An Open Letter to Alberta’s Minister of Education

18 Apr 2017 An Open Letter to Alberta’s Minister of Education

ARPA Canada routinely asks for you, our supporters, to submit respectful letters to our elected representatives. Every once in a while we see an example that is extraordinary in its tone, content and force. Below is one such example.

Dear Minister Eggen,

I hope this message finds you well. I am writing primarily in regards to the controversy surrounding the recent showing of “The Case Against Abortion: Personhood.” However, I will also take this opportunity to share my perspective and concern on your approach to education more generally.

My family and I live in the Griesbach neighbourhood of North Edmonton and both of our sons attend Edmonton Public Schools. My wife, my oldest son (15), and I are committed Christians. Our hope is that our youngest son’s faith (7) will truly become his own as he matures in understanding. As a family, we strive to walk together by faith and in love with Jesus Christ.

To be clear, we are non-partisan in our politics – preferring to vote on issues and policies rather than parties and personalities. Although we do not share the New Democrat Party’s appraisal of the challenges facing Albertans today or the solutions they require, we have no ill will for you or your colleagues. Despite the popular cynicism for your government at present, we hope your time in office will be fruitful in ways that all reasonable Albertans can appreciate. Indeed, we will continue to pray for just that.

With respect to the video controversy, I watched the video and took some time to consider it in light of the vocal criticism it drew- especially yours. To put it bluntly, the backlash seems to me unwarranted. Given the consistently shrill tone of public discourse in the present age, particularly concerning such controversial matters as abortion and sexual ethics, the phraseology and graphics presented therein hardly merited such an outrage.

The video quoted the reasoning of a widely known advocate of abortion. It then noted how the validity of his argument depends upon the de-personalization of fetuses. From there, the video notes how the Nazis’ also justified their conduct by de-personalizing those they sought to eliminate. The video could have pointed to numerous other historical examples in this vein (the dehumanization of blacks to justify slavery, for example), that would have been equally disturbing; sadly this is so often how we humans justify our brutality against one another.

No doubt, the video’s message is chilling. Abortion is a grave subject of discussion that is all too often brushed to the side, that we might placate or evade each other’s discomfort and indignation. Nevertheless, it is a publicly-funded procedure that often inflicts great distress on the women and men affected by it. These points alone make it a topic that can and should be discussed with our young people – whether as part of sexual education, social issues, or ethics and religion.

I understand, based on your publicized comments, that you disagree with the perspective set forth in the video. However, there was nothing counterfactual or slanderous in the content. The only “fault” I could assign to the video is that it contained only the most logically consistent argument in favour of abortion on demand, a perspective that even many pro-choice persons find disconcerting due to its apparent callousness. Even so, the video is not dishonest in its approach; the parallel is there. De-personalization was an essential premise in justifying the Nazi extermination program. Likewise, in justifying abortion and infanticide, whether expressly or implicitly, as evinced in the words of the abortion advocated themselves..

This brings me to your approach to public education more generally. Your office has expended (and continues to expend) great effort in imposing ideological conformity upon the public school system. Your emphasis to date seems to have been on enforcing a particular sexual ethic (i.e. mandatory GSA’s, curriculum changes, etc.) in class rooms across Alberta. In the present controversy, you seem concerned that Catholic students are being presented with an unashamedly pro-life view of abortion and its justifications.

Sexual ethics and the values and ends of humanity are inextricable from one’s fundamental world view. Canada is a deeply pluralist country, Alberta no less so, in which many such world views now live side by side in the messy business of democratic life. State neutrality, in accordance with the principles of a free and democratic society, is a prerequisite to our ability to live peacefully together despite our differences. This means that governments must not seek to propagate a particular ideology over others – especially in education.

Alberta’s education system is one of the most flexible in the world, in terms of the multiple publicly funded options it offers parents and families. We have a wonderful and thriving network of homeschooling options. We also have Christian, Muslim, Jewish, Humanist, and ethnically-inspired programming options that reflect the world views of the diverse communities they serve.

I do not doubt that your intentions are good in your own eyes. My concern with your approach to education is that it threatens this delicate arrangement. Your worldview generally, and your views on sexuality in particular, are not those of all (perhaps even most) Albertans. Your views in these areas are decidedly partisan and incommensurable with those legitimately held by many of your constituents. Your efforts to systematize these views in the curriculum is destructive to many parents’ trust in the public stream of education that is supposed to serve all of our children. When these efforts extend into sectarian streams of education, they threaten the constitutionally protected differences in thinking and living that have come to characterize our great society.

Respect, tolerance, and compassion for others do not require ideological uniformity. Nor do they require us to be silent on our real and fundamental differences. All Albertans lose when education funding and regulation become instruments in service of one worldview against all others. Such a state of affairs merely breeds contempt between communities and those who hold contrary views.

I submit to you that our pluralist society is better served in the preservation of meaningful diversity in the education of our children. This requires a degree of humility in all of us, but especially in our leadership.

You may not share the worldview represented in the controversial video, but it was not dishonest. You will not eradicate difference by force; rather, you will sharpen its edges. As the Minister of Education, your response to such matters can set (or reset) the tone of this public debate and others like it. In this I urge you to humility and understanding, if not of your opponents’ views, then of their rights to hold and propagate them peacefully and honestly in a sectarian education system.

If your worldview is worth propagating, as I suspect you believe it is, then bring it into the public square through reasoned dialogue, and let its truth and wisdom speak for themselves. If you do not generate consensus in this approach, perhaps you will generate good faith and greater mutual understanding of the differences between us.

May God bless you and yours, and may He grant you the wisdom to fulfil your office charitably and for the good of all.

Yours Truly,

~ Benjamin J. Ferland

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