Catholic vs. Secular Public Schooling: Shifting Hegemony in Morinville, Alberta

This post/paper is not about technology in education. It was written for a course I recently completed on education history and policy in canada.


“NEW PUBLIC EDUCATION OPTION FOR MORINVILLE COMMUNITY – Beginning September 2012, Morinville and area students will have access to both public and separate schools… On July 1, Georges P. Vanier School will be transferred to the Sturgeon School Division, and will be the new public school option. Morinville’s other schools will continue to be operated by Greater St. Albert Catholic. The St. Albert and Sturgeon Valley School Districts Establishment Act [Bill 4] passed during the spring Legislative session and was proclaimed by the Lieutenant Governor on May 31. Once it comes into effect on July 1, it will expand the Sturgeon School Division, dissolve the Greater St. Albert Catholic Regional Division and the St. Albert Protestant School Division and establish the Greater St. Albert Roman Catholic Separate School District and the St. Albert Public School District.” (Alberta Education, 2012a)

Though little sociohistorical context is provided in the above announcement, the nature of the circumstances and conflicts leading up to and surrounding Bill 4 can be inferred: That until July 2012 Catholic schooling had been the only public education option in Morinville (operated and governed by a Catholic public school board)1; and that town demographics had changed dramatically enough for this pillar of Catholic hegemony to be challenged.

The demand for a secular option galvanized during the town’s 2010 municipal elections, advanced by a small group of informally organized parents (commonly referred to in local media as “the parents’ delegation”) (Hartog, 2010). The argument seemed straightforward: Non-Catholic families have a right to choose non-faith-based education for their children, and so a secular option must be made available to them within the community (Hartog, 2010). However, the more complex issue was negotiating authority away from the town’s Catholic minority, mediated through educational institutions and schooling as a fundamental loci for establishing the narratives that reinforced and reproduced Catholic hegemony (Popkewitz, 2007; Gramsci, 1995; Gramsci 1971). These were set against emergent neoliberal narratives of diversity, multiculturalism, secularism, and maximizing individual potential towards a common good informing public debate during the ensuing two years, and ultimately redefining collective identity for the townspeople, situated within the context of Morinville’s shifting demographics, and more broadly within Canadian demographic trends including increasing immigration of visible minorities (Berthelot, 2008; Popkewitz, 2007). The critical issue was that Catholic public schooling was the only choice available in a town where Catholicism has become minority faith (Statistics Canada, 2013), so that schooling and pedagogy were under Catholic control (Popkewitz, 2007; Gramsci, 1995; Gramsci 1971).

Through an administrative anomaly created via Canadian and Alberta legislation embodying a legacy of Canadian colonial history, as well as Catholic hegemony situated with early town settlement patterns, non-Catholic families were unable to petition to establish a secular option in Morinville via Alberta’s School Act (2000) and s. 93 of the Constitution Act (1867) because they did not represent the minority faith. New legislation – embodying values including diversity, multiculturalism and inclusion reflective of changing town and Canadian demographics (Berthelot, 2008; Popkewitz, 2007) – creating an exception was required to enable a solution.

This paper examines the sociohistorical context in which this secular school episode in Morinville unfolded; how Catholic hegemony was asserted against external challenges, as well as internal challenges that were constructed as “external”; and how Catholic hegemony is being reasserted through an emergent “First Families” narrative that resituates legitimacy and authority with heritage linked to Morinville’s francophone-Catholic founders.

Read full paper

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