Catholic Church and the Irish Education System

Issues relating to promoting a secular state education and raising children in a non-religious home
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tony
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Catholic Church and the Irish Education System

Post by tony » Sun Jun 07, 2009 6:01 pm

Lessons in the power of the church
Irish Times Saturday, June 6, 2009

The overwhelming control of the primary education system that the Catholic Church has held since the Famine results not from charity but from the exercise of power, writes FINTAN O'TOOLE

THIS WEEK, the Government chief whip Pat Carey said an extraordinary thing. Or, rather, a thing that is extraordinary only in Ireland. He suggested, in the context of the negotiations between the Government and religious orders over the fallout from the Ryan report, that this might be the time for the State to “take on its responsibilities for delivering an educational system”.

In almost every other developed society, this would be a virtually incomprehensible statement. In Ireland, it is a potentially potent one. It hints at a realisation that the Ryan report marks the necessity for a whole new deal in Church-State relations, one in which basic services in education (and in health), overwhelmingly funded by the taxpayer, finally come under public control.

To understand the need for such a new deal, it is necessary to understand why Ireland, almost alone among developed societies, allows basic social services to be run by a secretive, hierarchical organisation that has repeatedly been seen to regard itself as accountable to no one – not even to the law.

The great myth that hangs over so much discussion of the Catholic Church’s domination of the education and health systems is that the church stepped in to offer services that the State refused to provide. Had it not been for the church, the story goes, the plain people of Ireland would have been left without schools or medical services.

While there is some truth to this belief in relation to the conditions of the early 19th century, it is largely wrong. Indeed, the opposite is nearer the truth – the church consistently undermined State services, fought to limit their expansion and consistently put the maintenance of its own power ahead of the interests of vulnerable people.

THE MOST SPECTACULAR case in point is the primary school system. Ireland is one of the very few countries in the developed world that does not have a national system of primary education. The church controls 2,899 of the 3,282 primary schools in the State, catering for 92 per cent of pupils. This situation didn’t just happen, and nor did it arise because the church undertook a task that the State was shirking. The overwhelming church control of the system of primary education results not from charity but from the exercise of power.

In 1831, Lord Stanley, then chief secretary for Ireland, established a national schools system. A board in Dublin would make grants for the building of local schools and the payment of teachers’ salaries. These schools would be under the patronage of important local figures. The schools would, however, be obliged to be strictly non-denominational – in the context of early 19th century Ireland this meant that they would ensure equal access to Catholics, Protestants and Dissenters. The rules were that they should be managed by reputable people of both Catholic and Protestant faiths; that they should not mix religious education with basic teaching; and that they should encourage the development of religiously mixed classrooms. Religious instruction by clergy of each denomination would be separately facilitated.

Catholics, by and large, seemed happy with this system. (Initial opposition came primarily from Presbyterians and, to a lesser extent, from the Church of Ireland.) While the idea of joint Protestant-Catholic management never really took off, there was a reasonable level of success in establishing a public system of primary education that transcended sectarian divisions. On the eve of the Famine, Ireland had relatively high levels of literacy; the National Board of Education was spending £100,000 a year on primary schools; and 12,000 registered teachers were providing a basic education for half a million pupils in 4,300 schools. In 1862, 54 per cent of the primary schools throughout the island of Ireland were religiously mixed.

After the Famine, however, the Catholic Church began to recreate itself as an institutional structure with power over the civil and intimate lives of the majority of the population. As part of that process, it set about destroying the national schools and replacing them with a specifically Catholic system. Its leader, Cardinal Paul Cullen, declared the national school system to be “very dangerous when considered in general because its aim is to introduce a mingling of Protestants and Catholics.”

The Christian Brothers had been founded to teach those who would not otherwise have access to education. They became, instead, the shock troops for an assault on the existing national school system. “The Brothers’ schools,” wrote the historian Barry Coldrey (a Christian Brother) in his seminal study Faith and Fatherland, “came to be perceived by Catholic leaders as key factors in their struggle with the government for control of education in Ireland.” A principal part of this strategy was that the Christian Brothers’ schools (CBS) should cater not, as Edmund Rice had intended, for the destitute, but for the “sons of the better class of the Roman Catholic population”. So far did the Brothers stray from their original mission that by the end of the 19th century, Archbishop Walsh of Dublin was referring to a Christian Brothers school in his diocese “from which the poor are virtually excluded”.

THERE WAS A brilliant pincer movement of carrot and stick. On the one hand, the Brothers and other orders offered a Catholic and nationalist education, leavened with Victorian gentility, that was in tune with the emerging identity of the Catholic middle class. On the other, Cullen reinforced this pull with a crude push of spiritual intimidation. In 1869, he made an explicit threat to deny the sacraments to parents who kept their sons in “the lion’s den” of the national schools rather than send them to the Brothers.

This control of education placed the church at the very heart of the process of modernisation in post-Famine Ireland. It was the mechanism for controlling sexuality and limiting the growth of population that had contributed to the Famine. As sociology professor Tom Inglis has written, “It was through the schools that bodily discipline, shame, guilt and modesty were instilled into the Irish Catholic. Through such discipline and control, successive generations of farmers were able to embody practices which were central to the modernisation of Irish agriculture, including postponed marriage, permanent celibacy and emigration.”

Far from providing what the State would not, the Church increasingly set limits to the State’s capacity to provide social services. The Catholic hierarchy bitterly opposed the idea of compulsory attendance at primary school (a crucial protection for children who were otherwise obliged to work) as an infringement on parental rights. Partly as a result, attendance levels slipped well below international standards. In the early years of the 20th century, daily attendance was only about 70 per cent. Instead of bringing poor children into the educational system, the church helped to keep them out.

After the foundation of the State, the church’s control of first- and second-level education became all but absolute. It not only dominated secondary schools (which remained as private, fee-paying institutions while other developed societies were making them free), but used them as recruiting grounds. Donald Harman Akenson, in his ground-breaking 1975 study A Mirror to Kathleen’s Face, worked out that in the years 1956 to 1960, of 5,428 final year students in diocesan colleges and secondary schools, an astonishing 1,346 professed religious vocations.

The church’s dominance extended even into what was, in theory, a non-denominational public system – that of vocational schools. As managers of primary schools, priests were entitled to be nominated as members of the local vocational education committees (VECs). Once on the committee, the culture of deference virtually ensured that the priest became chairman. In the mid-1950s, 22 of the 27 VECs were headed by priests.

Again, the church’s control was used not to provide services but to prevent the State providing them. Such was the church’s determination to retain complete control of the primary school system that it actually blocked a proposal to inject more public funds. The Irish National Teachers’ Organisation (INTO) campaigned for decades for local government to pay the cost of heating and cleaning schools and for national government to increase the State’s contribution to the capital cost of constructing them. In 1952, it was widely expected that Sean Moylan, the then minister for education, would finally agree to these demands. The Bishop of Clogher, Eugene O’Callaghan, issued a strong attack on the proposals, claiming that they would lead to an “intolerable state of affairs whereby civil servants from Dublin might come down and attempt to take control of the primary schools”.

When the hierarchy formally discussed the issue, its decision, according to Akenson, was “that the present arrangements were desirable and that the school teachers should now stop their campaign”. The government dropped any move towards full funding of the primary schools. The INTO campaign petered out. Children continued to be schooled in unsuitable, badly equipped and often insanitary buildings. The anomaly whereby the State pays teachers’ salaries but primary schools have to raise their own running costs continues to this day. It is a direct result of the church’s willingness to sacrifice the interests of children to the protection of its own power.

ALMOST EQUALLY DAMAGING to children was the church’s resistance to the ideas of child-centred education that were emerging in developed societies throughout the 20th century. Church control over primary education was used to insist on a punitive system. Because of original sin, children were assumed to be inclined towards badness. Thus, the church strongly opposed the progressive educational practices of John Dewey, Maria Montessori and others that were beginning to take hold in developed societies. In 1923, Fr Denis Fahey wrote in the Irish Ecclesiastical Review that the educational systems of other countries had been led astray by modern theories and that “we must return to the saner education ideal of the Middle Ages”. The archbishop of Dublin, John Charles McQuaid, condemned Montessori’s theories “wherein . . . the child is supposed to be his own end.” That punitive approach was at its most violent in the industrial school system, but it was a standard assumption of most Catholic schools.

What was true of education was almost equally true of the development of the health service. It is certainly the case that in the first half of the 19th century, the church did provide medical services that were not otherwise available. The work of orders of nuns such as the Sisters of Charity and the Sisters of Mercy was of immense value to Irish society at the time.

As the idea of public health systems began to emerge in the late 19th and 20th centuries, however, the church again successfully stymied their development in Ireland. In 1911, when David Lloyd George introduced the pioneering National Health Insurance scheme in Britain, guaranteeing free GP care and medicines for workers, the church, allied with parts of the medical profession, successfully opposed its extension to Ireland. A system that became standard throughout developed societies was denied to Irish people. As a result, levels of public health in Ireland – including the highest rate of tuberculosis in western Europe – were appalling.

Equally, in the 1940s and early 1950s, while the post-war world was developing national health systems, Ireland failed to do so. This was not primarily because of the State. The Department of Health produced radical proposals for a national health service in 1945. The church, allied with right-wing doctors, opposed it on the grounds that it infringed the rights of the family. When Dr Noel Browne became minister for health in 1948, he proposed a more modest scheme under which children would have free medical care and hospitals would care for mothers before and after birth. In what became the infamous Mother and Child controversy, the church again blocked the scheme.

The reality is that Ireland ended up with its anomalous system of church control in education and health, not by default, but by design. The design was the church’s determination that these services be delivered, not as the universal right of citizens, but as gifts of its own benevolence.

This has left us with a system in which, for example, the religious orders named in the Ryan report for inflicting and covering up systemic child abuse still control around 1,000 primary schools. The church not only insists on retaining this power, but is demanding that in any new system that takes account of the increasing diversity of Irish society, the church would still be joint patron of schools. Power built up over 150 years will not be easily ceded, but until it is, neither the church nor the State will be free to face up to its responsibilities.
DollarLama
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Re: Catholic Church and the Irish Education System

Post by DollarLama » Fri Jun 12, 2009 1:15 pm

Thanks tony. Here's a link to the original article.

Fintan O'Toole savaged Bishop of Kilmore Leo O'Reilly, Chairman of "the Bishops' Education Commission", on Prime Time last night. Check it out on the RTE Player or watch just O'Toole/O'Reilly snippet.

regards
Ben
"Religious belief of all kinds shares the same intellectual respectability, evidential base, and rationality as belief in the existence of fairies." AC Grayling
DollarLama
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Re: Catholic Church and the Irish Education System

Post by DollarLama » Fri Jun 12, 2009 6:09 pm

Ruari Quinn demands that religious-run primary schools be handed over to the state:

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=1YqsjuiHIzc
"Religious belief of all kinds shares the same intellectual respectability, evidential base, and rationality as belief in the existence of fairies." AC Grayling
lostexpectation
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Re: Catholic Church and the Irish Education System

Post by lostexpectation » Fri Jun 12, 2009 7:12 pm

it was great to have him on, but i was shouting at bishop o'reilly. as ever. wheres the choice?
test
Alexis
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Re: Catholic Church and the Irish Education System

Post by Alexis » Sun Jun 21, 2009 1:50 am

MOST Irish people I know (I'm Irish born and bred myself) are SO damaged by their Roman Catholic upbringing/inheritance that I wouldn't regard them as close friends, no matter how "lapsed" they perceive themselves to be.

I have met very few Irish people in my travels around the globe (and I have done quite a bit of travelling, alone) who have managed to rid themselves, emotionally, of the pernicious effects of their Roman Catholic childhood condtioning, which often makes me feel very sad. But there you go: so powerful is the effect of religious dogma on frail humanity.

And what is RELIGIOUS DOGMA anyway? But the result of of all those unwanted babies who were thrown to the psychopathic "religious" wolves - not even aborted!
adamd164
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Re: Catholic Church and the Irish Education System

Post by adamd164 » Wed Jun 24, 2009 7:29 pm

Makes me feel grateful to have been raised by atheists.

(Though I did attend a nominally catholic primary school; from a young age I knew it to be a load of bollocks and was encouraged to think critically about religion... I'd take home religion work to do and my mum would be laughing at how stupid the stuff was. And I went to a non-dem secondary school -- though I only really grew a bit of a personal obsession with eradicating religion quite recently. Those who stand for nothing fall for everything, as the saying goes. :D )
lostexpectation
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Re: Catholic Church and the Irish Education System

Post by lostexpectation » Mon Jul 20, 2009 3:35 pm

Archbishop warns against State control of education
http://www.irishtimes.com/newspaper/fro ... 47579.html

“A State which simply delegated a wide part of its social responsibilities to a church had gotten it wrong. A State which takes over the entire package is on equally dodgy ground.”


i can't quite see how the state could ever achieve such monopoly as the church did, and he equates the church and the state, one a private religion another, an organ to manage things on behalf of a government elected by all the people.

“Certainly a situation in which a church took over day-to-day responsibility for the running of most of the school system and of our hospitals was – and still is – an anomaly.
a freak accident no less, no thought behind it.

“But the answer, I believe, is not simply handing everything over to State bureaucracies whose efficiency has certainly yet to be proven, and in some cases efficiency may not even be the word to apply.”
is the bishop is advocating anarchism?
test
Conor
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Re: Catholic Church and the Irish Education System

Post by Conor » Mon Jul 20, 2009 9:32 pm

A new book has just been published - Dr Alison Mawhinney, Freedom of Religion and Schools@ The Case of Ireland.

I've pasted below the blurb on Amazon.co.uk:

This is the first major study to examine the primary education system in Ireland in terms of international human rights standards and obligations. In Ireland 98% of schools are run by religious bodies. There is no parallel system of state-run schools. Situations can thus arise where individuals are denied the right to freedom of religion. This is particularly so as the Irish population becomes increasingly diverse in terms of ethnic origin and religious beliefs. Through interviews with parents and teachers, the book draws upon their experience in order to examine three crucial issues. These are the teaching of religion in schools, admission policies and the employment of teachers. The picture that emerges suggests that the Irish State has failed to adequately discharge its international obligations to protect freedom of religion within its education system. The book makes a distinctive and valuable contribution to the fields of human rights, religious liberty, education and Irish studies.
DollarLama
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Re: Catholic Church and the Irish Education System

Post by DollarLama » Tue Jul 21, 2009 1:21 am

Freedom of Religion and Schools: the Case of Ireland: A failure to protect international human rights standards
"Religious belief of all kinds shares the same intellectual respectability, evidential base, and rationality as belief in the existence of fairies." AC Grayling
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Re: Catholic Church and the Irish Education System

Post by DollarLama » Thu Aug 06, 2009 10:47 am

The Grauniad has published an extract from John McGahern's book Memoir in which he describes how he was fired from his job as a teacher because his book "The Dark" was banned by the Censorship Board.

As countmeoutie has noted, "it is technically still legal to fire a teacher in the way that the late John McGahern was."
John McGahern wrote:In the Dail, the Minister of Education was asked by the Leader of the Labour Party, Brendan Corish, about what had become known as the "McGahern Case". How is it, the question ran, that while the State pays for the training of teachers, their salaries and the running of the schools, it has no say when it comes either to the hiring or firing of teachers, irrespective of their rights as citizens; and could he give a satisfactory reason to the House for Mr McGahern's recent dismissal. The question was crafted carefully. While it was a statutory offence to sell or try to sell a banned book, it was not an offence to have written that book. "When the Church decides on a course of action, it generally has a good reason for that action," the Minister replied.
"Religious belief of all kinds shares the same intellectual respectability, evidential base, and rationality as belief in the existence of fairies." AC Grayling
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