Tuesday, August 28, 2007

We Respond to Our Critics

I'd like to do a big post on the Ontario schools question, with citations to Rawls and Grant and so forth, but time is scarce. So I'll just reprint my response to the critics in the comment box (especially since the last response got cut off by Haloscan):


I'm not completely sure whether you are genuinely advancing an argument against public funding of education or are making a reductio to the effect that if non-breeders can't complain about their tax money going to other people's offspring, nobody can complain about any allocation of tax money at all, no matter how sectarian and discriminatory.

It doesn't matter, I suppose, since if the earnest argument doesn't work, the reductio doesn't either. If we think of the tax money as being spent on children, rather than the parents of children, there is no discrimination since everyone is a child at some point in their life-cycle. If that doesn't convince you, there is still the question of external benefits from (a) other people having children and (b) those children being educated. Finally, there are also subsidies to the childless, so maybe things work out in the end (although I wouldn't put a lot of weight on that one).

None of these things are true of funding the religious education of one confession and no others. Protestants don't become Catholics at some point in their lives. If there are external benefits to Protestants of educating Catholics, they can't really exceed those to Catholics of educating Protestants. Moreover, this is clearly a case of a subsidy that has no counter-balance anywhere else in the overall system of public expenditure.


If history has a direction in a descriptive sense, it is impossible to reverse it. If you believe it has a direction in a prescriptive sense, you have a controversial (and false) theological belief. I can't see why people who disagree with this belief should have to send their children to be indoctrinated by those who think otherwise.

The distinction between a sewer system and an educational one is that it is genuinely possible to keep sewage merely technical, bracketing "comprehensive conceptions of the good." We all want our shit to flow somewhere it won't cause trouble. (Even if there are people who feel otherwise, there are non-metaphysical reasons to coerce them.)

Education is different. You can't teach kids in a purely technical way.


Are constitutional arrangements a contract of adhesion that those coming here freely can't object to since they had notice of them? I'm probably more sympathetic to that idea than most Canadians, which doesn't make me very sympathetic.

But even on that view, I'd doubt that the original compact has really been maintained. In 1867, the regular public schools could be assumed to be generically Protestant. They'd avoid the disputes between Anglicans, Methodists and Presbyterians, but everyone would be taught the Lord's Prayer and the Whig Interpretation of History.

Neither Protestantism nor the public schools are what they used to be. A generation ago, it might have been possible to assume that they were both travelling in the same self-liquidating secularizing direction. But your future in Ontario is our present in the West: it belongs to the sects that proletyze and have kids, not the United Church. But those sects have as much right to claim descent from the Protestants of 1867 as do the lapsed secular types. So the initial deal, however fair in its time, has become unfair -- even to one of the original parties. We need to apply a cy pres solution, and Tory is approaching it.

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