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Monday, October 23, 2006

Educate the kids together and they won't grow up to shoot each other

Sometimes the best ideas are the simple ones. Like non-denominational integrated schooling in the North.

In the quarter century since Lagan College first opened its doors, thousands of children have had the opportunity to be educated alongside those from the other community, eliminating the likelihood of those children becoming the latest generation of bigots.

In a climate where living arrangements have become dangerously polarised into a patchwork of single community ghettos, school and the workplace have become almost the only environments in which both communities can encounter each other in the province.

This morning, it has emerged that the Catholic Council for Maintained Schools, which oversees the running of Catholic schooling in the North, is set to shut at least 50 primary schools because of plummetting demographics and lack of interest from parents.

And about time too. The old Jesuitical saying 'Give me a boy for seven years and he'll be ours for life' was never more relevant than in relation to Catholic schooling in the North.

In addition to the standard curriculum, far too often children in CCMS schools were educated in non-official subjects, like bigotry, sectarianism, Republican politics and violence.

Of course, the priests and nuns weren't usually to the fore when it came to politics or endorsing violence and paramilitaries. They were probably too busy with their own unofficial curriculum of Catholic guilt and brutalisation.

They tended to leave the overt bigotry teaching to their lay teachers in my experience. One Irish teacher I had used to hold the metre stick out the window when British army helicopters flew overhead, mimicking firing a rocket propelled grenade at it, and telling us 'That's how you do it, boys.'

It came as no surprise to me when it emerged that he was a member of a paramilitary organisation and he later fled to Spain to avoid arrest.

I've no doubt plenty of people went to Catholic schools and had wonderful times with wonderful teachers. I wasn't one of those. But even for those who were, I'd pose the question, did it do you any good not to be educated alongside Protestants?

The CCMS, or Catholic Council for Maintaining Sectarianism as I prefer to expand it, has bitterly opposed integrated schooling, preferring to maintain their own fiefdom over the hearts and minds of impressionable youths.

It's time they were scrapped, and all schools in Northern Ireland made mandatorily integrated and non-denominational. If you want religion taught to your kids, let them go to a Sunday school, and let the CCMS turn their attentions in that direction.

And if you wish to see religious education taught in schools, let the local clerics handle it, like they would elsewhere.

When I switched schools to attend one which had students of at least five different religions attending, they had no problem accommodating everyone in terms of morning prayer and assemblies, or in terms of what version of the religious knowledge exam paper they had to study.

If we ever really hope to see the end of bigotry and sectarianism in Northern Ireland, the best place to start is with the kids. Let's give them a chance to get to know each other before their elders teach them to hate each other.

The best way to do that is to integrate all schools in the province under a non-denominational banner for at least a generation.

And that involves restricting the Catholic Council for Maintaining Sectarian schooling to Sunday, if not scrapping it altogether.


MQuinn said...

As the product of a Catholic education in Belfast, I found your post ludicrously uninformed and grossly offensive.

Never once, not on a single occasion, during fourteen years of education in Catholic schools, was I taught anything which smacked of bigotry. In fact, Catholic schools were a bulwark against the radicalisation of the northern Catholic community, and offered a moderating effect on passions inflamed by the constant abuse, denigration and discrimination we suffered.

I would argue that the only thing that has given northern Catholics the intellectual confidence and social mobility that they have now is the Catholic eductaion they were lucky enough to receive. You ask me did it do any good to be educated apart from Protestants. In fact you're asking the wrong question. I was very lucky to receive an education in schools respectful towards my faith, community heritage and national identity, unlike my Catholic friends attending state schools, who were exposed to sectarian violence, ridicule and discrimination.

Moreover, people aren't leaving the Catholic sector in favour of integrated schools. People are simply having fewer kids. Many new schools in nationalist areas, especially Irish medium schools, declare integrated status so as to get the additional cash given to such schools.

Put the blame for bigotry on the quarters whence it came; in my experience, that excludes the Catholic schools.

I know nothing about you, MrSkinner, but reading this thinly veiled accusation of bigotry against northern Catholics, and recoiling in shock at the prejudiced animus your writing here betrays, one is tempted to say "physician, heal thyself!".

JC Skinner said...

Well, lucky you, Mr(s) Quinn. I did say that some people no doubt managed to get through CCMS education without being trained in bigotry. Apparently you are one of them. Or perhaps you just don't acknowledge the bigotry taught to you as such?
It's extremely telling that you can't address the question of how it actually BENEFITED you to be educated apart from Protestants, though.
Probably because it didn't, and you're afraid to admit that.
As someone who spent well over a decade in CCMS schools, you may disagree with me, but you can't deny my experience or call me uninformed. That I'm not.
Roll on mandatory integrated schooling for all. It really is the only way forward, if only to prevent the next generation from suffering the same chips on the shoulder you appear to be weighed down by.

monty said...

I attended state schools which are, by default, integrated. Most kids at the schools were Protestant or at least born Protestant. Catholic boys I grew to know when I left school mostly dispised their CCMS schooling. The Christian Brothers didn't appear to be very christian. You use the word brutality, they did too. Cathlics who attended my grammer school had a visit from the priest who asked them all not to show their faces at the chapel again. One of these boys was a close friend of mine, his father was a life-long lay preacher of some sort, a very devout man and helped out at Masses. This man was rightly disgusted at how his faith treated him for having the audacity to send his 5 children to the best local school. I attended his funeral 2 years ago, the funeral service held in the very chapel he was barred from attending. How many of his children, and now granchildren, do you think that bigoted priest drove away?

monty said...

I must try to discipline myself to avoid mixing blogging with wine. Cathlics? Dispised? Plus the rest.

MelloBiafra said...

Never mind the yappin' about not being educated with Prods! It's the not being educated with CHICKS that really screwed me up!