Friday, August 29, 2008

Religious education is a necessary part of pluralistic society

To accuse denominational schools of being unwelcoming, divisive, out-of-date, or lacking in educational competence is to insult the goodwill and hard work of the many people involved in these schools.

This goodwill and hard work should be celebrated and supported by society, including the government and the teachers' unions.

There is a rightful place for denominational schools in Irish education, as part of a pluralistic system. The rationale for this can be understood and accepted in good faith by all members of Irish society, not just religious believers.

Denominational schools are not inherently divisive or unfair. They are not something to be done down, or done away with. They are not something to be merely tolerated as relics of a past or passing generation.

Parents are the primary educators of their children -- the state is not. Parents can rightly expect support from society in meeting their responsibilities as primary educators. Parents have a duty to inform and to form their children. This involves passing on values, customs, beliefs, practices and traditions. Religion is an essential part of this for many parents.

The imposition of only one type of school on all would be seen as undermining the world-view and deepest values of many Irish parents. For example, it would be unfair of society to force substantial numbers of religious parents to pay to support -- and to send their children to attend -- a single-type non-religious school system.

A 'one-type-fits-all' school system, forced on a pluralistic population, would not reduce divisiveness; rather it would embody and promote divisiveness. A pluralistic system fits a pluralistic population.

For Irish society to move away now from publicly-supported denominational education would be for it fail to respect religious freedom.

If the state were to promote only one type of school, and that type of school was never denominational, then this could easily be taken as a blatant rejection and denial of the value of denominational schooling.

It is completely reasonable for the Irish state (on behalf of Irish society) to interest itself in, and help support in a fair and appropriate manner, the religious life of Irish society.

This includes helping people to search for answers to religious and philosophical questions and to live by the answers to these questions.

To exclude denominational schools from the public education system would surely send out a strong signal that religion is not reasonable, not social, not a significant and valuable part of Irish life and culture and history, but something to be restricted to the purely private and personal sphere.

Denominational education at its best is transparent and fair; it is intellectually rigorous and socially conscientious too. Denominational education is truly public education.

One reason for this is that society is rightly concerned with religion being healthy and peaceful. Denominational education is concerned with public morality, human rights and social peace.

It aims at helping religious belief and commitment to promote the common good of all. Denominational schools in Ireland are clearly supportive of promoting tolerance and peace.

Most importantly, they do this in line with, not in spite of, their religious faith tradition.


Religious faith also supports moral education, which society values and needs. This is not to claim that only religious faith can support moral education. The claim here is much more modest: religious faith can support moral education.

Everyone can recognise that religious faith has contrib- uted to Irish society in this regard.

Denominational schools provide an education that respects the intellectual abilities and needs of their students.

They can rightfully expect society to acknowledge that they are truly educational institutions and should be socially supported.

Isn't this how a pluralistic society should work?

A faith-based school lives out of the conviction that its religious beliefs are true.

Such a school can be a community in a deep sense, sharing and celebrating a specific world-view that inspires and guides its staff, pupils, parents and local community.

People who send their children to such schools should do so by choice, ideally out of shared faith, but at least with a willingness to support the school's ethos.

Denominational schools are open to all people who are willing to accept the distinctive kind of education offered by that school.

It is only honest to acknowledge that denominational schools welcome pupils from many different religious and social-economic backgrounds.

It is rare that a pupil cannot be enrolled in a school, and such situations can be avoided with good political planning that supports schools expanding to cater for increasing numbers in their areas.


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The placing of an article hereupon does not necessarily imply that I agree or accept the contents of the article as being necessarily factual in theology, dogma or otherwise.

Sotto Voce

(Source: Contribution)

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