Religion shouldn’t undermine education

Winnipeg school board should deny student request to opt out of music, co-ed gym class


Winnipeg’s Louis Riel School Division (LRSD) has been approached by a group of new Canadian parents who want their children exempted from certain elementary school classes.

No, Manitoba’s premier has not adopted Dalton McGuinty’s proposal for anal sex lectures for tweens; these parents want their children removed from music and co-ed physical education classes. According to superintendent Terry Borys, the Muslim parents are concerned about their kids participating in classes involving singing and musical instruments, as well as mixed-gender gym classes. “The families accept physical education,” Borys told the Winnipeg Free Press, “as long as the boys and girls have separate classes.”

A local Muslim leader interviewed by the Free Press said there is no religious reason why these kids should be exempted from the classes. “My first concern would be, who are these new immigrants talking to?” he said. “This is the first time I am hearing this — I’m not very happy about it.” He added that while music can be controversial for some in the community, those people are generally in the minority.

Still, the request is being seriously considered by members of the LRSD, who have already consulted with the Manitoba Human Rights Commission and proposed the idea that students complete a writing project in lieu of participating in music classes.

Of course, this type of religious accommodation in secular schools is not new. Religious students have long been able to request exemption from sexual education programs, for example. Catholic school boards in Ontario (which are publicly funded) don’t even have to teach the same sexual health curriculum that is mandated for other boards.  And at this point, the concept seems nothing but silly and tired. How can educators and policy makers preach the unequivocal value of the provincial curriculum, while at the same time resign to “Well, I guess STI prevention lessons aren’t that important”?

Public school curricula are specifically formulated (at least on paper) to provide a well-rounded education while promoting Canadian values such as equality of the sexes. These values should not be subject to religious accommodation. Many districts—the Toronto District School Board, for example—have developed certain policies for dealing with certain religious clashes. TDSB guidelines state that, “While the Board works to create a school system free from religious discrimination, this freedom is not absolute.” It continues: “If a parent/guardian/ caregiver asks for his or her child to be exempt from any discussion of gay, lesbian, bisexual, transgender, or same-sex-family issue, the request cannot be granted because it violates the TDSB Human Rights Policy.”

So you can close your eyes and plug your ears if you want to, but you’re gonna have to hear about how gay people are entitled to the same rights as you. Even if you’re religious. Sorry. The same idea can and should be applied to the Winnipeg parents’ request for segregated gym classes. Granted, I understand why girls and boys are sometimes separated for physical education in upper years; no one really wants to be going through puberty and doing squats beside a pal of the opposite gender, after all. Plus, as boys and girls develop they diverge in terms of strengths and physical abilities. It makes sense that they would be separated when playing sports, competing in races, relays, etc. But the same isn’t true for little boys and girls. Indeed, it can take nothing more than a bad haircut for one to be confused for the other. Separating girls and boys for physical education during the elementary years sends the wrong message about gender equality; at that age, drawing gender lines is as arbitrary as separating kids based on hair colour. All it does is reinforce difference, and emphasize the idea that girls and boys are not equal. Perhaps more subtle than the sexual orientation example, but important nonetheless.

Allowing students to opt out of music class, on the other hand, doesn’t really upset Canadian values (after all, we did produce Justin Bieber, so what does that say?) but it does undermine the self-professed value of public education. The Winnipeg school board believes learning music is an integral aspect of a well-rounded education, and so, has included it as mandatory in its elementary school curriculum. Parents, on the whole, seem to agree. To allow students to opt out for religious reasons is to forfeit the contention that music is important for growth, just as to allow students to sit out of sex-ed is to concede that learning about birth control is of limited importance, only appropriate for some students. If the Winnipeg board wants to maintain confidence in its program, it should stand by its curriculum.


Religion shouldn’t undermine education

  1. As a student at the University of Western Ontario, I agree with Urback that students should not be segregated, especially in elementary and secondary schools. Since school is where kids spend the majority of their time, it is important to open young students a lot of different issues, concepts and people. It is important to let kids experience a wide range of people and their abilities.

    It is important for girls to participate in gym classes with boys. Gym class is good way to build team skills and to play along with one another. Through co-ed classes, some girls are often better athletes than some boys, which opens the idea that girls too can compete with boys.

  2. The parents should return to the country which customs are more appropriate to their own belief system. Soon undoubtedly our taxes will be paying for the schools that will be set up to teach more of this sexist intolerance our woman have fought for and abolished decades earlier.

    I think when we tolerate the intolerant we ourselves become intolerant.

    Will the next request be to put their daughters in burkas and beat them when they disobey or perhaps an honor killing so the family is not shamed. The iron age religions that no longer fit our modern society should be looked at in the context of a womans human rights not to be abused by her husband or father. Forced into servitude of their backwards ideals.

    Women are far more intelligent — some of them are no longer the slaves either of husbands, or imams. They are beginning to think for themselves. They can see no good reason why they should sacrifice their lives to please prophets or Gods. They are no longer deceived by theological prophecies. They are not willing to suffer here, with the hope of being happy beyond the clouds — they want their happiness now.

    Hopefully some of these kids lucky enough to be here in Canada can get some of our protection so they too may know what equality and freedom is.

  3. I respect these parents’ religious beliefs. My group (Mennonite) also disagreed with some of the subject matter and environment at public schools. As a result, we now sponsor our own private schools where we can give our children a solid education while maintaining what we feel is a pure, Christian environment.

    The government, on the other hand, has a responsibility to teach a neutral, unbiased curriculum. They are not at liberty to promote any one religion or set of values over any other, except for what the democracy instructs them to do.

    If these parents truly care about their religion, their values, and their children, they should start up their own private school.

  4. Letter to the Editors of the Winnipeg Sun and Winnipeg Free Press
    (published in the Winnipeg Sun on Feb.9, 2011 and in the Winnipeg Free Press on Feb. 11, 2011)

    I am writing in response to Mr. Nick Martin’s article in the Winnipeg Free Press (Saturday, February 5, 2011), “No co-ed phys-ed, music: Muslims (Dozen families want children excused)” and Ezra Levant’s article in the Winnipeg Sun (Tuesday, February 8, 2011), “Would old, white men get away with this?”

    Ezra Levant of the Winnipeg Sun never ever contacted the Louis Riel School Division about this story. It is correct that Mr. Martin called the Louis Riel School Division to obtain information about a motion that he read in the Minutes of the January 25, 2011 School Board Meeting. However, during the telephone conversation, I shared with Mr. Martin that the Division had met with the various families who had requested exemptions from Music or Physical Education, based on religion, to help them understand and appreciate the requirements of these compulsory courses in Manitoba.

    I also emphasized to him that the Division had resolved each situation to the effect that students remain in compulsory courses in our various schools. Mr. Martin’s story suggested that some students, based on their religion, are being exempted from compulsory courses.

    Furthermore, while it is correct that the School Board apprised the Minister of Education about this matter and copied its letter to the Manitoba School Boards Association, I shared with Mr. Martin that this proactive measure occurred in respect of the Board’s recognition of the changing demographics and realities of the community and of our public school system, and to inquire about the possibility of provincial policy or direction in this matter. I also shared with Mr. Martin that the Minister had responded by agreeing that this matter merited further study.

    I believe it unfortunate that Mr. Martin’s and Mr. Levan’s stories implied that some students in our school division are exempt from compulsory courses in Music and Physical Education to the effect that responses to the story have attributed an adversarial tone to situations that have been dealt with respectfully and without controversy.

    Terry D. Borys
    Superintendent of Schools & CEO
    Louis Riel School Division

  5. I agree with Emily and Tom Zychowski. If parents do not agree with this policy of our public school systems, they should not come to Canada. Elementary children in many Muslim countries are put together to play, do music and other activities. These very narrow-minded parents are simply trying to push the envelope. Men and WOMEN have worked and suffered for too many years to get the equality and respect as females that we deserve. I’m appalled!

    Children in Muslim countries such as Turkey, Egypt, the UAE, Oman and so many others do NOT restrict their young children from playing together and attending such classes together. Yes, some schools in SOME countries do not have music classes, but very few.

    This is an example of parents who want even more restrictions than they would have in their own countries and want to insist these retrictions be put in place in a pluralistic society. Ridiculous!

  6. Hold the fort folks,when we become the minority,we will be dancing to their tune.

  7. Tom – We already are the minority.

  8. Giving away our culture to these Wahabi immigrants is a HUGE mistake – made possible by admitting these people to the country in the first place.
    Home grown 2nd generation islamic radicals are destroying countries across Europe, and we need to take a stand against them here at every opportunity.
    Charging these wishing to opt-out parents with child abuse and expelling them from the country is what MY Canada would do.
    Cowering leftists who still believe in the ‘cult of multi-cult’ would be wise to listen to the leaders of England, France and Germany, who admit their western culture is being systematically dismantled by immigrants who refuse to assimilate.
    Gobble-de-goop of the kind Terry Borys – Superintendent of Schools for Winnipeg is spouting doesn’t help, and anyone who places their confidence in the leadership of such an obfuscating toady is a fool.
    Stand up for our culture, or learn the language of the Koranimals.

  9. Reply to:
    “Dennis says:
    February 11, 2011 at 2:52 pm

    I respect these parents’ religious beliefs. My group (Mennonite) also disagreed with some of the subject matter and environment at public schools. As a result, we now sponsor our own private schools where we can give our children a solid education while maintaining what we feel is a pure, Christian environment.

    The government, on the other hand, has a responsibility to teach a neutral, unbiased curriculum. They are not at liberty to promote any one religion or set of values over any other, except for what the democracy instructs them to do.

    If these parents truly care about their religion, their values, and their children, they should start up their own private school.”

    Problem is Dennis, it’s all fine and good for you to say have them start up their own private school, but the ramifications thereof are horrifying. They’re known as Madrassa’s and they are also where the “pure Muslim environment” is practiced. Unfortunately the rest of the world who has to deal with the repercussions of Muslim fundamentalism on Richter scale. It is precisely because they are being taught the example of Mohammad –
    establishes what the standard for Muslims properly is: The Sunnah – hadiths based on Sahih Al-Bukhari the unanimously accepted scholar of Islam), and Sira (life) of Mohammad; and also the LITERAL interpretations of the Qur’an (the eternal, unalterable words of Allah himself)and of course one can never forget that the peaceful earlier Meccan verses are abrogated (al-naskh wa al-mansukh) by later far more violent Medinan verses which are those that are taught in these Madrassas.
    The proof comes from the Qur’an itself:
    2:106. Whatever a Verse (revelation) do We [Allah] abrogate or cause to be forgotten, We bring a better one or similar to it. Know you not that Allah is able to do all things?

    So in a nutshell so to speak, we are all the recipients of these later versions as we witness hundreds of times day after day for over 1400 years, and this is being taught to young Muslims by older Muslims in separate facilities other than Western educational facilities. This is not so good for peaceful co-existence when one side insists it has the moral obligation to obliterate your side, convert you to Islam or if a “person of the book” {Christian or Jew}, you can stay alive as a Dhimmi (with servitude and subservience to any Muslim) with the paying of a poll tax known as Jizya.
    Now that doesn’t even take into account the incompatibility of Shari’a Law with basic human rights and implementation of Shari’a Law is the ultimate ideal for Islamic society. And it is marching toward you (the West) with great speed and steadiness. It and snippets of it will soon be demanded as we are now seeing happen in other parts of the world with the eventual goal of complete adoption and adherence. I am not so sure we are prepared for what Islam desires for us. Promoting a separate society where this can fester freely in our midst would probably not be a beneficial thing to our current society.

  10. Look, if the Muslims want rules that adapt to their religion then they need to go back to the hellhole country they came from! Anti-science, and anti-intellectualism (i.e. religion ) is killing our society. Just look at what is happening in Britain and the Scandinavian countries.

  11. Perhaps they shouldn’t be taking English classes either, because there is a portion that focusses on learning Greco-Roman mythology, and that might lead to polytheism and idolatry!

    For that matter, they shouldn’t be taking English classes at all, or even speaking the language period, because many English words, idioms, proverbs and so on come from the King James Bible, as well as Greco-Roman and Norse/Viking myth…even the days of the week!
    Tyr’s Daym, Thor’sday Woden’s Day, Freya’s Day….(!!)

Sign in to comment.