Belfast Telegraph

Why DUP stance on shared education is just a cop-out

By Alf McCreary

Today marks the end of January, and Christmas seems such an age away. However, it has been a busy month in Church affairs, with one of the highlights being this week's installation of the Rev Libby Lane as the first female bishop in the Church of England.

This has raised, yet again, one of the basic questions facing the world in general, and our province in particular - namely, how to deal with difference.

Lane's installation as the new Bishop of Stockport went smoothly, apart from a protest by a single representative of the strong Church of England lobby which opposes the appointment of women bishops.

The intervention was handled well by Archbishop of York John Sentamu, who listened politely to the protester and then asked the packed York Minister if the people approved of the installation of Libby Lane.

There was a resounding 'Yes', the new bishop breathed a visible sigh of relief, and the protester walked away. End of protest, very British, very democratic.

It made me wish that all voices of dissent were handled in this way. In Islamic Saudi Arabia, a young man is still facing a sentence of up to 1,000 lashes plus a jail sentence and a heavy fine for daring to post a liberal point of view on his blog.

However, this did not prevent Prince Charles and David Cameron from attending this week's funeral of the late Saudi king.

Nor did it prevent the flying of flags at half mast in the UK as a sign of respect for the dead monarch.

Freedom of expression is a fine sentiment, but obviously political alliances and economic interests are much more important indicators as to where our nation's true interests lie.

Nearer home there has also been an important hint about the often unclear relationship between political pragmatism and principle, with regard to integrated education.

It appears that the DUP is withdrawing its support for integrated education and instead putting its weight behind the greatly flawed project called 'shared education' which only perpetuates division.

Shared education is better than the educational apartheid which has not helped us to deal properly with division in Northern Ireland. However, I am not impressed by the shared education system in which pupils in different uniforms share some aspects of education but also go back into their different schools.

That can only confirm a child in his or her belief that the others are somehow different. Shared education is an excuse for the political parties and the Catholic Church to refuse any support for integrated education which teaches children from different backgrounds together in the same school.

Shared education is basically a cop-out, and therefore I am interested in the DUP's apparent shift in that direction.

They rarely do something without a reason, so I wonder what the real story is behind this shift in policy.

The somewhat sneaky attack on integration by the supporters of Catholic education in a recent report only confirms that integrated education is a better way forward, though it cannot be a panacea for all our ills.

We still have a lot to learn in this province about dealing with difference, and I sometimes wonder how much our attempts at bridge-building really get to the nub of things.

The main consolation, however, is that democracy allows us to have these differences, whereas in so much of the Muslim world the price of being different is too often imprisonment, punishment, and even death.

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