Wednesday, November 12, 2008
A New Course Proves Controversial in Québec...
In the United States, the question of the place of religion in public schools is a familiar one. In Quebec, the historical and social context is significantly different, but there is still a great deal of controversy about religion in the classroom. In fact, a new, mandatory course that combines moral and religious education may be on the cusp of emerging as a significant issue in the upcoming provincial election.
The churches have, historically, played a major role in the Québec education system; until recently, almost all Québec public schools were denominational. In keeping with this, classes in religion were offered in all public schools. Québec secondary school students could choose between Catholic Moral and Religious Instruction, Protestant Moral and Religious Instruction, and Moral Education, which was a secular course. However, this year, the government introduced a single new course--Ethics and Religious Culture--which has replaced these three courses.
The new course has drawn fire from both religious and secular critics. Protestants and Catholics are unhappy with the fact that the new program takes a more cultural approach to the question of religion, while the Mouvement Laique Québecois (Québec Lay Movement) is unhappy that religious instruction has become mandatory. In October, parents protested in the streets of Montreal. Last Monday, things heated up even more when Mario Dumont, a conservative populist and the leader of the official opposition in Québec, suggested that the new course should be stricken from the curriculum. In his speech, Dumont remarked, "The people who thought up that course are the same people who fight through all kinds of roundabout ways for there not to be Christmas trees in classes. They are the same people who fight to make words like Easter disappear from classes."
If you would like to find out more about the new course, an explanatory video and some curriculum documents can be found here. It will also be interesting to see whether the controversy dies down or escalates to become a major election issue. I will keep you posted.