Belfast Telegraph

We cannot hand over schools to the churchless liberal elite

By Kevin Myers

I wake up each morning in the madhouse that is Ireland and wonder, what next? What insanity will the banks, or the political classes, or the liberal mob concoct today?

I'm never disappointed. No, never: some new witless infamy makes its grisly appearance each dawn, from one source or another. The latest comes from dogmatic secularist liberals calling for the removal of the Catholic Church from its role as the lead-custodian of our primary schools.

The idiocy is compounded by a general Catholic silence. Indeed, trying to get the Catholic Church to defend itself these days is rather like getting a manic-depressive to discuss world history.

Black Death? Me! I did it! The Wars of the Roses? Me, all me! The extirpation of Aztec civilisation? Mine own work, sirrah! The Irish Famine? ‘Twas I who introduced the fungus. Grey squirrels? I confess all. Woe is me! Ashes upon my brow, and sackcloth on my shoulders!

Look, before we surrender to the secular liberal dogmatists and give them what they supposedly want, let's ask a couple of questions. Firstly: do they actually know what they want? How are they going to create practical plans for their ambitions?

And who is then going to implement their vision? Reforms are seldom implemented as their proponents would have wanted. Politicians, with their own agendas, will be the ones that force the necessary legislation through.

And tell me, which part of the Dail do you trust? That which recently made it illegal to buy a bottle of wine on a Sunday morning before noon? Or which voted to make it a criminal act for a 16-year-old boy to have sex with a 16-year-old girl, but not vice-versa?

Or which made it a major crime to have a firework in this Republic, though fireworks are perfectly legal an inch away in the North?

There are seven teacher training colleges in Ireland, all run by religious organisations. But it is simply a distortion of the truth to say that in all of them — as Fintan O'Toole said in the Irish Times — “every single course is run by a Christian college and obliges every single student to both learn and teach Christian doctrine”. No one is obliged by a training college to teach anything. Teaching occurs in schools.

How it is done and who does it is the business of teachers and of their heads.

To be sure, we should have a secular teacher-training course. But this is not the same thing as handing over all our primary schools, lock, stock and churchless barrel to secular management committees who very probably will not have the faintest idea how to create an ethos — or, indeed, what that ethos should be.

Frankly, I would entrust the teaching of my son to the ‘Jesuits’ of an almost Jesuit-less Clongowes rather than to almost any secular school, simply because of the ethos there.

The fiction is perpetuated by the secularists that this state is unique in its funding of denominational schools.

Wrong again. In fact, the governments of both our closest EU neighbours, the avowedly secular France and the UK, fund religious schools; indeed, the British Home Secretary David Miliband sends his children to a state-funded church school two miles away from his home rather than to a state school at the end of the road.

The vitality of the religious ethos is most convincingly shown in the US, where the most successful schools amongst poor and black communities |are Catholic.

Take the all-black Christian Brothers' Leo High School in Chicago, which has one of the highest pass rates in the city. It's kept going by subscriptions from Irish Catholics who have left the area, making bright college-students of boys from dysfunctional, drugs-racked, single-mom black ghettoes.

My real criticism of the Irish Christian Brothers (apart from the violence of their nationalism and their former methods) is that they never educated the poor. Their schools — contrary to recent left-wing mythology — were always for the lower middle-classes.

The real poor were left to the state-run techs: yes indeed, truly secular schools, which usually imparted no religion, no literacy and no life-skills to the most deprived children in the country.

The Catholic Church is now burdened with educational responsibilities it can no longer cope with. Priests are nearly as rare as rabbis, and the total of non-nonagenarian nuns is |nearly none.

But an ethos is a mysterious thing, like a wonderful pail whose handle has been changed twice and the bucket three times.

But once you destroy an ethos, just try putting it back together.

Educational standards for the working-classes in England never recovered from the ideologically-driven destruction of their great grammar schools.

Why repeat the catastrophic errors of the English?

Or perhaps, as yet another Irish solution to an Irish problem, why not?

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