Public Education: Cultural Genocide?



June 26, 2015

By Kent Dykstra

One of the most controversial aspects of the recently-released Truth and Reconciliation Commission report was the use of the term “cultural genocide” to describe the practice of residential schooling that took place during the 1800s and 1900s in Canada. It is defined as “the destruction of those structures and practices that allow a group to continue as a group… Specifically, families are disrupted to prevent the transmission of cultural values and identity from one generation to the next.”

Much of the printed reaction to the report was a combination of self-condemnation and hand-wringing that characterizes much of the discourse on this topic. But as I read more about it, I wondered whether cultural genocide, as defined above, continues in Canada even today.

Provincial governments, especially in Quebec, Ontario, Manitoba, and recently also Alberta have been increasingly undermining parental rights in education by enforcing a view of secularism and sexuality that is at odds with the beliefs of a significant number of parents. This is done under the guise of human rights, but at its core is an assumption that the moral/cultural beliefs of the enlightened majority should be forced onto the minority. For example, over the past few years the province of Quebec went all the way to the Supreme Court of Canada in its efforts to force every school, including religious schools, to teach courses about religion and culture from a secular perspective. In other words, the state demanded that the religion and consciences of the parents and their children be squashed by the secular humanist beliefs of the majority. This is precisely the same assumption that gave rise to the residential schooling system.

Public schooling, by its very nature, disrupts the transmission of cultural values and identity. That is one reason why minority groups of all descriptions have set up their own independent schools.

Let me be clear: I am in no way disparaging the hard work and dedication of the legions of public school teachers, administrators and boards. I am also not arguing that public school boards and employees are not acting in what they believe to be the best interests of their students. But, as Rubenstein and Clifton point out in their June 3rd article in the National Post, the residential school system was also believed to be in the best interest of native peoples. As our first Prime Minister famously stated, “removing the Indian from the child” would give them the best opportunity to take their place in Canadian society.

Of course, what occurs in public schools today is a far cry from the injustices committed against many in residential schools. We would be the first to rise up in protest if our own children had the same experiences as many students in the residential school system. 

But the fact remains that the same assumptions that produced the residential school system are alive and well in Canada today. Specifically, the assumption that government knows best when it comes to the education of our children is producing legislation like Alberta’s Bill 10 and the sex-ed curriculum proposed by the Ontario government.

Let us be thankful that we live in a less oppressive political and educational climate here in BC. But let us also be vigilant and active to prevent “cultural genocide” today.

Kent Dykstra is the principal of William of Orange Christian School in Surrey, BC.

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