02 May 2008

Catholic Schools and segregation

David Quinn is at it again. His article in last Friday's Indo attempts to defend catholic schools against the "slur" that they promote segregation. The coverage of the issue of denominational education is "hysterical" he claims, implying that they accused the Catholic Church of promoting "educational apartheid". The atmosphere he said had been so poisoned as to conjure up visions of "Balbriggan Burning"(a clever reference to the film, Mississippi Burning, you understand).

The article was entirely the product of his imagination. None, absolutely none, of what he says has any factual back-up. The tone in which he said the media dealt with the matter is entirely undetectable.

I had a look at the serious media commenting on the Department of Education audit of enrolment policies and found two pieces on it in the 'serious' media prior to Quinn's piece. First up is a very restrained and professional report by Emma O'Kelly on Friday last's news programmes on RTÉ, in which she reported the findings of the audit, accurately mentioning one VEC that was taking on a disproportionate share of immigrant children, as compared to the secondary schools in its catchment area. No mention of educational apartheid appeared anywhere, nor was there any mention of the catholic church. There was, however, in the background an unspoken suggestion that the problem of integration of immigrant children was being made more difficult by the denominational nature of Irish education (remember the Troubles in Northern Ireland?). Possibly to avoid giving offense to people like Quinn, even this obvious point was not explicitly mentioned.

Where "apartheid" was mentioned was in the excellent Irish Times article of the same day (the link will only work if you pay your dues to Geraldine Kennedy). Sean Flynn, the IT education editor and author of the article didn't single out the catholic church either and concentrated on the obvious fact that denominational education will make the task of integration of new immigrants a lot more difficult, if not impossible. Indeed, the headline didn't seem inappropriate, but neither it nor the article under it accused the catholic church in particular of anything at all.

What he did say is that students from better-off families tend to "gravitate" to church-run schools, leaving other categories of students to be dealt with by the rest. This is manifestly true (indeed 'twas ever so, as anyone with two eyes in their head can see) and is backed up by the figures in the Dept of Ed and Sc audit of enrolment numbers.

Incidentally, the Dept's own interpretation of the audit can be found here. It differs very radically from Quinn's completely unfounded gloss on it (i.e. that catholic schools are doing "more than their fair share of immigrant children, and Traveller children, and children with 'special education needs'"). The Audit indicates nothing of the sort. What it does say (according to the Dept's interpretation and mine) is that the enrolment policies of some schools have the effect of excluding certain classes of children from those schools, so that such students have to be catered for exclusively by other schools in within the same catchment area. It is also clear that the majority of such exclusivist schools are catholic (indeed it could hardly be otherwise, catholic schools being the vast majority).

It should be remembered that we're talking only about schools that are financed almost exclusively by the public purse. No fee-paying schools (which also receive large amounts of public money) were included in the audit.

In his usual melodramatic style, Quinn demands an apology from the media for the catholic church for having "hysterically" accused the catholic church of not carrying "its burden" of immigrant children. Nobody has accused it of this. The assertion is a typical Quinnean paper tiger. But he does tell us (as usual, without evidence) that "Catholic primary schools ... are blind as to a child's social background, or educational standard." It is precisely this that the Audit is denying (with evidence). Again as usual, Quinn makes the mistake of thinking saying it makes it so. It doesn't.

Of course, what he's trying to defend against is the charge that catholic schools' behaviour amounts to 'segregation' of students. Yet he admits that:

Catholic primary schools, like other denominational schools, do give preference to children of their own faith. This is why they exist. This is why many parents want them.
What the policy implied above could mean other than segregation is very hard to imagine. It's not segregation on the basis of race (but then I haven't heard anyone accuse the church or any school management of racism), but it remains segregation (namely, segregation on the basis of religion). Basically what he's saying is that catholic schools are entirely entitled to select on the basis of religion. He may be right (though this blogger reckons that the insistence on this form of segregation all though the Troubles in Northern Ireland -- and indeed up to this day -- was a huge contribution to the continuance of those troubles).

The state, however, is entitled to dispose of public funds in such a way as to radically reduce segregation, whether of this sort or of any other. Especially when the "many parents" who want segregation are well under 50% while while at least 96% of schools provide this segregation. What Quinn is trying to prevent is precisely this sort of radical de-segregation.

His view should be exposed and his purpose should be resisted. The Archbishop of Dublin has said some encouraging things about the non and inter-denominational education but has really only provided mood music. The Irish catholic church, as owners of the vast majority of schools in the country, should be asked to make a proposal on how the current issue of religious and (de facto) racial segregation of education in Ireland should be dealt with.

The Department of Education and Science should have its own radical proposals in mind. The suggestions made in their letter to education partners on the audit would suggest that they realise something has to be done, though their proposals don't seem to go any further than appointing regional officers responsible for monitoring school enrolment policies and their results.

Given that the public purse has paid for the erection and maintenance of almost all such schools, the Department should drive a far harder bargain than the letter suggests. It should form part of the Department's strategy to correct the huge overrepresentation of denominational schools in Irish education.

One central issue to be negotiated is how ownership of the network of school buildings in Ireland can be gradually made to better reflect who actually paid for them -- i.e. the Irish people. Since the chuch is unlikely to give its bricks and mortar away, and the Dept of Ed is unlikely to have the money to buy them, your blogger fears that this could take a long time to settle.


The Knitter said...

The Church will fight any diminution of its power in the Education sector - and they've been well able to wield the power they still have ... Quinn has no problem writing baseless stuff, he's been an apologist for the Religious Orders who managed the the Industrial Schools. He didn't seem to even pause in his behaviour when the same Religious Orders admitted many abuses and apologised!

Anonymous said...

As a committed Catholic I am all for equality of choice in education and I don't see the State as a barrier to that, but rather the failure of Catholic schools themselves to be well 'Catholic' to be the enemy of real choice.

Personally I would like to see a voucher scheme where parents can use same to send their children to a school which best fits in with their vision of what a good education should be, be it secular, secular doctrinaire, theistic, denominational, inter church, whatever.

The Spanish Bishops a few years back had the humility to proclaim a collective mea culpa and admit that they could not blame the State (i.e. Zapatero), for a secular invasion of their own institutions. Teh Irish Bishops have yet to show the same humility.

We have had a very unhealthy situation here for too long where there is collusion between Churcn and State in provinding us with a hybrid mess of nominally Catholic schools and Catholic teacher training colleges. Indeed having done some research on it, the same club of Catholic academics who have destroeyd primary and secondary school catechesis still very much have the ear of the Bishops. Secularists who hate the Church owe them much more than the State for the delicne of the influence of the Church in the public sphere, in the world of ideas, even more I would say than is due to the evil perpetrated by so many clerical and religious institutional child abusers.

This club have the mind of Pelagius and not the Church when it comes to how to transmit the faith, how to ingite the spark of reason, and actually how to train people to think properly.

In the words of Vincent Towmey there are not enough Catholic Educationalists who have the courage 'to think with the Church'. They are more interested in being published in some journals, or the Irish Times and have their groupie seminars and plaudits among themselves.

Quinn and the Iona institute are too quick to point the finger at the State for the mess which is Catholic Education and not the Church itself and while it might be a good idea for the Church to get out off the many schools it is involved in, I don't have Quinn's confidence that the Church will run the few they'll have left properly, if the colleges of Education they are responsible fro continue on their merry spirit of the age way.

I mean when St Pat's can have a fund raiser to help two female colleagues (one a former colleague),to challenge the natural law understanding of marriage in our constitution, and Mary immaculate college fetes every dissenting theologian in the County, well, you get my drift.

One final thought, any fair minded secularist would admit that it was the Medieval Church that gave rise to Europe's great universities, and the Church by and large with rare exceptions (Gallileo,) has been a patron and facilitator of reason, science and the Arts.

What the Church in Ireland has lacked most is a heart, it has been only strong in the weakest way, in a cultural conformity, when it and the State were one, and it's bishops and priests were beyond question. I for one celebrate the loss of that kind of church, one that did not understand the difference between authoritarian and authoritative, between the letter and the spirit of the law, between charity and hard heartedness. A Church that does not know how to give witness to the Truth in love, cannot be loved.

fantasia said...

Memes and organised religion makes for an interesting study.