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Matt Cooper on schooling and faith

Posted: Mon Sep 01, 2008 2:52 pm
by andrew
Both Matt Cooper and Liam Fay had a go at the bishops in this week's Sunday Times

http://www.timesonline.co.uk/tol/news/w ... 640887.ece

Emboldened perhaps by the weakness of the political establishment in the wake of the Lisbon referendum and the distraction caused by the imploding economy, the Catholic church has been flexing its once-powerful muscles.

First we had Cardinal Sean Brady’s claim that the rejection of Lisbon could be attributed to public dissatisfaction with the secularism of the European project — a contentious claim, to put it mildly. Now the Catholic church is pressurising the state on educational provision, subtly making a claim to re-establish its special status in this area.

The state is opening 26 new national schools this autumn and plans as many as 400 over the next decade. All of them will be built and funded by the state. With 8,000-10,000 children entering the primary system per annum for the next five years, this is one of the most urgent issues on the government’s agenda.

The Catholic church wants at least some of these schools to be run according to its ethos, on a denominational or sectarian basis. Presumably, this will be under the auspices of lay Catholics, given the fall-off in teaching priests, nuns and brothers. It’s not difficult to see why the church is staking a claim. Apart from genuinely believing that children should be schooled in the Catholic faith, the best way of sustaining the faithful’s numbers is to grab children young and squeeze gratitude from parents for providing sought-after school places.

The church may even sense that a vulnerable government would agree to this request, thereby currying favour with a still significant section of the electorate. And if Bertie Ahern were still taoiseach, its chances of pulling this off would be quite high. Ahern may have been a typical, à la carte Catholic in his personal behaviour, but when it came to politics, he retained much of the traditional deference of government to the establishment church. He was slow to condemn the sexual or physical abuse of children by clerics, for example, and was quick to qualify any criticism with praise for the good work done by others within Catholic organisations.

The 2002 deal struck with the Catholic church on the compensation it should pay to victims of its abuse was brokered in almost scandalous secrecy and on terms that were highly favourable to the guilty party. While Ahern showed himself well able to respect those of different religious faiths north of the border, he was always cognisant of his Catholicism in his legislative and political actions in the south. Would he have pushed the divorce referendum had he been taoiseach in 1995, for example?

Brian Cowen, on the other hand, has never been one to wear his religious beliefs on his forehead, as Ahern famously does every Ash Wednesday, marking the beginning of the Catholic feast of Lent. Cowen’s reaction to the pressure now being exerted by the Catholic church will tell us much about the man.

Handing control of many of the new schools to Catholic-dominated boards of management, to be run according to a Catholic ethos, would be the wrong decision, yet it might be an easier political one than saying no. Ignoring the demand might be seen as an extension of the same sin that Brady has accused the EU of committing: denying the role of God and caving in to secularism.

There are many reasons for avoiding the easy option, and the best is that the state should show no preference for one religion over another, even though the vast majority subscribe to Catholicism. The idea that the government would facilitate discrimination in any new state-funded school, by giving first right of access to children whose parents had a particular faith — and that it would then teach according to a religious belief — is not appropriate to any republic.

The contention that doing so somehow makes for a “better” society — as suggested in the Irish Independent last week by the Iona Institute, a right-wing think-tank — is unproven, self-serving and frankly insulting to those of no religious faith. Indeed, while the state should tolerate and respect religious belief, it should not promote it by use of public funds. Of course, the situation is complicated by the historic and current role of the religious orders in providing much of the country’s schooling and by the state’s funding of existing denominational schools. This is the legacy of an era in which the state did not have the inclination, money or land, and religious groups stepped in. Now most of the finance for schools comes from the state and management of many schools has been surrendered by religious orders.

Nobody is suggesting that existing schools should be stripped of their religious affiliations, but as they are funded largely by the state, they should not operate a policy of discrimination against members of other faiths. And, in fairness, they don’t. They should also, if requested, make their facilities available for private after-hours classes for members of other faiths. Indeed, there is a strong argument that religion — Catholic or otherwise — should not be taught as a subject during the normal school day. Far better for it to be an optional extra, paid for privately by adherents in after-school hours. The only concession that need be made by the state is a guarantee to make its facilities available.

Brian Hayes, Fine Gael’s education spokesman, was mauled by the media this month when he made the reasonable suggestion that children insufficiently proficient in English should be streamed into separate classes until ready to join the mainstream. His use of the word “segregation” was condemned, but he was not proposing permanent exclusion, as children would be readmitted to the mainstream once their language skills were good enough. Permanent segregation is what faith-based schools do effectively: they create barriers between people and emphasise their differences.

Organisations such as the Iona Institute deny this, but prejudices are formed at a young age. If you tell children they are being kept away from others of a different faith, and that their schooling is somehow inferior to yours, the potential for trouble is obvious. We need look no further than Northern Ireland if we want to test the failures of that policy. Catholics say they believe people of all religions should be allowed to educate children according to their religious beliefs. They should be free to receive religious instruction, but they should pay for it themselves.

Even if Catholics and other faiths were to win the argument about denominational status for new schools, the state cannot afford to indulge them. It makes no economic sense to build separate schools in the same area for different religions. The most pressing issue in Irish primary schools these days is not the religious status of management, but underfunding by the state, which leaves a shortfall that must be met by parents. Last week Saint Vincent de Paul said it was running out of money for helping clients with their back-to-school expenses. The state has performed well in terms of building new schools and providing teachers, but not in funding day-to-day operations. That’s where the money needs to be spent, rather than in indulging the religious claims of Catholics, or any other faith groups.

Posted: Mon Sep 01, 2008 3:56 pm
by FXR
Interesting article and it shows the Zeitgeist in Ireland moving inexorably to a fairer system not dominated by the Vaticans agents in Ireland. The problem is the Vatican has played politics a long time and the shortsighted gombeen men who run this country are easy meat. What people want is not as important as who has the power to block or implement their desires. Hanafin blocked an Educate Together school even though the parents in the area had registered their children for one. When she left and Batty O'Keefe took over he continued Hanafins policy.

Vatican 1 Irish parents 0

Posted: Tue Sep 02, 2008 1:32 am
by Alexis
FXR wrote:
Vatican 1 Irish parents 0

Do you honestly believe that the majority of Irish parents today are so free from the long-term disastrous consequences of Rome, that they are at odds with the Catholic Church? Think again. They may no longer adhere to the usual rituals of Confession and Sunday Mass etc., but they are still harbouring that RC virus :oops:

Posted: Tue Sep 02, 2008 10:22 am
by FXR
Alexis wrote:
FXR wrote:
Vatican 1 Irish parents 0

Do you honestly believe that the majority of Irish parents today are so free from the long-term disastrous consequences of Rome, that they are at odds with the Catholic Church? Think again. They may no longer adhere to the usual rituals of Confession and Sunday Mass etc., but they are still harbouring that RC virus :oops:
If you actually read the post you'd realise I was talking about a specific situation. I have the newspaper articles cut out at home. Are you sure you're not Martha?

Posted: Tue Sep 02, 2008 1:13 pm
by DollarLama
Alexis wrote:
FXR wrote:
Vatican 1 Irish parents 0

Do you honestly believe that the majority of Irish parents today are so free from the long-term disastrous consequences of Rome, that they are at odds with the Catholic Church? Think again. They may no longer adhere to the usual rituals of Confession and Sunday Mass etc., but they are still harbouring that RC virus :oops:
Alexis has a point. Check out this article in today's Irish Times: "A big first as two State-run community schools open". This is a major landmark in the state's role in education in this country, but Jennisfer McManus' quote in the article left me depressed:
Irish Times wrote: Religious instruction at Educate Together primary schools takes place outside of normal school hours. However, Scoil Ghráinne will run a newly developed pilot programme for religious instruction taught during school time, principal David Campbell explained.

"It will be multi-faith religious education instead of a Catholic programme," he said. "It will be one common programme initially and we will address the main tenets of faith, the commonalities shared by faiths, rather than separating them into different religions."

He said the only situation in which children might be separated for religion classes at some stage would be with one class a week, to prepare for First Holy Communion.

Jennifer McManus, who brought her young daughter Niamh to school yesterday, is excited about the new type of school.

"I think it is great and she gets opportunities whatever the religion and will have the chance to take the sacraments," she explained.
So no change there, then. The virus is still present.

regards
DL

Posted: Tue Sep 02, 2008 6:31 pm
by FXR
DollarLama wrote:
Alexis has a point. Check out this article in today's Irish Times: "A big first as two State-run community schools open". This is a major landmark in the state's role in education in this country, but Jennisfer McManus' quote in the article left me depressed:


No not in this specific case he has'nt. Like I said I was talking about a particular case where the parents had already signed up for the school only to have there wishes denied. I have the article at home and when I get back I'll find it and post it.

Posted: Wed Sep 03, 2008 10:26 am
by DollarLama
FXR wrote:Hanafin blocked an Educate Together school even though the parents in the area had registered their children for one. When she left and Batty O'Keefe took over he continued Hanafin's policy.
Oh sorry, I missed your point in all the huffing and puffing about the Vatican and Gombeen men. :wink: