School’s in 

Choosing, changing and creating schools in the corridor

Part One

I’m a graduate of Myrtle Philip School’s first Grade 7 class. I also went to school in Richmond, Pemberton and for a brief stint at Prince of Wales Secondary on Vancouver’s Westside. What I discovered is that the schools matter less than the teachers; I had two or three good ones in my 12 years. When I came out the other end at the age of 18, I found I had to unlearn many of the ways of thinking I’d acquired before I could get on with my life and follow my interests.

Perhaps that was the main reason I felt it necessary to help create an independent school in Whistler for my own kids. That, and the fact that my son’s kindergarten year at Myrtle Philip School in 1998 was fraught with corporate influences and money going towards computers rather than what I deemed more valuable areas such as music and art. It was nothing personal against my elementary alma mater; all schools were heading in a more corporate and computer savvy direction. As the principal at the time candidly told me at my first PAC meeting: "It’s just the way things are going now." Frankly, I didn’t think I could have much impact in altering the course.

Opting out of the public school system can be seen as a subversive act. Schools are where society forms the minds of the next generation. They create patterns of thinking and acting that inform our society well into the future. Yet 10 per cent of students in B.C., or nearly 65,000 children, attend independent schools. Another 0.5 per cent are homeschooled.

When I grew up, and perhaps still today, the perception of independent or private schools was that of the exclusive, elitist academy where rich kids learned how to stay that way. In fact, of the over 300 independent schools in B.C., only 10 are of the Ivy League prep school variety with high tuition fees. The majority of independent schools were created to accommodate differing philosophies and beliefs rather than different income levels. They include religious schools such as Roman Catholic, Jewish, Protestant, Sikh and Mennonite, as well as the secular Waldorf, Montessori, and special needs schools. Independent schools that meet specific requirements set out by the Ministry of Education can receive 50 per cent of the per capita public school funding.

The debate around whether independent schools should receive public funding has gone on in B.C. since 1977, when funds were first allocated for independent education. In 1987, the Sullivan Royal Commission took a close look at the debate. It heard opponents of public funding for independent schools argue that public education had emerged in B.C. over the past century by consensus and should therefore not be disturbed. The argument continues that education is a public good which must be preserved, and that support for non-public education could be socially divisive, and "may inculcate in children a sense of separateness, elitism or intolerance not beneficial to individuals or to society as a whole." Finally, opponents argued that funding independent schools depletes resources for public education both financially and in terms of parent support and involvement in the public system.


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