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From: Church & State: Editorials
Date: May, 2019
By: Editorial

Education In A Post-Catholic Ireland

Education In A Post-Catholic Ireland
Ex-President McAleese has waded into the debate about Catholic School divestment. In a somewhat incoherent rant she complains: "Rome… is still centre stage in nearly all the lives of our schoolchildren" and scare-mongers about priests acting with "impunity" (see McAleese Worried About Care Of children In Catholic Schools, Irish Times 8.4.19). And her views have been endorsed by television journalist, Niamh Sammon (Church Still Has A Grip On Society And Schooling, IT 9.4.19: what world is she living in?). Sarah Caden chipped in in the Sunday Independent with Christmas Is Safe (7.4.19).
The fact is, the days of any clerical sexual abuse of children are long in the past. Priests nowadays are timid creatures, very much on the back foot. And, as a result of democratic changes in School Management Boards, which Church & State was instrumental in promoting, parents have a hands-on relationship with National Schools—as is their Constitutional right. So, whilst the Catholic Church controls something like 90% of Irish primary schools, this control is more apparent than real in areas where parents choose to assert themselves.

In 2016 78.3% of Irish people described themselves as Catholic. While that is a drop from 94.9% in 2011, it still shows a vast preponderance over those describing themselves as having No Religion, which rose to 9.8% from 5.9% in the same period.
The majority of parents remain nominally Catholic and want a traditional Irish education for their children. This means continuing practices going back many, many decades, celebrating Christian Feast Days: whether it be Christmas, Easter, St. Brigid's Day, or whatever. Ireland is post-Catholic. Which is to say it retains Catholic culture and community values, whilst taking an a la carte attitude to religious practice.
Surely the aspiration has to be to return to a pre-Cardinal Cullen form of Christianity: in which popular Catholic festivals provide the occasion for community celebrations and in which sexual strictures were taken lightly?

The important issue about education is really how to ensure that the schools children go to help to produce an upcoming generation that is culturally Irish and socially aware. Traditional Catholic schools have achieved that purpose. The religion they taught has been taken lightly for a generation, but it has left a commitment to community that is certainly far superior to anything seen in free-thinking liberal England. Atheists and agnostics, even if they are well-meaning, do not have the social structures to deliver community care. They are individualists per se.

While the Irish culture transmitted has been deficient since the 1970s, it is still preferable to that is likely to be delivered in the multi-denominational model. This is committed to putting on a par the religion and culture of every country, rather than concentrating on what makes Ireland distinctive. The M-D sector seeks to immunise children against religion by teaching about religion. It is hard to see how that model can transmit the national tradition.

According to the Constitution, parents have the right to determine what education their children will have. As a reader to the Irish Times recently pointed out:

"…should a system paid for by the taxpayers of Ireland, the overwhelming majority of whom are Catholics, be subject to the anti-religious dictates of a small minority of atheists?" (Murt Ó Séaghdha, letter, The Catholic Church And Irish Life, IT 11.4.19).

Fear of causing a backlash has meant that the Department of Education has proceeded cautiously in its project of 'modernising' educational provision. However, it has worked quietly to promote Multi-Denominational and other alternative models of primary education. The Government is committed to providing 400 M-D Schools over the next decade (Caden, Sun. Indep. 7.4.19). Where new schools are built, or changes in management in existing schools have been proposed, there have been token consultation exercises, in which parents are invited to fill in computer surveys about a change in patronage of their local schools. This method of consultation in itself discriminates against those parents who are busy or not particularly computer savvy in order to produce 'progressive' outcomes.
Nevertheless, there has been some kickback amongst a section of parents in Dublin, who are mobilising opinion in Scoil An Duinnígh to resist the transfer of their school from Catholic patronage to a multi-denominational model. Some of these have made it clear that they are not particularly religious. They ask:

"Christmas is marked along with other festivals in multidenominational schools, but in a Catholic School Christmas is celebrated. The children sing carols, draw and craft religious items, listen to readings from the Bible and so forth.
"Are you guaranteeing that this will continue in school time no matter what patronage body is eventually selectedd for the divested school?" (Irish Times, 6.4.19, School Patronage Vote Delayed Over 'Confusion'", Carl O'Brien).

The Dept. of Education dismissed these pertinent parental concerns, talking of "confusion". Minister for Education Joe McHugh is continuing the liberalising project started by Labour's Ruairi Quinn and continued by Fine Gael's Richard Bruton. McHugh suggests that the parents have been circulating "misinformation".
Of course the parents are right. It is our recollection that the sponsors of Multi-Denominational Education were motivated by a cunning plan to place all religions on an equal footing, in order to relativise religion—placing it on a par with other subjects 'learned' at school. The idea was to do away with the predominance of the Catholic Church in public life, and probably with religious faith.
This journal recalls an argument it had with the late Bill Hyland, one of the founders of Educate Together, in which he strongly advocated not giving children any religious faith. They were to choose what religion they wished to espouse when they were adults.
But that is a nonsense as far as society is concerned. Society has to have a unifying culture, and that culture has to produce people who are there for each other. Religion has been the most effective vehicle for producing a coherent society so far. Religion is not just a matter for individual belief. It is a social good.

As for producing a more tolerant Ireland: that has already happened, while the schools remained under Catholic ownership! The M-D project played little role in that! That project was all very well when Catholic control of social life was oppressive and all-pervading in many parts of the country. It is a different story now.

As for the confusion of parents, alleged by the Minister for Education, here is the experience of a Northern Ireland teacher, working in a school "that is truly multidenominational and celebrates Hunukkah and Eid as well as Christmas, Easter etc." She continues:

"As for Christmas, of course it won't be cancelled. It will, however, be Christmas without Christ. The much-loved nativity play wll be replaced by Santa and his elves. Christmas carols such as Away in a Manger and Silent Night will be replaced by Jingle Bells and I Saw Mommy Kissing Santa Claus, etc." (Ann Kehoe, Dublin, IT letter, 9.4.19).

Do as you would be done by is often put forward as a principle which can replace religious morality teaching. But this is a flawed system, of limited value. It is a kind of conditional morality, which relies on a homogenous society which all want to be done by in the same way. A better principle is to do the right thing, just because it is the right thing to do. But how do you decide what is right? There has to be a social standard laid down: and that standard must be inherent in the society, taken for granted. Humanists declare that they are just as moral, perhaps even more moral, than religious people. And they may well be right. But they are living off the Christian heritage, as is the rest of society.

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