Canuck of the Day: Leonard Cohen

A Canadian icon in the world of literature and music passed away yesterday. Leonard Cohen (1934-2016) was born and raised in Montreal and achieved fame throughout the world. He was a faithful member of the Jewish community of his ‘hometown’ – always happy to buy a dozen bagels and enjoy a stroll down The Main (St. Lawrence Boulevard). According to a CBC interview I heard this morning, his extended family have fond memories of attending the same synagogue for important ceremonies over many years, memories which they can now treasure and pass along to future generations.

As far as Mr. Cohen’s life relates to homeschooling, he serves as an example of the rich diversity of religious belief present across Canada. The fact that he was Jewish is not really the point; the fact that he continued to perform Jewish rituals and make concrete gestures reflecting his spiritual beliefs is what makes his life relevant to the homeschooling community of Canada.

I was recently asked what the ‘rules’ are for homeschooling in Canada. The specifics change from province to province, city to city, and borough to borough – but there is one general provision in the Canadian Constitution, in the Charter of Rights and Freedoms, which makes homeschooling a legal right based on freedom of religious practice. If you feel that the Canadian public school system does not reflect your religious beliefs, you can defend your choice to homeschool on those grounds.

Fundamental Freedoms (from the Constitution Act of 1982)

  1. Everyone has the following fundamental freedoms: (a) freedom of conscience and religion; (b) freedom of thought, belief, opinion and expression, including freedom of the press and other media of communication; (c) freedom of peaceful assembly; and (d) freedom of association.

Despite the general enthusiasm for multiculturalism in Canada, there is plenty of evidence of one group persecuting another, both historical and current. The cruel dealings between the Europeans and the Native Americans is the most obvious historic example. The first people of this country were denied freedom to worship and ruthlessly forced to convert to Christianity only a few generations ago (in a school setting, I might add – I know a Cree woman who still trembles at the sight of a school uniform, decades after being forced into Catholic school.). In more recent times, conflicts between Catholic French and Protestant English were a defining feature of life in cities like Montreal. Currently, race-based and religion-based hatred and bullying is a continuing problem in parts of Ontario, especially Toronto.

I would like to think that there would be less conflict and tension if we all learned to cooperate at a young age, and it seems at first glance that a common school would be the logical place to start lifelong tendencies to share and show understanding. But, as evidence suggests, this doesn’t always work.

Perhaps the most important lessons children learn about tolerance are taught at home and in larger community settings. How families cope with different neighbours, how parents approach making money in a competitive market, how everyone buys food and responds to community challenges like crime or preserving the environment – these teach much more than cramming a group of children together in a room without the tools or maturity needed to cope with differences that are totally overwhelming at a young age.

As an example, I remember meeting a Jewish girl when I was about 5 years old. I asked her if she went to church, and she sort of mumbled ‘yes’ and said that it was on Saturday. I thought she must be confused, or maybe she didn’t know the days of the week yet! The new friendship faltered. Doubt and suspicion began to grow. (Do you remember the ‘today is it Christmas?’ stage?! At five years old, I had a very vague idea of the passage of time, and the fact that church was always on Sunday was a new an interesting concept I was trying to digest, thus my preoccupation with the topic. I was already struggling to understand what ‘Sunday’ was, never mind anything new and different about ‘church’.) Ultimately, it took a parent’s explanation to straighten out the facts. The two of us were too young to bridge a gap in understanding that most adults would find very simple.

If you feel that your child would be better able to follow your family’s traditions and beliefs through being schooled at home, you are free to do so in Canada. And that freedom comes with the responsibility to give others equal respect for their choices. Homeschoolers are not necessarily against the system, or against school – some of us just feel that embracing our own traditions and giving our children time to develop understanding and tolerance of others’ in a safe home environment is a good way to start life in Canada’s amazingly diverse society. If you are not persecuted, bullied, or threatened in any way, won’t you tend to have a more open and relaxed approach to others’ differences?

Photograph by Roland Godefroy

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