Today’s schools are tough places for both pupils and teachers.
Overcrowding, lack of resources, difficulty accessing IT, SEN issues, behavioral problems and the ubiquitous problem of bullying are all everyday challenges. Any teacher can list off areas which require immediate government attention, and in our staff-rooms, no conversation is complete without a reference to one or another of these problems. In my experience, these problems have never included religious instruction or the ‘baptism’ barrier.
Similarly, at parent-teacher meetings, parents raise concerns over discipline, access to support classes, grades, bullying. Never religion.
And sometimes when I listen to the news or scroll through Twitter and learn of yet another campaign against religion in the education system, I feel as though there is a massive disconnect between the media’s reality and my reality.
Reality in the vast majority of schools declares that religion is not an issue – but many other things are. I would appreciate a campaign calling for the government to commit to providing building funds for all schools experiencing overcrowding, or to make PE compulsory for all primary and secondary pupils, or to provide internet safety classes for every child who owns a smartphone. But why the vendetta against religion?
I work in a secondary school. In accordance with Irish law, any pupil who does not wish to partake in religious instruction or activities is permitted to sit in a supervised study area for that period. A small number of pupils do avail of this provision and the arrangement is very respectful and unobtrusive. The majority of pupils gladly take part in religion classes, with many speaking positively of what they learn there. Some have told me that they don’t mind missing Maths or Irish class for extra-curricular activities, but religion must not be skipped. They find the class interesting and for some, it is a peaceful space in the middle of a chaotic and demanding day. Anecdotal evidence would suggest that religious instruction has a positive impact on most pupils’ well-being and moral development.
It is no surprise then that opposition to the role of religion in Irish schools has not originated with Irish parents. Several organisations have been set up to fight the ‘religion’ issue including EQUATE and Educational Equality. They receive funding from groups such as Atlantic Philanthropies along with substantial media coverage and are doing their utmost to turn this into a ‘human rights’ issue. The leaders include Michael Barron, chairman of EQUATE who, along with his partner, Jaime, was a key campaigner for same-sex marriage in May 2015. Before his work with EQUATE, he was the director of BeLongTo, an organisation which promotes LGBT issues among young people in Irish society. April Duff is the chairperson of Education Equality, and along with her work against religion, she also campaigns for abortion and the Repeal of the 8th Amendment .
Clearly those leading the vendetta against religion in schools are not just ‘concerned’ parents. They are not even teachers. They are social activists who have the secularization of Irish society as their aim, and thus their professed sincerity needs to be regarded with great caution. I believe they do not have concern for youth well-being at heart but rather a sinister abhorrence of all Judaeo-Christian values.
There are not thousands of parents from across the country of Ireland revolting against the role of religion in schools. Instead there is a vocal, well-funded minority, led by political activists and favored by the media, stirring up dissent against something which, until now, was never an issue.
Yes, we have a plethora of problems in our education system, including overcrowding.
Religion is not one of them.