Calgary lawyer and educator J.K. Donlevy defends Catholic education during a Feb. 8 debate with former PC education minister David King, who seeks to end separate schools.Lorraine Turchansky, Grandin Media

If you value Catholic education, now is the time to speak up

On Thursday, February 8, 2018, I had an opportunity to debate David King, a former Alberta PC minister of education, on the resolution “Alberta should have one public school system, not two.” Both King and I had approximately 15 minutes each to speak, then a short time to ask each other questions, after which the audience was invited to ask us questions.

It is extraordinary to hear a former minister of education attack Catholic education, not just Catholic separate schools, claiming that it is questionable whether Catholic school graduates would be prepared to participate in a civil democratic society, and that the separateness of Catholic schools was equivalent to South African apartheid.

Further, he denied that Catholic separate schools had a legal right to exist, claiming it was merely privilege! He also claimed huge savings would result from having one education system.

Not once in his talk did he ever supply any empirical or anecdotal evidence for any of his assertions.

Worse, he made assertions which he must have known to be untrue, if he had done any research in the area, and he repeated them the following day on radio; for example, that Catholic schools would not allow controversial student clubs. All in all King took a demagogic tact, repeating uniformed positions and misrepresenting facts in order to play to an audience.

King also has claimed that he would support public spending for 30 per cent of Catholic schools and then argued for no funding for Catholic schools.

He argued that Catholic schools do not teach civil democratic values to students and then stated that Catholic schools did a good job at education.

To say that his presentation was full of inconsistencies and was schizophrenic in nature would be an understatement.

  • We know that Alberta has one of the best institutions of education in the world, as established by independent researchers.
  • We know that Catholic education serves the common good in Alberta and that its students are justifiably proud of their schools.
  • We know that fiscally it makes no sense to unite both public systems, as there is no evidence that savings will accrue and that it would cause great social disruption.
  • We know that non-Catholics – people of many faiths – support us in our goal of preserving constitutionally protected Catholic separate schools in Alberta.

Notwithstanding the above, King and others will repeat falsehoods, misrepresent facts, and make outrageous claims against Catholic education in an attempt to end its constitutional protection.

If King is successful, the attacks will continue, as then governments will impose the teaching of secular values, which conflict with sacred values, on to Catholic students.

Like a frog in a pot of water which is slowly being heated to the boiling point, once Catholics realize what they have done in not vigorously opposing King and his ilk, it will be far too late to save Catholic schools which teach the values of the faith.

What may be done to protect the legacy of Catholic schools given to us by those who sacrificed and went before us? That is the important question for the laity, religious, and clergy in Alberta.

Make no mistake; the opposition to Catholic schools is fired up and its opposition to constitutionally protected Catholic schools is fiercely being carried out in the public square.

Yet where are the unafraid Catholics publicly taking up that battle  ̶  facing down political correctness – and understanding and accepting the personal price they will pay?

I do not see them.

My experience is that Catholic school supporters tend to consult each other and only speak to those who already agree with them. Perhaps it is as Yeats said in his poem, The Second Coming:

Turning and turning in the widening gyre
The falcon cannot hear the falconer;
Things fall apart; the centre cannot hold;
Mere anarchy is loosed upon the world,
The blood-dimmed tide is loosed, and everywhere
The ceremony of innocence is drowned;
The best lack all conviction, while the worst
Are full of passionate intensity.

Let us hope this is not so.

J.K. Donlevy is a Calgary lawyer and educator with expertise in constitutional law, research ethics, and educational leadership and governance.


10 thoughts on “If you value Catholic education, now is the time to speak up

  1. I watched the debate with Dr. Donlevy and Mr. King. It is wonderful and rare to see a passionate, well-educated defender of Catholic schools speak. Donlevy was outstanding in the debate with King. King’s arguments had no evidence to support them while Donlevy’s arguments were substantive. King asserted that: Catholic schools could not turn out good citizens; 30 million dollars could be saved by joining the two systems; Catholic systems don’t share services with public systems; and, that Catholic schools do not provide a democratic vision for students. These are opinions, not facts. Donlevy countered each and every point with facts. Someone, who claims that a religiously educated person is not capable of being a good citizen, needs to consider the absurdity of that comment.

    King’s argument, that combining school systems would result in a savings of 30 million dollars, is both unfounded and ludicrous. This is like saying – here are two full glasses of water, let’s pour all of the water into one and save a glass. King maintains that the systems do not share services, but they do. In all but rare cases, both school systems do share busing and other services. King says that Catholic schools should emulate a democratic society but no school operates as a democracy.

    King appeared to be caught unaware by the import and depth of the argument presented to him by Donlevy. Donlevy argued strongly and articulately for Catholic schools as a bulwark against the one system approach where all students learn a single set of values given by government. Donlevy said we should be cautious of thinking that government knows better than parents. Donlevy noted that the Government of Alberta, the Alberta Teachers’ Association, and thousands of non-Catholic families support Catholic schools.

    Bravo Dr. Donlevy! I concur with many others that you were a strong, intelligent, and passionate voice for Catholic schools.

  2. Ken Burr: I personally know persons teaching in the Catholic System who are not Catholic. I also have known several other non catholics who used to teach there, but have since retired (I am 75 years old). Some of my close neighbors were able to enroll their children in the Separate System when they were not doing well in Public Schools, and they did very well there. I believe that the Separate School system was a valuable part of Alberta’s educational systerm when I went to school, and that it continues to be important today.

  3. I have always wondered about Dave King’s agenda. I don’t know if he himself is Catholic, although I did teach a boy of his in a Catholic High School in Edmonton back in the day, and sat across from him at a few parent-teacher conferences (the boy was a very good student, by the way). He didn’t raise issues being referred to here. I wonder what spawned his outspoken aversion to Catholic schools. Anyone?

  4. Catholic Schools were established because of Protestant bigotry. They are needed more han ever now because of Secular bigotry.

  5. I support school choice for all parents. But how are the opponents of Catholic school boards planning to circumvent the Constitution? This is a real question (not some kind of gotcha.). I know that other Catholic Boards were abolished after consolidating bus routes. Is that what is needed— combining services until there is no distinction between the two? Thanks

  6. I’m a father of four children which currently three are attending Catholic school. It’s our choice for our children to attend Catholic school education, it’s our tax dollars that pays for a long with everyone else who has the same choice. It’s so wrong thinking that one school system will fit all and try to force the rest into it. Make non sense trying to fix a Catholic school system which is NOT BROKEN. Just ask your self how many shootings have done in Catholic school? And how many had happened on the regular schools which are now being claim to be best as rol model by trying to end Catholic school. PLEASE DO NOT BEEN DOWN to this attack. It’s treating not only our legal rights but our lively hoods directly. Remain Strong and alert with our faith in JESUS CHRIST!!! As on Him we are ONE in unification one an other acting according to the law on peace but firmly strong at all times.

  7. I had the pleasure of attending this event. However, I wouldn’t call it much of a debate as David King’s intelligent and articulate arguments left no valid reason for the justification of Catholic schools. In stark contrast to Mr. King’s always-compassionate tone, the primary message conveyed by the fast-talking Donlevy was ANGER—self-righteous indignation that any citizen should ever question the $1.77 billion/year budget (2017) for Alberta’s Catholic schools. Some of Mr. Donlevy’s attempts to counter Mr. King’s arguments were almost humorous because they were so preposterous (e.g. all non-Catholic religions support the full-funding entitlement of Catholic schools above their own religions; a duplicate school system doesn’t have extra costs, etc.). Mr. Donlevy did not seem prepared for this discussion as he was not even aware of objective economic studies that have validated the savings from duplicate school systems. And he was quite surprised when almost all of the post-debate questions from the audience were understandably questioning his ‘facts’ and reasoning. At the end of the day, Mr. Donlevy’s sole rationale for Catholic schools was simply his personal belief in a manifest destiny for Catholic education because he is a Catholic. I left the debate shaking my head as to how a university professor at the U of C’s education department would have the gall to publicly argue for a faith-based school system that openly discriminates against the nearly 80 per cent of U of C education students (and Albertans) who aren’t Catholic, and who can never work at publicly funded Catholic schools. However, it was very life-affirming to see so many Catholics at this debate (and many more I know who have since watched the debate video) who completely REJECT Donlevy’s angry diatribe and self-interest in religious entitlement, and fully support the secular, inclusive vision for Alberta’s public schools that Mr. King so eloquently outlined.

    1. I too attended the debate between Mr. King and Dr. Donlevy. Mr. King is seasoned debater and politician and that was clear. He was articulate in his presentation – the issue for me was that while his presentation was filled with flowery language and lots of popular opinions, it had little fact or substance. Dr. Donlevy, a teacher, lawyer, passionate Catholic, and educator presented data from peer reviewed research that supported his arguments. The argument presented by Mr. King are not new, most actually date to the 1875 Senate debates regarding the Northwest Territories Council and the establishment of a dual school system in the west.

      There is no substantial evidence a “single” system saves money – the closest data we have is the municipal amalgamation in the Greater Toronto Area that research has indicated has not saved money but instead dramatically increased bureaucracy and inefficiency and doubled costs ( . I also lived through the AHS amalgamation and centralization…not hearing much savings or efficiencies there either! In fact the previous government floated the idea of dividing the four the metro boards into 8 as there are potential efficiency to be found in smaller regional divisions. Mr. King presented no “objective economic” research or evidence of savings as, as far as I know, there is none.

      Those who reject alternatives in education reject the notion of pluralism, the idea that there are many ways of seeing the world, humanity, meaning and purpose, and education. That parents have a choice to enroll their children in a school and be educated in a community that reflects, enhances, promotes a value system that may reject some of the values of mainstream society and present an alternative and transcendent worldview. The authors of the constitution recognized that a minority with different perspectives need protection from the “tyranny of the majority” – and this debate and the commentary that followed, provides evidence that this protection is still necessary.

  8. Great article! This is no time to be silent, as our bishops exhorted us in their November letter on Catholic education. Please use letters (or parts of letters) found on this site to communicate our concerns to Mr David Eggen :
    This is a compilation of letters to the education minister from a Catholic perspective. Usually forceful and respectful in tone, I personally have no problem letting Mr Eggen know where and when he is failing our province.

  9. My children were all educated in the Catholic separate school system. I would do so again. Keep the catholic separate school system in place with equal funding. Every Albertan should have a choice both on their choice of schools and where their tax dollars are directed to.

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