A big debate going on today in the Irish media and social media, is the role of religion and the church in schools, and whether schools here in Ireland should be non-denominational.
Before I give my two cents, here’s a quick rundown of the situation. 96% of all primary schools are run by the Catholic Church. And 90% of ALL schools, are under the remit of the Catholic Church. What does this mean exactly? Basically it means that although the state supplies the teachers (for the most part) and the syllabus, the property, the land, the schools, belongs to the Church. (There may be some variants in this) And one of the main staples of the Primary School diet, is the teachers being responsible for a ‘Catholic Education’.
For those of you reading this who did not have the pleasure of attending an Irish primary school, that means that along with your reading, writing and arithmetic, your school teacher also taught you your prayers, your catechisms, and prepared you for your first Communion and your Confirmation.
That’s right. The church itself has no direct influence on the child (apart from a few visits every now and again from the parish priest) with regards to their faith, but instead expects the school to do its work. Even the parents work.
Now, I suppose I should make it clear that I have no time for religion. This does not mean I don’t believe in a God or that I’m not a spiritual person, but I am most definitely not a religious person. In general, I’m not a believer that dogma, or unquestioned scripture to be followed blindly is a path any of us should follow. I believe in critical thinking and a person coming to their own conclusion based on their experiences.
I also believe that we should create an atmosphere for our children in their schools, where critical thinking, problem solving and using their own minds should be championed over everything else. Yes, we need to teach our children the basics like I mentioned above, and yes there are certain facts that they need to learn as well. The Earth is round, it spins around the sun, it is billions of years old (not just a few thousand). Teach them their history and geography and the sciences.
But to blindly preach the dogma of the Catholic Church??? Now, if a parent wishes to teach these things to their children in their own time, that is fine. If the Church wishes to set up a Sunday School to teach children the lessons and teachings of the Catholic Church that is also fine. Because the only children going to that are the children whose parents want it. (Let it be noted I’m not in favour of this either, but I am also a believer that it is a parents right to raise their child as they see fit so long as it is done within the letter of the law. In my own opinion, forcing the beliefs forced upon you onto your children is tantamount to child abuse).
School should be a place of innocence and wonder. It should be a place free of all intolerance, bigotry and hatred. It should be a place where children learn to think for themselves, not to have the thinking of others forced upon them. Yes, teach them about the different religions of the world so that they know what is out there. Do not preach that one religion is right and the others are wrong. Yet let the children themselves decide what they believe to be right and wrong and guide them as they grow, so that they become tolerant adults who have the ability to think for themselves and be respectful (yet opinonated) of other peoples beliefs. Take religion out of our schools.