as gender and sexual equality?

In other words, we have come a long way as a society and, while religious accommodations may seem like a noble goal, we simply cannot allow any of our enshrined equality rights to be trampled on because of political correctness regarding one vocal religious minority.

Girls should not be separated from boys and they most certainly should not be identified as mentruating. Homosexuals should not feel threatened and or shunned. And, if Islam is accommodated in one school because of the needs of a particular community, then other religions in other school neighbourhood should have the same accomodations.

7 thoughts on “Why the Muslim prayer in schools issue has opened a wound with the public

  1. Pingback: Sandy: Why Muslim school prayer issue opened a wound with public | Jack's NewsWatch

  2. My point re the principal, is that they cannot make a decision like this — on their own. They just don’t have that kind of power. He or she would have had to get the okay from their superintendent who would have had to get permission from the Director who would have had to go up the ladder to the politicians, beginning with the trustee or trustees and on upwards. For the latter to deny they had anything to do with the decision is just nonsense, no matter what they say.

    What I don’t understand is why the PCs are not all over the trustees and Liberals about this. That is where the buck stops.

    But either way, this whole issue has opened a festering sore that will not heal until it is dealt with. Ontario is more than downtown Toronto.

    You have a great weekend too.


  3. “Gerri Gerhson has been the Ward 13 TDSB trustee for this school since 1985 when it was the North York board and President of OPSBA in 2002, AND, President of the Canadian School Board Assn. in 2005”

    Ward 13 is in Don Valley West, where John Tory lost his own riding because of FBS Funding and he lost because the Teacher’s Union fully backed the Liberals and then Education Minister Kathleen Wynne and were out there in force to defeat Tory during that painful campaign which just kicked another problem down the road.

    If the FBS issue was so clear for the Liberals then, why isn’t it crystal clear now? Of course the answer is that the Liberals have no compass, no direction, only a quest for power.

    “I count on school boards to work in consultation with their school communities, talking to parents in particular, to strike the kinds of accommodation that they think are reasonable and supportable” Said McGuinty. Bingo!!! Then let’s privatize schools and let each community decide its education needs , there is no need for Queens Park in education matters.



  4. “Choice with public money may be the way to go but not privatizing as what do you do for money?”

    I’d keep my money. The question is: what would Queen’s Park do for money if we stop letting them pretend they are running education and taxing us for it. They’ve abdicated.

    It therefore follows that we get to keep our money and let’s be “pro-choice” on education. Or as you say: “a charter or voucher system” that would bust up the monopoly.

    In short McGuinty’s Queen’s Park knows as much about education as they do windmills.

    Shrink Queen’s Park before we become Greece.

    Sandy, as to your point: “I can only rail against the teachers’ unions to a certain degree since both my husband and I have personally benefitted from their tough bargaining”.

    There is no doubt in my mind that good teachers are in fact underpaid. There should not have to be “tough bargaining”. The only reason that happens is that you were no doubt subsidizing the weak who should have been fired like they would be in any other enterprise. Good skilled people are hard to find and the market is happy to pay-up to get them. Only in unionized monopolies do you find “tough bargaining” and the reasons are obvious.

    “So, if there is ever going to be charters or vouchers, there is going to have to be unionized teachers in the schools.”
    Not if we the people get some Tea Parties going and say: “Enough, compete like the rest of us. Moreover the skilled will be better off and the slackers fired”.


  5. But what makes a good or weak teacher? Some teachers may be considered weak by some parents while strong by other parents depending on their criteria and views. Test scores also paint only a limited view on teaching as many other factors go into test results. I believe some of the best teachers are those who work in our inner cities. The test results do not adequately reflect the effort and other successes these teachers produce on a daily basis.


  6. Matt — I left a comment somewhere, I don’t know if it is was here or elsewhere but what I said was both my husband and I have taught in middle class neighbourhoods, as well as disadvantaged ones. In the former, the parents were very involved and read to their kids and most homes had one or more computers. In the latter, most of the parents did not read to their kids because they struggled with literacy themselves. And, more often than not, there was no computer in the home either. Am I blaming parents? No, it is just the difference. Plus kids, no matter where they go to school have differing intellectual abilities. Not politically correct to say, but a reality.

    So, as in the US right now, what does a school board do if teachers like us get different standardized test results in different schools? Fire us? That’s really short sighted if they do. In fact, I’ll bet the US is about to have a teacher shortage. Who in their right mind would enter a profession that is based on a single criterion formulated on what someone else does? I mean, some kids openly say they don’t try very hard because the tests are anonymous.

    I’ve said it before. Teaching is not a passive activity. The kids have to buy in and they have to have a certain ability level. Or, the other consequence is that no teacher will want to transfer to an inner city schools, ever. And, those who do will only teach to the test — which would be a very narrow education to say the least, something no one will find out until children become adults and can only do specific tasks — as opposed to thinking creatively.

    Meaning, I agree with you that standardized test scores don’t tell the whole story. Far from it. In fact, they tell only a very small part of the story. So, while other regulars here may disagree, in my opinion, there has to be a number of ways to evaluate good teaching. Standardized testing is just one because of the variables I stated. And, from personal experience at the university level, I totally disagree with student’s or parents evaluating a teacher. Those methods would be nothing but popularity contests based on students getting high grades. Think not? On what basis would a parent evaluate a teacher apart from how well their child did in their classroom?

    Interesting that tenure stream professors won’t allow such evaluations, only those of us who were on yearly contracts.

    Other things that could be evaluated? A day book’s organization and thoroughness. Unit plans that follow the correct format and are thorough and consistent with Ministry guidelines. Number of extra-curricular activities (e.g., too many schools have only a few teachers doing all the coaching). Evaluating student projects and essays for good teaching. Pass rate. I say pass rate because if too many students fail a test, there is something wrong with the test, not the students.

    Some ideas to think about.


  7. The issue of prayer in public schools also presents the issue of what will we accept in schools in order to increase student achievement. This issue came about because students were leaving during the school day and often not returning. This probably had a big issue with test scores, which according to their website were below provincial averages in Grade 6. The wide range of data available these days could have shown that attendance issues had a direct result on test scores.


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