Aftershocks of a pandemic

“The parents weren’t just upset about all the screen time their kids were logging. They were upset about what they saw on those screens. For the first time, millions of moms and dads could watch, in real time, their children’s teachers teaching.”

That’s just one more aftershock from the great pandemic of the twenty-twenties.

We have all become aware of the workplace upheaval in which the world’s biggest corporations and the state bureaucracies of the planet – not to mention the real estate industry – are all grappling with the existential phenomenon of working-from-home. Pre-pandemic social communication had already made something of sea-change in our lives but the infliction of lockdown, while not perhaps being the mother of Zoom and its fellow inventions, was certainly the booster rocket which sent them into orbit, giving us meetings at our finger-tips and a new meaning to dropping in on family, friends and neighbours for a chat.

The architecture of the entire teaching-learning edifice which our world has known for the duration of what we call modern times now looks like it is in the process of a radical redevelopment, if not a wholesale demolition and rebuild. Not least among its structural features facing radical change is that which has taken care of which is perhaps its most lovable and most precious responsibility, elementary education.

Post-pandemic, millions of new families are moving to undertake the elementary education of their own children.

And why not? Are we so blind that we cannot see the logic, the justice and the beautiful privilege that the best educated generation in human history have the ability, and should have the right, to educate their own children. “Education bureaucrats, leave those kids alone!”

Barri Weiss’ Common Sense on the Substack platform spells out some of the details of this apparent landslide freedom movement in a guest post from another Weiss, Suzy by name, (sister, cousin?). In an age when the family has been put in greater danger than it has been in over one hundred years this is really good news. Not since the Marxist revolutions of the early part of the last century tried to obliterate the family, has it been so threatened. This movement is a real sign of hope. And this is not just for children but for the whole of western society. This is a revolutionary counter-revolution, a whiff of grapeshot moment of the kind in which Napoleon tore into the murderous zealots who had taken control of the French Revolution.

Throughout the western world – and increasingly encroaching on the societies and cultures of the rest of the planet – progressive elites with their bizarre readings of human nature, and what they think they can do with it, have penetrated education systems like a dry-rot penetrating the fabric of a building. That ordinary families with common sense and their feet on the real ground might take over the education of their children in their formative years is an anathema to these elites. The progressivists, academia and the teacher unions which they dominate, will resist but they must not be let undermine this most natural of movements.

These are some of the insights into this revolution which Suzy Weiss gives us in her post. The entire post is here.

In March 2020, as the coronavirus engulfed America, Kristen Wrobel got the news: “We heard on Friday that there would be no school for two weeks. Which just turned into no school.”

That was the last time her children — one in third grade, one in first —  were in a classroom.

In the beginning, they did the remote-school thing. Wrobel, a 42-year-old stay-at-home mom with a bachelor’s degree in software engineering, called it a “nightmare.” The Zoom sessions, the Italian lessons on Duolingo, the stuff she had to print out, the isolation, the tears, the nagging, the shuttling the kids between her house, near Burlington, Vermont, and their dad’s, a half-hour away.

“Everyone was freaking out all the time,” she said. 

By May, at the risk of violating state truancy laws, Wrobel had stopped fighting and let her kids log on (or not) whenever they felt like it. It was, she said, “the darkest hour before dawn.”

That September, she started homeschooling. She didn’t like all the restrictions her kids’ private school had implemented: Students seated six feet apart. Masked. In wedding tents. Outside. 

She figured she’d send her kids back to the school in 2021, after everything had gone back to normal. 

That was then. Now? “There’d have to be a revolution in schooling.” 

She’s hardly alone. Wrobel is one of hundreds of thousands of moms and dads across the nation who have decided to become the principals of their very own, very small elementary schools. 

The number of kids going to school at home nationwide has doubled over the past two years. In 2019, there were about 2.5 million students learning at home. Today there are nearly 5 million. That means more than 11 percent of American households are educating their children outside of traditional schools.

In Wrobel’s state of Vermont, homeschool applications are up 75 percent. And that’s in the northeast, where regulations are strictest. The phenomenon is exploding across the country. In North Carolina, the site for registering homeschools crashed last summer. In California, applications for homeschooling tripled from 2020 to 2021. In Alaska, more than a quarter of students in the state are now homeschooled. 

In Texas and Florida, parents are not required to notify the state, so it’s hard to know exactly how many kids are learning at home. But just one South Florida school, Jupiter Farms Elementary, saw 10 percent of its student population withdraw for this school year. Almost all of them are being taught at home.

The American Schoolhouse was in serious disrepair before 2020 — about that no one would disagree. But the events of last year tore the whole thing down to the studs. First, the pandemic. Then, the lockdowns. Then the summer of unrest: George Floyd, the protests, the riots, the mea culpas. Many local school boards seemed more concerned about teaching critical race theory and renaming schools than reopening them. Parents didn’t know what to do — what was safe, what was right, whom to trust. It was like being inside a tornado.

These were changes that rocked every American family.  So perhaps it’s no surprise that the homeschooling trend cuts across geographic, political, and racial lines: Black, Latino and Asian families are even likelier than white ones to educate their children at home. 

All of this is undermining the old, Democratic-educational complex — the powerful teacher unions and the office-holders beholden to those unions —  that has long maintained an iron-clad grip on tens of thousands of schools and the fate of tens of millions of American students. And it is forcing a long overdue reimagining of the way we educate children: the subjects they study, the values instilled in them, and the economy for which they are being prepared. 


Maria Magallanes homeschools Zola West, 7, a child who lives next door, at the Magallanes home in Alexandria, Virginia, in April 2020.(Jahi Chikwendiu/The Washington Post via Getty Images)

For decades now voices have been crying in the wilderness about the corruption of academia and lower reaches of the teaching profession. Instead of getting better they just got worse and worse, crazier and crazier – and utterly arrogant.

Consider what Peter Boghossian had to bring himself to say in this post, also courtesy of Bari Weiss: “…brick by brick, the university has made… intellectual exploration impossible. It has transformed a bastion of free inquiry into a Social Justice factory whose only inputs were race, gender, and victimhood and whose only outputs were grievance and division.”

Shortly after Boghossian ‘came out’ and took on the ideologues ” swastikas in the bathroom with my name under them began appearing in two bathrooms near the philosophy department. They also occasionally showed up on my office door, in one instance accompanied by bags of feces. Our university remained silent. When it acted, it was against me, not the perpetrators.”

There is no doubt, the Red Guards are back and they are not just in the United States. This kind of experience, in one form or another is replicating itself all over the academic world, formerly the free world.

In recent times it was depressingly hard to see from where the light at the end of the tunnel would come that would effectively bring about the change that is needed to bring an end to this cultural crisis. What our society and our civilisation is facing is truly worrying. Perhaps this is what is needed: a new generation, educated in common sense and with a grip on what true human values really are.

Mad dogs and Englishmen

Noel Coward’s famous song, Mad dogs and Englishmen go out in the midday sun may need to be revisited – with a little bit of reworking – in the light of a report in today’s Daily Telegraph. It reports that a British watchdog, its Equality and Human Rights Commission, has a secret proposal on its desk to compel girls’ schools in England and Wales to admit boys who present themselves for admission as girls. Or whatever. God help us. With clearly rabid watchdogs like that roaming the streets they better all say goodbye to the sun. A dark age has arrived.

Is it any wonder that the home-schooling movement is taking off at record speed?

The paper reports:

Girls’ schools would have to admit transgender pupils under proposals being considered by the equalities watchdog. The confidential Equality and Human Rights Commission (EHRC) draft guidance, leaked to The Telegraph, reveals schools could be set to consider admissions of trans students to single-sex schools on a “case-by-case approach”. Schools were supposed to be issued with the first official national guidelines on transgender children in March 2018. However, following repeated delays, it has never been published. However The Telegraph can now reveal details which have never before been made public.

Is transgender madness a bottomless pit?

The EHCR report says that: “A refusal to admit a trans pupil to a single-sex school which is the same as the trans pupil’s sex recorded at birth would be direct sex discrimination. Admitting such a pupil will not affect the school’s single-sex status. 

“A pupil who has transitioned, or wants to, must be allowed to continue to attend the school; to remove them would amount to direct gender reassignment discrimination.”

The document also says: “An admission policy of only admitting pupils in accordance with their sex recorded at birth would particularly disadvantage trans pupils, and would be indirectly discriminatory against trans pupils, unless it could be demonstrated to be a proportionate means of achieving a legitimate aim.”

For good measure, in case you did not know, these (courtesy of the Telegraph again) are samples of the new language being dictated to us:

Gender-neutral terms | Checklist

Forefathers – ancestors, forebears

Gentleman’s agreement – unwritten agreement, agreement based on trust

Girls (for adults) – women

Housewife – shopper, consumer, homemaker (depends on context)

Manpower – human resources, labour force, staff, personnel, workers, workforce

Man or mankind – humanity, humankind, human race, people.

So, watch your language.

Guadalupe Ortiz, a scientist, a teacher, and more…

The Cross first came to Guadalupe at the age of 20 in the form of a tragic event – the execution of her father by a firing squad

 

Guadalupe Ortiz, the first woman member of Opus Dei to be beatified

Guadalupe Ortiz de Landázuri

The lives of saints, even the lives of great but ordinary people, who may also be saints without our knowing it, are often marked by great suffering. There is no such thing as holiness without Christ’s Cross.

This was certainly a distinguishing characteristic of a woman who will be beatified next week. On May 18, Guadalupe Ortiz, a scientist, a teacher, and much more, will be honoured in a stadium more commonly associated with rock concerts than with religious devotion.

The Cross first came to Guadalupe at the age of 20 in the form of a tragic event – the execution of her father by a firing squad.

Guadalupe bore this ordeal with exemplary serenity. Who is to say that the marks of this cross were not part of the foundation on which she later built that life of dedication to God and service to her fellow human beings, across two continents.

Read this article in full in The Tablet online.

Food for thought – about millennials

This has been around for a few months but it is well worth checking out in case you have not seen it. It is a calm but very astute summing up on the time bomb which the world may be sitting on.

There is no question but that the generation we call ‘millennials’ has within its ranks some very creative minds with strong characters to go with them. But the overall assessment of this generation is for many a cause for concern.

Our only complaint about this particular assessment might be that, in true millennial spirit, the blame is not laid at their door – but at the door of their parents.

The most devastating ecological disaster of all?

Is this something we should be worried about? If even a fraction of what Camille Paglia is saying here is true, it is hard to argue that it is not a matter which should deeply concern us. Our universities, more than ever before, are where the minds of the future are forming themselves – and a true university will always see that the most important work being done there is the work the students themselves do. But if they can form themselves then the reverse is also true. They can deform themselves.

Cultures have become degenerate in the past. Civilizations have disintegrated and vanished. Somehow new civilizations emerge eventually – but the human cost, the loss and the suffering which human kind experiences in the trough between these two peaks can be the stuff of nightmares. Will some scholars in centuries from now, perhaps even millennia from now, find these words of Paglia – and God only knows what medium they will find them in – and say here was the Cassandra or the Tiresias of the 20th and 21st century,  Tiresias, old man with wrinkled dugs, (who) perceived the scene, and foretold the rest…     

Totalitarianism dressed in the garments of righteousness

“There is now an extraordinary situation where State-funded third-level colleges are openly advising would-be teachers that their career prospects depend on their religious faith.”

 

The hidden secular totalitarianism of this statement is what is “extraordinary”.

 

Fintan O’Toole’s proclaimed agenda – emphasised again in his Irish Times column today – is to deprive the citizen-parents of this country of one of their fundamental civil and human rights – that of being supported by the state in their work as primary educators of their children.

 

The Irish State funds third-level colleges to train teachers who will work in primary schools which the vast majority of the parents of this country wish to be “faith” schools, that is, schools in which their children will learn about their faith and grow in their knowledge of and commitment to the God whom that faith proclaims.

 

The State does this because it is the will of the people that it should do so. The details as to how to manage a fair distribution of scarce resources – given the religious denominations represented in the population – is another matter. But it does not lead us to a conclusion that the faith commitment of those staffing the schools is something irrelevant.

 

For that reason it would surely be extraordinary if teacher training colleges did not point out to their students that their commitment to a particular faith might be a factor influencing whether or not they might be successful in applying to a post in the majority of schools.

 

The day in which this will become irrelevant will the day in which schools will have given up on a responsibility which the majority of the citizens of this State have chosen to share with them, denying them their rights in the process. The rights of parents to have their children educated are primary. In this context, the rights of teachers to have jobs are secondary.

 

The anti-faith secularism of O’Toole and the militant new atheists is not just extraordinary. It is profoundly sinister and utterly cynical in the manner in which it is dressed up in the garments of righteousness.

Sad fate of poetry in our education system

Billy Collins

The point of reading a poem is not to try to “solve” it. Still, that quantifiable process of demystification is precisely what teachers are encouraged to teach students, often in lieu of curating a powerful experience through literature. The literature itself becomes secondary, boiled down to its Cliff’s Notes demi-glace. 

These are the words of a teacher who confesses that 16 years after enjoying a high school literary education rich in poetry, I am a literature teacher who barely teaches it. So far this year, my 12th grade literature students have read nearly 200,000 words for my class. Poems have accounted for no more than 100.

This is a shame—not just because poetry is important to teach, but also because poetry is important for the teaching of writing and reading.

Andres Simmons is an American and he is writing in The Atlantic. He explores  the fate of poetry in the modern classroom – and the fate of the students deprived of a good education through poetry, deprived of one of  the richest and enriching means of expressing our understanding and feelings about the human condition that there is.

In an education landscape that dramatically deemphasizes creative expression in favor of expository writing and prioritizes the analysis of non-literary texts, high school literature teachers have to negotiate between their preferences and the way the wind is blowing. That sometimes means sacrifice, and poetry is often the first head to roll.

Yet poetry enables teachers to teach their students how to write, read, and understand any text. Poetry can give students a healthy outlet for surging emotions. Reading original poetry aloud in class can foster trust and empathy in the classroom community, while also emphasizing speaking and listening skills that are often neglected in high school literature classes.

He admits that one of the biggest problems is that teachers either shy away from the proper method of introducing their students to poetry or lack the skills to do so.

Either of these failures leads the temptation to disembowel a poem’s meaning and diminish the personal, even transcendent, experience of reading a poem. He quotes Billy Collins who characterizes the latter as a “deadening” act that obscures the poem beneath the puffed-up importance of its interpretation. In his poem “Introduction to Poetry,” Collins writes:  “all they want to do is tie the poem to a chair with rope/and torture a confession out of it./They begin beating it with a hose/to find out what it really means.”

Sad fate.

 

The creeping statist menace

When I saw a headline in the current issue of The Week it looked like they had got an article about Irish Education Minister, Ruairi Quinn. It said, “You are a bad person if you send your children to a private school.”

That is more or less what Ruairi Quinn, with his ideologically-driven Labour Party and the social engineers in his Education Ministry certainly seem to think. Just this month he has unveiled more legislative proposals to cut the ground from under those evil parents who dare to attempt to form their own judgments as to what kind of school might give their children a better chance in life.

Quinn is proposing, among other things, to put a cap in the number of children any school can accept from families of past pupils of that school. In other words, the great statist leveling machine – regardless of whether that leveling might be down as well as up – trumps parental choice, experience, judgment and loyalty to the old school tie.

The quote was not in fact from Quinn. It was from across the Atlantic, but it surely came from the same soviet ideology to which Quinn subscribes where the family, individual preference, and parental responsibility are always sacrificed to the socialist pipe-dream of an egalitarianism totally divorced from human nature.

Jack Jennings on The Huffington Post dew our attention to the Council for American Private Education’s statistics showing us that there are 33,366 private schools in the US – 25% of the total. Because they tend to be much smaller than publicly funded schools, they cater for just one in ten of the school-going population. Nor are they all expensive boarding schools for the elite, the Post told us. The vast majority have a religious affiliation, and the bulk of these are Catholic.

This freedom of choice really annoyed Allison Benedikt on Slate.com. My take on this is simple, she said, “You are a bad person if you send your children to private school.” That parents choose to send their children to these schools because they live in urban areas with bad schools, or because their kids are gifted or have learning issues, or because they want small classes and personal attention and courses in modern film and Mandarin, cut no ice with her at all.  You know who else wants those things? She asked. “Everyone.”

When affluent parents pull their kids out of public schools, her argument went on, those schools lose the clout and resources they deserve. So don’t run away from the schools poor families are forced to depend on. “Send your kids to school with their kids,” and then fight to make things better for everyone.

Poverty is blamed for everything in this world view, ignoring all the other multiple factors which contribute to quality – or the lack of it – in education. In other words, sacrifice your kids to this social ideology which tells us that the state and not the family is the heart and soul of society. The state in all things knows best.

Rod Dreher, on TheAmericanConservative.com, answered her, describing her line as “the educational equivalent of Soviet economics”. Am I supposed to believe I have a moral obligation, he asked, to give my kids a “crappy” education, “when I know something better and higher is available?” For liberals, he continued, all that matters is that “we are united in the state, no matter how stupid, ignorant, and poor it makes us”.

Another commentator pointed out that Benedikt was also mistaken about her basic premise. John Carney on CNBC.com said competition improves education and numerous studies show that when public high schools have to compete with private schools, they raise their game in every way. So parents who send their kids to private schools aren’t doing something wrong – “they are performing a verifiable public good”.

What hope is there that Ireland might escape from the grip of this wretched ideology? Little at present, unfortunately. It appears that Irish social public policy, in health and education particularly, is captive to a clique of unreconstructed ‘sixties and ‘seventies apparatchiks who would have felt perfectly at home in the soviet block 40 years ago.

An Eastern European observer of the Irish scene recently observed that in terms of the onslaught which he has seen the Irish State making on Irish institutions still maintaining a Christian ethos, the Communists in his country 40 years ago were very much in second place. They haven’t gone away, you know.

The path Kenny, Gilmore, Martin and Adams are proposing

Well, Ireland. Are you really ready for this?  A study of the state of things in Canada after ten years of gay “marriage” shows among other things that in that country I might well be brought before the courts for daring to put the word marriage in inverted comas because by this I indicate that I don’t accept the redefinition of marriage which coupling it with the word “gay” implies.

And that would be the least of my problems.

Bradley W. Miller, an associate professor of law at the University of Western Ontario, writing g on Public Discourse looks at the Canadian experience of the impact of the change of the definition of marriage there and asks what that might signify for the US which is now seems to be heading relentlessly in the same direction.

The Irish, the French and the British are on the same track and his study – outlined on MercatorNet – can be applied to these societies just as easily. Would recognizing same-sex relationships as marriages be much of a game-changer? What impact, if any, would it have on the public conception of marriage or the state of a nation’s marriage culture, he asks?

The Impact on Human Rights? Once this kind of marriage is accepted as a human right, he says, a  corollary is that anyone who rejects the new orthodoxy must be acting on the basis of bigotry and animus toward gays and lesbians. Any statement of disagreement with same-sex civil marriage is thus considered a straightforward manifestation of hatred toward a minority sexual group. Any reasoned explanation (for example, those that were offered in legal arguments that same-sex marriage is incompatible with a conception of marriage that responds to the needs of the children of the marriage for stability, fidelity, and permanence—what is sometimes called the conjugal conception of marriage), is dismissed right away as mere pretext.

When one understands opposition to same-sex marriage as a manifestation of sheer bigotry and hatred, it becomes very hard to tolerate continued dissent. Thus it was in Canada that the terms of participation in public life changed very quickly. Civil marriage commissioners were the first to feel the hard edge of the new orthodoxy; several provinces refused to allow commissioners a right of conscience to refuse to preside over same-sex weddings, and demanded their resignations. At the same time, religious organizations, such as the Knights of Columbus, were fined for refusing to rent their facilities for post-wedding celebrations.

The Right to Freedom of Expression?  He shows that the new orthodoxy’s impact has not been limited to the relatively small number of persons at risk of being coerced into supporting or celebrating a same-sex marriage. The change has widely affected persons—including clergy—who wish to make public arguments about human sexuality.

Much speech that was permitted before same-sex marriage now carries risks. Many of those who have persisted in voicing their dissent have been subjected to investigations by human rights commissions and (in some cases) proceedings before human rights tribunals. Those who are poor, poorly educated, and without institutional affiliation have been particularly easy targets—anti-discrimination laws are not always applied evenly.  Some have been ordered to pay fines, make apologies, and undertake never to speak publicly on such matters again. Targets have included individuals writing letters to the editors of local newspapers, and ministers of small congregations of Christians. A Catholic bishop faced two complaints—both eventually withdrawn—prompted by comments he made in a pastoral letter about marriage.

Teachers are particularly at risk for disciplinary action, for even if they only make public statements criticizing same-sex marriage outside the classroom, they are still deemed to create a hostile environment for gay and lesbian students. Other workplaces and voluntary associations have adopted similar policies as a result of their having internalized this new orthodoxy that disagreement with same-sex marriage is illegal discrimination that must not be tolerated.

Parental Rights in Public Education? Institutionalizing same-sex marriage has subtly but pervasively changed parental rights in public education, he argues. The debate over how to cast same-sex marriage in the classroom is much like the debate over the place of sex education in schools, and of governmental pretensions to exercise primary authority over children. But sex education has always been a discrete matter, in the sense that by its nature it cannot permeate the entirety of the curriculum. Same-sex marriage is on a different footing.

Since one of the tenets of the new orthodoxy is that same-sex relationships deserve the same respect that we give marriage, its proponents have been remarkably successful in demanding that same-sex marriage be depicted positively in the classroom. Curriculum reforms in jurisdictions such as British Columbia now prevent parents from exercising their long-held veto power over contentious educational practices.

It is a laudable goal to encourage acceptance of persons. But whatever can be said for the objective, the means chosen to achieve it is a gross violation of the family. It is nothing less than the deliberate indoctrination of children (over the objections of their parents) into a conception of marriage that is fundamentally hostile to what the parents understand to be in their children’s best interests. It frustrates the ability of parents to lead their children to an understanding of marriage that will be conducive to their flourishing as adults. At a very early age, it teaches children that the underlying rationale of marriage is nothing other than the satisfaction of changeable adult desires for companionship.

And what about changes to the Public Conception of Marriage? It has been argued that if same-sex marriage is institutionalized, new marital categories may be accepted, like polygamy. Once one abandons a conjugal conception of marriage, and replaces it with a conception of marriage that has adult companionship as its focus, there is no principled basis for resisting the extension of marriage licenses to polygamist and polyamorist unions.

In other words, if marriage is about satisfying adult desires for companionship, and if the desires of some adults extend to more novel arrangements, how can we deny them?

He cites the case of one prominent polygamist community in British Columbia which was greatly emboldened by the creation of same-sex marriage, and publicly proclaimed that there was now no principled basis for the state’s continued criminalization of polygamy.

Of all the Canadian courts, only a trial court in British Columbia has addressed whether prohibiting polygamy is constitutional, and provided an advisory opinion to the province’s government. The criminal prohibition of polygamy was upheld, but on a narrow basis that defined polygamy as multiple, concurrent civil marriages. The court did not address the phenomenon of multiple common-law marriages. So, thus far, the dominant forms of polygamy and polyamory practiced in Canada have not gained legal status, but neither have they faced practical impediments.

The lesson is this: a society that institutionalizes same-sex marriage needn’t necessarily institutionalize polygamy. But the example from British Columbia suggests that the only way to do so is to ignore principle. The polygamy case’s reasoning gave no convincing explanation why it would be discriminatory not to extend the marriage franchise to gays and lesbians, but not discriminatory to draw the line at polygamists and polyamorists. In fact, the judgment looks like it rests on animus toward polygamists and polyamorists, which is not a stable juridical foundation.

And the Impact on the Practice of Marriage? As for the practice of marriage, he says it is too soon to say much. But what we can gather from available data, is that same-sex marriage has not, contrary to arguments that it would, powered a resurgent marriage culture in Canada. Nor are there any census data (one way or the other) for empirical arguments tying the institutionalization of same-sex marriage to marriage stability.

One can only hope that when the debate on this issue get going in Ireland – and when the Constitutional Forum gets down to business – these realities will be looked at squarely and fairly so that we will all walk into our brave new world knowing exactly what is in store for us. Will Kenny, Gilmore, Martin and Adams, the leaders of Ireland’s main political parties who have committed themselves to going down this Canadian path, take note of all these questions and address then honestly before taking their country on the road to this new world.

Alma mater – reflections on a mother and child reunion

It was the best of times, it was, some would have us believe, the worst of times. It was in fact neither. It was, nevertheless, like now, great to be alive. To be young was, well, not quite heaven but still a very good place to be.

We met together last weekend, twenty or so of us, fifty years later. We remembered those times and the fifty-two of us who walked a road together over a period of five years, journeying from boyhood to manhood. On a day in June, 1962, we said our goodbyes and went our separate ways through the gates of St. Eunan’s College in Letterkenny, Co. Donegal, Ireland.

Over those five years there were fifty-two stories unfolding, each one was different from the other in many respects but not as different as they were going to become in the years that followed our departure through those gates. We all arose to the clanging of a bell at 7.10 each morning. We all raced to the college chapel for prayers and Mass – and I won’t mention the fate of any boy who had not succeeded in getting through the chapel door by the dot of 7.30, when the last ring of that bell had sounded in the courtyard of the school. At the end of the day the same bell was carried around the bedroom corridors of the school and with the last stroke we were all in bed in our dormitories or behind the closed doors of our shared bedrooms. Day after day, week after week, for fifteen terms over those five years, these and similar routines filled our lives and in a way helped make us what are. Last weekend’s gathering recorded no regrets about any of it that I heard.

We are aware now – although it did not really enter our minds then – that we were in fact the last generation to experience an educational culture that is now well and truly dead. Although the generations which followed us tend to look back and say, “and good riddance”, we, at worst, had no more than mixed feelings about it all. Later generations paint the 1950s in lurid colours and with very rough brush-strokes. We did not look at it through rose-tints, nor did we fail to see its touches of barbarity, but it was neither as lurid nor as rough as they portray. What was then unthinkable but what is now a reality was reported in statistical terms in a magazine just last week:

Primary schools in England exclude – that’s the euphemism for expel – an average of 89 pupils a day for attacking teachers or classmates. My recollection from five years in St. Eunan’s is that 4 students were expelled – admittedly for something much less serious that inflicting violence on teachers or fellow pupils. Discipline was firm and indiscipline had its serious consequences. Slipping out of bounds at night and returning from a dance in the early hours was not something that was tolerated.

We were not conscious of it, but the self-discipline induced in us by the imposed discipline of those years probably played an important part in the fifty-two very different stories which began to unfold with our passage through those gates – each young man going his separate way to build his own life on the common foundation laid by our families, our teachers and our companionship with each other.

We came together last weekend to catch up on those stories but they were perhaps too numerous and too varied to do justice to that. We probably spent more time reflecting on the world in which we lived together for those five years than we did on the separate worlds we had helped build for ourselves and others in the intervening years.

Two of our old teachers accompanied us and that helped keep our focus on the years which moulded our resilience for the world. In 1957, the year we nervously and apprehensively entered that sheltered and somewhat forbidding world, Ireland recorded its highest level of emigration since it became an independent state. Although no one said it at the time, it had what might now be considered the hallmarks of a failing state. By 1962, when we entered the wider world, the forty-year-old state had already turned a critical corner and was beginning to claim a better place among the nations of the earth. We considered it our good fortune to be part of the generation which helped make good that claim.

Ireland in 2012 is a very different place from what it was in 1957 or 1962. In many ways, but not in every way, it is a better place. But there has been loss as well as gain. Humankind is very flawed when it comes to judging what happiness is and how it is attained. Success or failure in that pursuit is better judged in retrospect. The little and great challenges which confront the human spirit, friendship, joy in little things are at the root of human happiness. We had all of those and no amount of material progress since then has proven that it can bring any greater enrichment to mankind than these.

A comment I read recently on Viktor Frankel’s magnificent book, Man’s Search for Meaning, reminds us that

Life is not primarily a quest for pleasure, as Freud believed, or a quest for power, as Alfred Adler taught, but a quest for meaning. The greatest task for any person is to find meaning in his or her life. Frankl saw three possible sources for meaning: in work (doing something significant), in love (caring for another person), and in courage during difficult times. Suffering in and of itself is meaningless; we give our suffering meaning by the way in which we respond.

We learned something about all of these in those five years. Frankel himself wrote in that book,

Again and again I therefore admonish my students both in Europe and in America: “Don’t aim at success – the more you aim at it and make it a target, the more you are going to miss it. For success, like happiness, cannot be pursued; it must ensue, and it only does so as the unintended side-effect of one’s dedication to a cause greater than oneself or as the by-product of one’s surrender to a person other than oneself. Happiness must happen, and the same holds for success: you have to let it happen by not caring about it. I want you to listen to what your conscience commands you to do and go on to carry it out to the best of your knowledge. Then you will live to see that in the long run – in the long run, I say! – success will follow you precisely because you had forgotten to think of it.”

I would not want to make even the shadow of a suggestion that the horrors of Viktor Frankel’s experiences were anything like our benign confinement behind the gates of St. Eunan’s, but his epiphany was one which might be hopefully experienced by all of humanity – as it was by us. He wrote,

A thought transfixed me: for the first time in my life I saw the truth as it is set into song by so many poets, proclaimed as the final wisdom by so many thinkers. The truth-that love is the ultimate and the highest goal to which man can aspire. Then I grasped the meaning of the greatest secret that human poetry and human thought and belief have to impart: The salvation of man is through love and in love. I understood how a man who has nothing left in this world still may know bliss, be it only for a brief moment, in the contemplation of his beloved. In a position of utter desolation, when man cannot express himself in positive action, when his only achievement may consist in enduring his sufferings in the right way – an honorable way – in such a position man can, through loving contemplation of the image he carries of his beloved, achieve fulfillment. For the first time in my life I was able to understand the meaning of the words, “The angels are lost in perpetual contemplation of an infinite glory.”

We look around us at our world today, with all its progress, and wonder, as he did before his death some years ago, whether we are more adept at realizing this truth than we were fifty years ago. I think not.

He spoke of an existential vacuum which has afflicted humanity in the twentieth century. In part he attributed this to a loss suffered in our more recent development inasmuch as the traditions which buttressed our behavior are now rapidly diminishing. He wrote:

No instinct tells him what he has to do, and no tradition tells him what he ought to do; sometimes he does not even know what he wishes to do. Instead, he either wishes to do what other people do (conformism) or he does what other people wish him to do (totalitarianism). A statistical survey recently revealed that among my European students, 25 percent showed a more-or-less marked degree of existential vacuum. Among my American students it was not 25 but 6o percent. The existential vacuum manifests itself mainly in a state of boredom. Now we can understand Schopenhauer when he said that mankind was apparently doomed to vacillate eternally between the two extremes of distress and boredom.

In the ‘Fifties and early ‘Sixties we lived in a world which had many more “taboos” that we have today. But we also lived in a world where those evils to which taboos attached were less common than they are today. We knew little of many of the things which Frankel partly ascribes to this existential vacuum: suicide, depression, aggression and addiction. He speaks of various masks and guises under which the existential vacuum appears. Sometimes, he maintains, the frustrated search for meaningis vicariously compensated for by a will to power, including the most primitive form of the will to power, the will to money. In other cases, its place is taken by the will to pleasure. That is why, he says, existential frustration often eventuates in sexual compensation. He observes that in such cases the sexual libido becomes rampant in the existential vacuum.

Let me not be a Jeremiah. I am not. The times we live in are the best of times, because we live. But the times we lived in then gave us a heritage – and it is only right to ask, firstly, are we grateful for what was good in it and how much of it we may have squandered.

After our reunion we departed to our respective worlds. What was most moving about our day together, perhaps our last – nor did we forget the nine companions who had gone to their eternal reward, – was the sense of gratitude we shared for what we had received all those years ago.