Last week, Buzzfeed reported that Steve Tourloukis, a Canadian father prominent in advertising by the Coalition for Marriage, “asked for advance notice of the mention of horoscopes, wizardry, and moral relativism so he could shield his kids from “false teachings” at school.” He later became involved in a court case in Canada against that country’s education department. The Coalition for Marriage have been highlighting this case, linking marriage equality with the controversial Safe Schools program; implying that marriage equality is a slippery slope that will lead to a reduction in religious freedom. Tourloukis’ laundry list of objections has been used by Buzzfeed to dismiss his concerns; instead what it demonstrates is how public education inevitably results in a fight to control education and why school choice is necessary.
Buzzfeed rightfully points out that is unreasonable to expect the school system to cater to every parent’s demands around what should be taught in the classroom. A school should have the right to decide what is to be taught in the classroom. While it’s possible to make some accommodation with individual requests; it should be ultimately up to the school whether such requests are workable. It’s hard to imagine all of Tourloukis’ requests being granted without impacting on other students.
Asking a secular school to deliver a curriculum that meets all the needs of a conservative Christian, is like ordering a Big Mac at McDonald’s and wanting to change it to a salad. They both have lettuce, but that’s where the similarities end. In a free market someone wanting a salad would just order a salad; however, if restaurants were run like a school system only Big Macs would be served. You can ask for changes, but you’ve got no right to expect them.
In the original case the Daily Caller reported that, “Attorney Josh Hunter, representing the Liberal government, said if the Tourloukis children didn’t attend class it would “undermine the board’s message that it is important to accept, welcome, and celebrate diversity” and would be “harmful to the rights of other students to feel accepted and welcomed.”
This demonstrates that in the view of the Canadian government and its school system, accommodating Tourloukis would undermine the objectives of their school system. However, as a Canadian taxpayer, Tourloukis is required to fund the school system with his taxes and has limited options if he objects. Progressive families have every right to expect a curriculum that is LGBT friendly and that allows Harry Potter to be used in as a teaching resource in the classroom; however, Tourloukis is equally as entitled to send his children to a school that doesn’t teach those things, instead focusing on other priorities.
Last week, a school librarian made headlines after she refused a gift from First Lady Melania Trump of books by the children’s author Dr Seuss, describing Seuss as, “a tired and worn ambassador for children’s literature” whose works are steeped in racist propaganda, caricatures and harmful stereotypes.” This naturally caused an uproar and provoked a defence of Dr Seuss’ works. Whatever the merits of her arguments, this example highlights how diverse views on education are throughout the community. It’s entirely conceivable that parents who demand an LGBT friendly curriculum, may object some classic works of literature that have racist undertones.
The problem remains that when there is one public education system, only one side can win. The education system then becomes an ideological battleground between different educational ideals. Many parents who object to the current curriculum send their children to private school or home school; however, these two options are not available to all parents. Those parents who do choose these options, still have to pay for a public education system they don’t use.
The justification for public funding of education is that education increases the human capital of a nation, thus benefiting everyone. This is often used to justify to the creation of public education systems. However, there’s a significant difference between funding education and running education. Throughout the world, monolithic public education has been the public policy of choice. There are however, two successful alternatives: school vouchers and charter schools.
School vouchers are a policy where the government provides parents with the funds so that they can purchase education from private providers. This allows both the Christian and secular parent to send their child to a school of their choice. Charter schools are a policy where schools are independently and locally run under a charter. These schools offer diversity in curriculum and teaching methods.
To prevent the education system being overtaken by ideological battles around education, we need diversity and choice in education. It is unjust to expect parents to tolerate their child’s indoctrination at school. Sadly, this is the last thing the education system and educators want.