Children, not ideology must be ‘at centre’ of education debate

Archbishop of Dublin says Catholic schools have an imperative to serve the poorest

Ideology must not be allowed dominate debate over education in Ireland, Catholic Archbishop of Dublin Diarmuid Martin has said.  Photograph: Dara Mac Dónaill/ The Irish Times

Ideology must not be allowed dominate debate over education in Ireland, Catholic Archbishop of Dublin Diarmuid Martin has said. Photograph: Dara Mac Dónaill/ The Irish Times

 

Ideology must not be allowed dominate debate over education in Ireland, Catholic Archbishop of Dublin Diarmuid Martin has said.

“A pluralist education system in a pluralist Ireland must be one where battles of ideology are overcome and not reinforced,” he said.

“There is need to form new bonds and partnerships to ensure that we also have a common vision – and not an antagonistic one – of education in our pluralist nation,” he said.

Dr Martin said such a vision “must place children at its centre”, especially those children who experience disadvantage.

“There is need to respect difference, but there are also many common challenges,” he said.

Speaking at a Mass in St Patrick’s College in DCU to mark the beginning of the academic year, Dr Martin noted that that there was “much debate” about different forms of patronage in schools .

“Such discussion is valid and necessary”, he said, but “the real divides in Irish education can often be very different and as someone who grew up in an area of disadvantage I have strong feelings about the economic and social divide in which many young people still have to grow up.”

Gospel imperative

Catholic schools had “a non-renounceable Gospel imperative to be at the service of the poorest. This was the characteristic of the religious orders that were established to provide education and it is important – alongside the failures and abuse that have tarnished their history – that we also pay tribute to the men and women religious who dedicated themselves to the education of the poor, and especially in different times to the equal education of girls,” he said.

“The best path forward for those of us who wish to foster Catholic education today is to ensure that Catholic schools in a different future live up to these original ideals,” he said.

“Watered-down Catholic education will attract no one,” and it “cannot play only lip service to the primary role of parents”, but “ a Catholic school is not a closed island of believers isolated or, much worse, hostile to the rest of the educational world.”

‘Gated community’

He said “the Catholic school community is not a gated community. We already have too many of them. The Catholic school must enter into relationships with schools of other patronage so that it is not a source of division.

“All the agents of education in Ireland are called to foster relationships of respect and tolerance and welcome, in such a manner as to build a respectful pluralist model of education for a new pluralist Ireland,” he said.

It required “a new sense of identity by the Catholic community of the ‘why’ of Catholic education. This must to be forged through real public dialogue between the faith community, parents and school”.

He said this task was “too important to be left to the polemicists and bureaucrats”.