A VERY REASONABLE and carefully worded statement landed on my desk the other day. It was the response of the Educate Together movement to the recent policy announcement from the Department of Education on the setting up of new primary schools in the State. But as it happened, the same morning on which I read this was also the morning on which I caught up with the Pope’s addresses on his recent visit to France. Bells began to ring in my ears. Was this really as reasonable a statement as it first seemed or was there lurking here some hidden agenda of which we should all be truly wary. Educate Together warns us: “There are profound Constitutional, legal and human rights issues involved for parents and children in our existing educational system. The announced approach appears to ignore these issues.”
In his address to nearly 700 representatives of the world of culture assembled in the Collège des Bernardins in Paris, the Pope, having examined the roots and development of Europe’s Christian culture, concluded:
“Our present situation differs in many respects from the one that Paul encountered in Athens, (where he had encountered the statue to the unknown god), yet despite the difference, the two situations also have much in common. Our cities are no longer filled with altars and with images of multiple deities. God has truly become for many the great unknown. But just as in the past, when behind the many images of God the question concerning the unknown God was hidden and present, so too the present absence of God is silently besieged by the question concerning him. Quaerere Deum – to seek God and to let oneself be found by him, that is today no less necessary than in former times. A purely positivistic culture which tried to drive the question concerning God into the subjective realm, as being unscientific, would be the capitulation of reason, the renunciation of its highest possibilities, and hence a disaster for humanity, with very grave consequences. What gave Europe’s culture its foundation – the search for God and the readiness to listen to him – remains today the basis of any genuine culture.”
If this is a question of “disaster for humanity” are we really running the risk of such a disaster if we unthinkingly accept as good the intentions of the secularist movement – which, let’s face it, is pure and simply what Educate Together is all about?
What is Educate Together proposing? In their own words, this:
“Educate Together aims to meet a growing need in Irish society for schools that recognise the developing diversity of Irish life and the modern need for democratic management structures. In particular, Educate Together guarantees children and parents of all faiths and none equal respect in the operation and governing of education.
“The schools operated by the member associations of Educate Together are fully recognised by the Irish Department of Education and Science and work under the same regulations and funding structures as other national schools. However, they have a distinct ethos or governing spirit. This has been defined in the following terms:
· Multi-denominational i.e. all children having equal rights of access to the school, and children of all social, cultural and religious backgrounds being equally respected
· Co-educational and committed to encouraging all children to explore their full range of abilities and opportunities,
· Child centred in their approach to education
· Democratically run with active participation by parents in the daily life of the school, whilst positively affirming the professional role of the teachers.”
That is all very reasonable – but what does it mean in practice? In practice it seems to mean that no specific religious education will take place in these schools. That in effect means precisely what the Pope is warning us about. Forgive me for taking the words of the Pope and paraphrasing them (alterations in italics) in the context of what we have before us here. Is this a glimpse of the future?
“Our schools are no longer filled with altars and with images of multiple deities. God has truly become for many the great unknown…. To seek God and to let oneself be found by him, that is today no less necessary than in former times. A purely positivistic educational system which tried to drive the question concerning God into the subjective realm, as being unconstitutional, would be the capitulation of reason, the renunciation of its highest possibilities, and hence a disaster for humanity, with very grave consequences. What gave Europe’s culture its foundation – the search for God and the readiness to listen to him – remains today the basis of any genuine culture.”
The Educate Together solution to providing education for the multiplicity of faiths we now have in Ireland is to provide education for no faith. It is to remove not only the image of Jesus Christ from schools but to remove also the symbols of all religion and replace it with secular humanism. Their website quotes a satisfied Catholic father as saying:
“My children are catholic and are/will study for their first holy communion as extra curricular activities after school. I am delighted that they are covering the learn together curriculum in school hours and will learn to respect and understand other religions as well as covering inclusion, equality & justice, democracy and environmental responsibilities.” That is, the gospel of secular humanism, unconnected with the faith which gives all life its full and true meaning.
MEANWHILE ACROSS THE Atlantic ther culture wars also continue unabated as the new Joan of Arc takes to the field in the face of multiple slings and arrow of outraged liberals and the media establishment. Well, perhaps, Joan of Arc is stretching it a bit. Nevertheless, Sarah Palin does seem to have many of the admirable characteristics of that dauntless heroine of old Europe.
And they really are out to burn her at the stake. The cremation of Sam Magee was nothing in comparison with what they would like to do to her in the land of the midnight sun. The New York Times in its daily web edition lists its ten most e-mailed articles. One day recently of those ten articles seven were on the subject of Sarah Palin. Of those seven, ALL were hostile to her.
One of those articles cited the charge of censorship. This was because she seemed to have a view as to what should or should not be available for children to read in public libraries. As newly appointed mayor of Wasilla she was charged with tending “carefully to her evangelical base. She appointed a pastor to the town planning board. And she began to eye the library. For years, social conservatives had pressed the library director to remove books they considered immoral. Witnesses and contemporary news accounts say Ms. Palin asked the librarian about removing books from the shelves.”
“In 1995,” they reported, “Ms. Palin, then a city councilwoman, told colleagues that she had noticed the book ‘Daddy’s Roommate’ on the shelves and that it did not belong there, according to Ms. Chase and Mr. Stein. Ms. Chase read the book, which helps children understand homosexuality, and said it was inoffensive; she suggested that Ms. Palin read it. ‘Sarah said she didn’t need to read that stuff,’ Ms. Chase said. ‘It was disturbing that someone would be willing to remove a book from the library and she didn’t even read it.’” Well good for her! Do I need to read “Lady Chatterly’s Lover” before I take it off a child’s bookshelf?
A recent news item in the Daily Telegraph reported the case of an eight-year-old boy who arrived home from his school library with a book entitled ‘Amy’s Honeymoon’. After finding a few swear words in it he rather bemusedly brought it to his mother. His mother looked a little closer and found more than she bargained for. “I noticed a lot more than swearing. There was explicit words about sexual stuff and drugs. I’m glad he noticed the swear words before he read more”. She called for stricter controls at the library and a school spokesman said the book was obviously not intended for children and apologised. He said a review of the library stock would be carried out. How illiberal! He better not let the Palin-hunters hear about it.
Michael Kirke, formerly of The Irish Press, is now a freelance writer and the director of Ely University Centre, 10 Hume Street, Dublin 2. His views can be responded to at firstname.lastname@example.org. Other writing can be found at www.mercatornet.com and www.positionpapers.ie .