Friday, January 4, 2013

School patronage

The Republic of Ireland is probably unusual in respect of its educational system compared to most countries. The majority of its schools are denominational, usually with the local bishop as patron. Over 90% are Catholic; the bulk of the remainder (but not all) are Church of Ireland. This came about for a variety of historical reasons which I won't go into here.

Lately, this system has come in for criticism by secularists. 'Not fair!' they cry. 'These schools are teaching the children of secularist parents what to think. They are indoctrinating them! Our rights are being infringed! The fair thing to do would be to make all schools secular and leave the religious education to the parents when the kids get home.'

Given that the vast bulk of time in schools is spent on other topics than religion, and that the majority of children's time is spent at home with their parents who are their primary educators, secularists must think that the slight exposure to religion their children will receive in denominational schools is very potent indeed! 

Truth be told, Irish schools are not in the business of proselytising.  Catholic parents happily send their children to CofI schools and vice-versa without the slightest worry that the indoctrinating educators within will try to turn the kids against the faith of their fathers. I don't think secularists really have anything to fear from the gentle and respectful (& truthfully rather slight) faith education provided within our schools. 

There is, in any case, for those who are truly worried, this is an option other than removing all religion from schools. Secularists groups could set themselves up as school patrons and jump through all the hoops that denominational schools have to jump through to set up schools here: fund-raise to buy sites, deal with the planning head-aches, endure the tooth-ache agony of clawing grants out of the Department of Education (bless them for all they do!), organise School Boards of management, etcetera, etcetera. 

Others have done so when they wished to opt out of the current set up. It is the perfect right of secularists to do so. It would mean that their rights in respect of keeping their kids free from religion would be respected. And that the rights of the vast majority of parents who do wish for a denominational education for their children would not be infringed.

It seems a reasonable course of action to me. Unless of course, there is a different agenda at play ... that secularists really wish to make sure that all children are protected from the evils of a denominational education ... and all this talk of the rights of secularist parents is just a ploy ... but that couldn't be it, could it? Surely no one would be so disingenuous?

Would they?

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