Interesting question – and one that’s beginning to generate some interest. Our May 2011 diocesan synod debated and passed a motion giving permission for preliminary exploration of such a venture. The Venerable John Stephens introduced the motion and was one of several to speak in favour of an initial exploration – myself included. Some got up and spoke against the motion. The debate was lively and informative.
Anglican sponsored preschools, primary schools, middle schools and secondary schools are to be found throughout the world. These communities of teachers and learners seek to bring a focussed Christian world view to the educational milieu, topped with a distinct Anglican ethos. In many countries Anglican schools play a major role in developing educational systems, permitting children who would not be able to attend school at all an opportunity to do so. That is obviously not the case in British Columbia, so what about Anglican education as a part of the educational scene in this province?
The nearest thing to the kind of school being explored in our diocese would be Christ Church Cathedral School in Victoria. Run by an enthusiastic school board and Head of School, this preschool to grade 8 learning community offers a culture where “the values of the Anglican Christian faith” are brought “into the classroom”. The school, in fact, serves “many ethnic and religious backgrounds” and reflects a “strong, diverse and inclusive community.” There is no pretense of elitism or of competition with public education – merely a mission statement that reflects the mission statements of the dozens of faith based schools in British Columbia. We’re not talking a 19th century British public school model here, and I’m sure the group exploring the establishment of a diocesan Anglican-based school is quite aware of that fact.
Leslie Buck of St. Paul’s in Vancouver has written to Topic expressing a clear view on such a school project. I’m happy Buck has entered the discussion. More of us need to do the same. Buck sees the exploration of an Anglican school working against our stated intention, as a church, to “move back into the neighbourhood”. That is a point worth considering, and one that certainly militates against any elitist notions. Can we “move back into the neighbourhood” with emerging parish initiatives and serve the general community of which our Anglican diocese is a part through provision of a schooling alternative at the same time? This question needs a clear answer.
I agree with Buck that “God is already working in our public schools”. That’s why I taught and served as an administrator in Burnaby secondary schools for some thirty-five years. It’s why I continue to be involved with committee work with the BC Retired Teachers Association as part of my diaconal ministry. I am committed to a strong public education system in British Columbia. Buck’s assertion is also a key part of the mission of Teachers’ Christian Fellowship with whom I worked for many years.
Buck is also right that “sectarian schools can be divisive in the extreme and hardly conducive to the inclusivity that is urged upon us”. In the case of most contemporary Anglican schools, this kind of social exclusivism does not apply, however. The Victoria Cathedral School is a case in point.
Also a case in point is my own experience supervising the final student teaching practica of university students placed in faith-based schools. The schools I’m most familiar with in this regard – Mennonite Educational Institute in Abbotsford (middle and high schools), Holy Cross Secondary School (Surrey) and Pacific Academy (Surrey) are clearly open and inclusive communities serving families of a variety of faith or no faith backgrounds. Indeed, these schools could only sponsor teacher candidates engaged in their final teaching practica if this were the case. The BC College of Teachers would not allow it otherwise. These faith-based schools, like the public schools I’ve worked in are staffed with professionals and offer an excellent variety of educational programming.
In some Canadian jurisdictions, faith-based schools are part of an inclusive and diverse educational offering. The school system in Edmonton is a strong example. While attending a school administrators’ conference there, I had an opportunity to observe a dynamic district-wide system where educational alternatives were not seen as in competition to one another, but as complementary. Other Canadian jurisdictions have varying degrees of relationship between “public” and faith-based schools.That there is a place for both seems to be the general consensus.
While coordinating a secondary teacher education programme in a Christian university I watched young teachers develop a professional “calling” – some to public education and participation in the kind of public education professional service arena Buck correctly speaks of as a “challenge” and some to faith-based teaching situations. Yes, as Buck points out, “our presence is needed in our public schools, on school boards and the like”, but that does not need to close other doors.
Please become part of this important discussion as we consider schools – among other emerging opportunities – as part of the positive development of our Diocese of New Westminster as a relevant social and spiritual community. Care enough to express your view.
Rev. Steve Bailey is a deacon at St. Laurence, Coquitlam and one of the blogmasters of nwanglicanblog. Your comments and observations are most welcome. If you wish to submit an article for blog publication, please contact Steve at firstname.lastname@example.org and include your article as an attachment.