A Distinctive Policy on Education

07 Feb 2017 A Distinctive Policy on Education

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This week, a special, full-edition feature interview with Harry Moes, ARPA’s Education Policy Consultant. We touch on Harry’s experience, his vision for his new role, and ARPA’s long-term goals in the area of education policy. Click here to read the transcript of the interview.

FEATURE TRANSCRIPT

Harry Moes, Education Policy Consultant - ARPA Canada
Harry Moes, Education Policy Consultant - ARPA Canada

LN: It’s been five months since you took on this role. It was September 1st that you officially came on board. I guess first of all, how did you end of doing this, and what kind of background do you bring to this position?

HM: Well Al, five months is quite a different length of time than 42 years. If I may just reflect for a moment, I’ve been very thankful to be able to have served the Christian community, especially the Christian School movement based in the Reformed tradition for 42 years, mainly in the Fraser Valley, basically 38 of those 42 years at Credo Christian High School. I served as an assistant principal/principal for 37 of those 38 years. I think what I reflect upon most is that during those years, they were building years; the school was small and slowly expanded but I immensely enjoyed – and continue to enjoy – engaging members of our supporting community in developing a shared vision. Very similar I think to what ARPA is doing today too. A shared vision of how we are to interact with government, and how we are to preserve our freedoms. And I also say that throughout my years in schooling, I understood that it does take dedicated time to preserve one’s identity. It does require group discussion, it requires reflection, listening, questions, and yeah, sometimes also heated debate. But I’m very thankful to say as I look back we could always reach a group consensus. And I’d even say that the more we struggled or perhaps the more we prioritized, the more we did take ownership of our Reformed and Christian School distinctives. And I think also the process of being able to come to consensus on what we valued really strengthened our sense of unity and identity. And it’s been my observation for ARPA as well. They also continue to have gone through that process, and it’s also strengthened their identity and it’s greatly appreciated by the supporting community.

There’s also two other things, Al, that I think are reasons why ARPA approached me. For over 20 years, I’ve been involved with the Federation of Independent Schools Association. That’s an organization that represents independent schools. It’s kind of recognized as the voice of independent schools around the government table. And once again, it’s been an avenue where I’ve been able to articulate the Reformed distinctives of Christian education; the values that our parents have, and the desire that we want to be able to maintain those distinctives. And we’ve been pretty blessed in that.

I’ve also been able to inspect schools on behalf of the government. So I sometimes put on “a hat”, and then I have to evaluate Christian Schools. What’s really unique in British Columbia is that Christian Schools are evaluated by Christian administrators. It’s something very unique. And what’s also unique is that during that evaluation process, the Ministry actually wants to see that Christian Schools are Christian Schools. In other words, they’re saying to the school communities, or the school authorities or the school membership – “if you’re establishing a school, then tell us why you want to establish that school, and show us that you’re also living out your mission and vision.” So it’s just been a wonderful process, and it’s been a great ride, and I guess they (ARPA) thought that hey, I’m too young to retire, and so I’ve been asked to come along as a consultant, and I gladly do so.

LN: As an organization, ARPA is closely aligned with the Reformed Churches. You already talked about the “distinctives.” One of those of course is the independent Christian School movement. How does that impact the educational policy framework that you’re engaged in with ARPA? I mean, it’s broader than just the Canadian Reformed Christian schools out there, right?

HM: It is. Although ARPA is geared toward “Reformed” political action, so we are definitely grounded and steeped in the Reformed traditions and the Confessions. And I would say that that has more similarities – even outside the Reformed School community – than perhaps one might imagine. It’s been my observation when I’m sitting around the tables of any faith-based organization that in essence, we all strive for independence and the ability to continue to be able to articulate our faith-based perspectives in classrooms and in the broader community. So yeah, once again I think it’s broader. Although ARPA is definitely supported by the Reformed community, I think we partner with other faith-based organizations when our faith-based values are challenged.

LN: There’s people out there – and I’m thinking for example of John Carpay at the Justice Centre for Constitutional Freedoms – who focus on trying to keep the public education system at least somewhat friendly toward Christians and “traditional values” and that kind of thing. They’re working from the assumption that public education should try to be “values-neutral” in the delivery of education. I’m thinking of that lawsuit filed in Port Alberni – we had it on the show last month – the woman objecting to the notion that there were native spirituality exercises going on in a public school classroom. What’s your take on that? First of all, is the values-neutral thing even possible, and secondly, where are we on that kind of stuff?

HM: It’s a good question, and something that we could spend an awful lot more time on than just one question during the interview. I’d like to just kind of change gears a little bit in responding to that. First of all, I’d say it’s very difficult to say that education can be value-neutral. In fact, what part of life is value-neutral? I just want to share a quote: “Parents need to understand that in today’s society, the only filter that children bring to school is their own head and heart. It is therefore critical that parents and schools provide the Scriptural judgment micro-chip. If this joint effort, along with the Church, does not take responsibility for building the internal software to allow positive interaction, then today’s generation is at risk.”

I like that quote, because really I believe that’s what schooling is all about. Whether one is in a public school setting, whether one is in a homeschool setting, whether one is in a Christian school based in the Reformed tradition, in the end we have to train the next generation to become discerning. And they have to become discerning in such a manner that they know the truth of the Gospel. There is no such thing as a “post-truth” society. And they have to be able to use that microchip along all aspects of their educational journey, and especially as they gravitate away from where parents are more involved at the elementary and secondary level, and as they gravitate into the post-secondary.

LN: Where does the notion of parental choice fit into all of this? The idea that parents should be free to choose; whether that’s homeschooling, or Christian or independent schools, or the public system. The whole idea of education in its early years was kind of built on the foundation of in loco parentis – the school was established “in place of the parents.”

HM: This (idea of) in loco parentis inevitably comes up at teachers conventions and membership meetings. And I still think it’s a good concept. It’s a concept that we need to remember. That first of all, parents are the primary caregivers, but also the primary conduit in which the faith of the previous generation is passed on. But you know, even this matter of freedom goes further than let’s just say something that we value within the Christian community, also in the establishment of our churches. I think that within the larger international community, it’s also understood that parents are the primary caregivers and the primary sources of education. I’m thinking of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, Article 26 – and it’s co-signed by Canada – which states that “Parents have the prior right to choose the kinds of education that shall be given to their children.” So that’s a protocol that Canada signed off on. Another protocol that Canada signed on (to) was the European Convention on Human Rights, which states that “No person shall be denied the right to education. In the exercise of any functions which it assumes in relation to education and to teaching, the State shall respect the rights of parents to ensure that such education and teaching is in conformity with their own religious and philosophical convictions.” I think that our parents are aware of these things; that the country in which they live has signed off on that. And I think that’s why ARPA is there as well.

So you have situations like the Trinity Western court case, the Loyola court case. They all have to do with parental rights – parental choice – but above all, the need to be able to articulate their faith-based values throughout the curriculum.

LN: Let’s shift gears. Your primary expertise – you’ve talked about it already – lies in the relationship between government accreditation bodies and independent schools. That relationship is becoming strained. In Alberta we’ve got Bill 10 and some the transgender stuff. Ontario has its problems (with the new sex-ed curriculum). Manitoba has (also) moved toward some of those policies.

Give me sort of a 10-thousand foot view if you will of the state of the relationship between Provincial Education Ministries and the independent school movement in Canada.

HM: You know, once again Al, we could talk an awfully long time about that. First of all, I want to say I’m most familiar with the British Columbia system. I am somewhat familiar with the Alberta, the Manitoba and Ontario, somewhat Saskatchewan and Quebec. But primarily Ontario. However, I would say that the relationship between government and independent schools varies greatly from province to province. And I think that British Columbia is perhaps the most fortunate in that they probably have the closest working relationship with government of any province. I’m not about to say that the other provinces don’t experience some close relationships, but in British Columbia the Federation of Independent Schools – the voice of independent schools – is constantly sought by ministry, by curriculum writers, by the Minister of Education, even the Premier of the Province. They understand that we represent perhaps the highest percentage (of the total student body in the province); 14-percent. I don’t believe there’s any other province that has that high of a percentage. And it’s perhaps because of that that there is that close relationship. But I would also say that no matter which province you’re in, in the end it’s going to be all about establishing relationships and credibility. And that just doesn’t come by independent schools expecting that government will come to them. I think it’s also very important that they realize that they have to come to government.

LN: If you had the luxury of engaging in pro-active policy development – trying to move stuff forward, rather than playing defense on things like Bill 10 in Alberta – what would be the top three things that you’d advocate for?

HM: You know, you say three things. And I just want to kind of come back to what I just mentioned. I really do think that it is essential that government has the opportunity to listen to the voice of independent schools. And what I mean by that is not just on a one-off, but that at critical stages of curriculum development and policy initiatives or policy reviews, that somehow independent schools, faith-based school communities have understood that they need to be there when those committees are formed. That when input is sought, that they can’t put it off. That they’ve got to submit that input. And that’s why an organization like ARPA is also there. To encourage, so to speak, the grassroots to be involved first of all at the grassroots level; at the school board level, at the school district level. But then also, there are opportunities out there to be involved with curriculum writing teams. Yeah, I just think it’s really important. I’d rather that than three, I think that is the only one that in the end will avoid us playing defense rather than being on the offense.

LN: A lot of the educational discussions right now are taking place in kind of a broader cultural context. I’m thinking here of the appointment of Betsy DeVos to the position of Education Secretary in the States. She’s long advocated for things like school choice and vouchers. Will the discussion and policy direction there have much of an impact on this side of the border, you think?

HM: I know I personally have children living in the States as well. Yeah, I can’t predict. But it could. For instance, the fact that Vice-President Pence is willing to speak at a pro-life march in Washington – the first Vice-President to do so – I think speaks volumes. What I mean by that is that if, in the United States, the conversation is going to be more public, and it’s going to take place more in the public arena; that it’s OK to dialogue about faith-based perspectives, I am hopeful and it would be my prayer that that also spills over our border. That would be a good thing.

LN: At the end of the day, when you retire from this position, let’s say it’s five or ten years (you say you’re too young to retire), but what will you define as success? What would you want to be able to look back at and say “You know, I’m proud that I helped ARPA play a role in advocating for this or that particular thing that we got done”?

HM: I remember John Piper one time was asked a similar question, and he answered by saying “I hope that we will always have been considered to be faithful.” In the past, I’ve been the voice of independent schools around the FISA board table; it’s my hope that as an ARPA educational consultant, that I won’t remain silent about marvelous works of God. We can’t be silent and expect our neighbours to see what God has done and what God continues to do. We should never be ashamed to glorify God by telling people – by telling our neighbours in this country – what we know and feel that God has done. You know, citizens of this country should be delighted at having opportunities to share from their own experiences. And I remain convinced that the nation and the citizens that honour God, God will honour in return. And we as a nation need to be willing to talk of God’s marvelous deeds, and I’m convinced that as we do so, God will give us enough to talk about. And I’m hoping that will also be the case for me.

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