Let Teachers Teach

Teach

 

Many of today’s teachers are afraid.

We are afraid of saying what we really think. We are afraid of being opinionated. We are afraid of controversial issues, especially if we hold the less favorable position. We are afraid of debate in the classroom. We are afraid of complaining parents, of offended pupils, of unsupportive management.

In an age when political correctness has run amok and social mores we lived by for centuries are being ploughed up and revised at whirlwind speed, the teachers are becoming shorn. We are fearful beings. We teach with a superficial cheerfulness, and deliver lessons that steer clear of any serious thought or deep discussion. Deep polarization in Irish society has silenced us.

Last week in German class, the issue of heritage, origins and migration cropped up. The lesson became quite intense and some careful navigation was necessary due to the presence of immigrants in the class. But we had the debate, and we needed to have it. When the bell rang, some of the children took no heed, so engrossed were they in a break-out discussion of terrorism in the name of religion, ISIS and the IRA. Many of the opinions expressed were not the ones heard in mainstream media, but they were perfectly valid viewpoints in a nation built upon the principle of democratic freedom. My pupils will take something valuable from that class that they would not have gotten if I had refused to facilitate and guide a controversial discussion.

I do these ‘risky things’ because I know that the subjects we teach are most often just a means to an end – and that end is the development of our children’s minds and characters.

I am a qualified teacher, with over six years of university and many years of experience behind me.

I have beliefs which I know to be valuable because they have been tested in the furnace of my life experiences and have held strong.

I have the benefit of hindsight and know which actions were successful and which were foolhardy.

I have values which have enabled me to make responsible and successful choices and decisions.

So let me teach by the light which I have been given. Let me help my pupils detect the difference between depth and superficiality. Let me encourage them to identify courage from bravado. Let me enable them to differentiate between liberty and license. Do not muzzle me with sanitized, one-sided lesson plans. Do not force me to teach that which I do not believe to be true or right.

The glory of our schools has been its inspiring, dedicated, selfless teachers. We remember the art teacher who taught us to see beauty in everything, the English teacher who taught us the feeling of self-worth that comes from facing up to and working through our challenges, the science teacher who taught us about the joy of discovery and the importance of a plan. Today’s children are going to miss out on this if we succumb to current pressures to leave our identities and our personal beliefs outside the classroom door and stick rigidly to the prescribed text.

They will get their beliefs and values somewhere – maybe from the media, from YouTube or from Facebook. Without good values, our children will lack the light by which they can successfully navigate their lives.

We must give them this light – light to know the difference between fake and real, love and sensuality, faith and superstition, false and true, right and wrong.

We owe it to the next generation.

(Image credits: Google Images)

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Grace

I wonder how ‘Grace’ feels tonight, over 6 million euro richer than she was last night?

Does she know that she’s a millionaire?

Maybe she’s sitting in a room somewhere, cradling her child’s toy, unable to sleep because of the pain of her wounds. Wounds which will one day result in her death. Wounds which were inflicted by someone who was supposed to take care of her. Wounds which smashed the simple securities of her world into pieces and have left her helpless, broken and forever scarred.

Money cannot get rid of wounds. Only when justice is served does the victim feel any sense of vindication. With Grace, justice has not been served. Instead this case has been, and continues to be, a catalog of shameful failures.

The authorities failed utterly in their most important responsibility of caring for the most vulnerable. Worse still, this was not an accidental failure or a genuine mistake. This was a cover-up job which only came to light because of the tireless efforts of people who could not rest while torture was being inflicted upon a helpless girl.

Not only have the authorities failed, but we have failed – as a nation. We failed Grace because for too long we were afraid to rock the boat, to ask hard questions, to risk our own reputations, to listen to our consciences and to get involved in another person’s pain. We were afraid to be compassionate and we were afraid to get angry. And if we weren’t afraid, we were simply heartless, callous creatures.

As we raise our voices now in righteous protest against the maltreatment of Grace, let us be careful that we are not just drowning out our own consciences.
Because if we look sincerely, we will find a ‘Grace’ nearby, in desperate need of an ordinary, everyday hero.

They are in all of our communities. Maybe they aren’t suffering from such extreme abuse, but they are in pain.

They are the quiet children in our classrooms who long desperately for a friend, who suffer from relentless bullying which teachers and management never see.

They are the young people labelled officiously with a condition by psychologists and counselors, who just want someone to genuinely care about them.

They are the mentally and physically disabled people who want to be treated as human beings with thoughts and feelings, not as objects to be carelessly minded.

They are the addicts in the shadows of the night looking for solace from a needle or a bottle, hungry for a simple conversation with someone who respects their humanity.

They are the lonely, depressed, neglected introverts who are plagued by voices in their heads saying, ‘No-one care, no-one cares, no-one cares.’

Grace, 6 million euro doesn’t even begin to erase our guilt. Because in your room tonight, as you toss and turn and weep from pain, all you know is that for years someone made you suffer horrible, unspeakable pain, and for too long no-one cared enough to make them stop. And today your wounds will never heal, and your abuser still walks free.

Shame on us.

The Misplaced Vendetta against Religion in our Schools

Today’s schools are tough places for both pupils and teachers.

religion

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 philanthropic supporters such as One Foundation 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.

How Government Corruption Affects Us All

These are memorable days in Irish politics.

Not only memorable however, but also painful, sickening and disturbing.
Houses of the Oireachtas Commission suppliment(photo credit: oireachtas.ie)

Since February 9th, so many of Ireland’s fundamental institutions have been revealed to be harboring base corruption.

Our Taoiseach, Enda Kenny, the nation’s leader and figurehead, has acted dishonestly; in fact, after being forced to relate the facts regarding his dealings with Cabinet Minsters with regard to the recent McCabe scandal, he said in the Dáil on Thursday 16th Feb, ‘I actually spoke the truth in the house today’. He spoke as though speaking the truth was something to be applauded.

The credibility of the nation’s Ministers for Justice and for Children, Frances Fitzgerald and Katherine Zappone, has been weakened considerably by the corruption within their respective departments.

The Garda Síochana has been grossly unethical and the forthcoming Charleton Tribunal will investigate the extent of its corruption. This is the institution that has as its aim the protection of Irish communities, yet a man who attempted to flag wrongdoing within the Gardaí has left unprotected and abused.

 
TUSLA, the Child and Family Agency, has acted dishonorably and has been party to the blackening of an innocent man’s good name. This is the agency which professes to improve outcomes and wellbeing for children, yet Maurice McCabe’s children will be forever scarred by the horror of the false allegations regarding their father which TUSLA facilitated.

 
There is clearly a deficit in our culture of leadership. A deficit of basic moral responsibility. One is reminded of the story of a novice thief who was apprehended by the police. After he had undergone his punishment, he returned to the thieves’ hideout only to face the towering rage of his boss. When he piteously asked why he was being chastised again, the response was, ‘Because you were stupid enough to get caught’. The greatest sin in Irish political leadership seems to be the mistake of being found out. What is lacking is an inherent passion for the common good and a basic desire to be morally upright in all of one’s actions.

 
The actions and attitudes of government set the tone for the rest of the nation. Corruption at national level must be dealt severely, because it is a contagious disease, apt to spread. We look up to our leaders; they decide the moral temperature of the nation, and through their actions, they define what is acceptable behaviour for leaders in national, municipal and local institutions. If it is acceptable for the Taoiseach, the Minister for Justice, the Police Force, the Child and Family Agency to be corrupt, then it is acceptable also for the shopkeeper, the teacher, the principal, the mechanic.

 
Even our children are affected. I have written before of the premature disillusionment of certain pupils who looked at me cynically when I encouraged them to report any incidents of bullying to school management. With the insight of childish discernment, they know when management truly cares but also when its care is limited to some fancy words on a policy document.

 
A recent phenomenon in my local town are the fights under the bridge. Some of them happen during lunchtime, when youngsters from nearby schools congregate under a bridge located in the town center and watch the designated fighters take each other on. They are vicious, brutal encounters, and fraught with bullying and harassment. Anecdotal evidence reports that sometimes the Gardaí stop by, but their presence doesn’t make much difference. Others say that when the pupils return to school clearly bruised and bloodied, teachers rarely comment or get involved. Some unfortunates caught up in this activity have been subjected to terrible mental and physical abuse.

 
Corruption is becoming commonplace in our communities. When our national institutions don’t function as they ought, disillusionment follows. Depression rates soar. Suicide becomes the increasingly popular ‘way out’.

It has been a disheartening week. I recently read a quote however from Peter Ustinov which has stayed with me – ‘Corruption is nature’s way of restoring faith in democracy.’ We must believe in the power of our own voices and we must actively exercise the democratic principles of free speech and selection.

It seems that the fight for moral justice must be each person’s individual responsibility; we must be willing to expose ourselves by highlighting corruption in our workplaces and communities lest a day come when unchecked corruption turns into tyranny and free speech becomes a crime.

Visiting Dachau

dachau
I will never forget visiting Dachau. It was a cold March day, suitably grey and melancholy, with a chill wind that blew right through my coat. I took the train from Munich to the village of Dachau, and stepped off into a unassuming town, with a market place and a functional Hauptbahnhof with the ever-present Bäckerei. Outside the bus stop for Das Konzentrationslager was easy to spot; a cluster of tourists stood by it, hands in pockets, cameras slung around their necks. The bus came, we all got on and I spent my time gazing out the window, at the houses, the gardens, the trappings of a normal community filled with normal people. When the bus came to a halt by a wide green park, the bus driver pointed down a small road and informed us that we had to walk the rest of the way.

The walk led us past a group of small apartment blocks, and occasional snatches of children’s laughter and neighborly small talk could be heard. Seconds later, the gates were before us, ‘Arbeit macht frei’ and suddenly I was in another world, a
world of horrifying cruelty, of hopeless captivity, of mass killings.

When I left, hours later, unable to speak, I remember staring again at the
apartment blocks, the unassuming houses, the market square. I was fascinated by these buildings in which people lived and worked and talked and slept and laughed, while thousands of their fellow-human beings met their deaths a few hundred meters away. How could they do nothing? How could they not dachau_collspeak up? How could they not care?

Indoctrination and German Schools
Adolf Hitler became leader of the Nazi Party in 1926, and 7 years later, Heinrich Himmler opened the Concentration Camp in Dachau. Thus, there had been almost a decade of indoctrination in National Socialism before the mass genocide of non-Aryans began to take place. Of fundamental importance during this time was nurturing of the youth, and this was evident in the power of the Hitler Youth and the League of German Girls, both of which were established in the 1920s. I remember once conversing with an elderly German woman who recounted nostalgically her days taking part in the Youth rallies; she spoke of a powerful feeling of belonging and oneness that she had never experienced before or, indeed, since.
German schools were also directly targeted; any Jewish or politically unreliable teachers were fired and the rest were given a choice – conform or lose your job. History tells us that 97% of teachers joined the Nazi Party, greater numbers than any other profession, and that they were marked by their devotion to Adolf Hitler. Academic knowledge and intellectual development were belittled as obedience to state authority, militarism and anti-Semitism took centre place in German classrooms. Children were actively encouraged to abandon their individuality in favour of the goals of the Aryan community and this indoctrination continued in after-school meetings, weekend camping trips and regular mass rallies. Parents were relegated to second place as the state assumed responsibility for the upbringing of the nation’s children.
It is no wonder then that the people of Dachau, so heavily programmed in the ideology of National Socialism, said nothing when Heinrich Himmler officiously opened Germany’s first concentration camp ‘for political prisoners’. It is no wonder they remained silent for 9 long years, despite the rumours, the gunshots, the skeletal bodies, the mass graves.

Respecting Parents
Today is Holocaust Memorial Day – a day to remember the past, for if we do not remember, we are doomed to repeat it. Education has always been instrumental in a government’s efforts to change a nation. Any new ideological state or movement must alienate the young from their pre-revolutionary parents if it hopes to survive into future generations. And any state-imposed separation of children from their parents is wrong. It must always be a matter of concern when the State begins to infringe parental rights and assume responsibility for the upbringing of children. As teachers, employed by the state, we must always be aware that while we are ‘in loco parentis’ when our pupils in our care, we are not their parents – and there are areas of instruction which must always be firstly the responsibility of the parents. We must be careful to never belittle parents or, through our teaching, denigrate their morals and values.
In light of this, Ireland’s recent trends in education policy are worrying. Government disparagement of religion and the recent focus on schools taking responsibility for child ‘wellbeing’ along with the promotion of topics such as sexuality to children under the age of legal consent are of concern. The moving away from knowledge to ‘skills’ as an educational output is also a source of anxiety to many teachers around the country; it is imperative that we examine the reasons and philosophy behind every development. Indoctrination is never conspicuous – it is always camouflaged.
And when we disagree, we must protest. Elie Wiesel, a man who survived the brutality of a Nazi concentration camp but never forgot what it meant to be captive, once wrote:
‘There may be times when we are powerless to prevent injustice, but there must never be a time when we fail to protest’.

(Images credit: Google Images)

Trump, Brexit and the People’s Voice

                                                 

1916

In Irish political and media circles, there has arisen a disturbing disregard for democracy. Of all nations, perhaps Ireland should know best the inspired power of the people’s voice. We are a young Republic; only last year we remembered the heroes of 1916, those men who gave their lives so that Ireland could be free. One of them, Padraig Pearse, after he was sentenced to death for his role in the Easter Rising, wrote: ‘If our deed has not been sufficient to win freedom, then our children will win it by a better deed’.

That better deed was democracy; inspired by the heroic actions of tragic rebels, the people claimed the once-mocked vision as their own and continued the fight for freedom. In 1919, Irish representatives, chosen by an electorate of 2 million, met in the Mansion House in Dublin and the first Dáil was convened. It was a revolutionary parliament, signifying the first political break with the British Empire and the parliament at Westminster. It was we, the people – our language, our faith, our morals, our values, our traditions, our lands, our towns, our schools, our country. It was a new nation, at last articulating the uniqueness of a centuries-old people. It was democracy – the voice of the people deciding by whom they would be governed, and it has continued right through to the 32nd Dáil.

 
And yet today, a vocal, powerful minority dare to deride democracy, to dismantle it with insinuations, rhetoric, and accusations and to ridicule this very institution that brought their freedom. The liberal elite observe with plaintive woe the political changes in the UK and the US which have occurred because of the democratic voice of the people. They piously speak the subjective language of political respectability – words such as xenophobia, racism, misogyny, homophobia. Purposely forgetting the common good and individual freedoms, they claim that all they want is for everyone to be happy and accepted and loved.

 
This vocal minority are self-proclaimed activists, calling for the freedom of all people, while they shut down free speech and accuse truth-speakers of violence and racism. They talk of the worth of every human being while they mock belief in God, Who alone confirms the inherent value in each person, and thus guarantees that man is worth loving. They complain that they are criminalized and oppressed, while they campaign for No Platform policies and the prosecution of those who actively disagree with their liberal agenda.

 
They have dominated the media in recent days, bewailing democracy. They have painted Brexit as Doomsday. They have demonized President Trump. They have spoken of chaos and bigotry, and have lugubriously predicted a return to the Dark Ages. They have sneered at democracy in action, thus proving that they are traitors to its cause. They are the Europhiles, the political sycophants, the Amnesty charlatans, the RTE bootlickers, the Rainbow devotees.

 
As they protest democracy, there are thousands of Irish who do not.
We are the silent majority, heartily applauding the disarrangement of the stifling status quo. We are invigorated and energized by what democracy has achieved against the odds. We feel the chains of political correctness, the shackles of EU regulations, the curse of media bias and as we watch our neighbors across the seas each side of our small island, we dare to wonder if, here, change could happen too.

 
In 1919, the Irish people found their voice, and participated in the democratic process which resulted in the independent Republic of Ireland.

Is it time to find our voice again?

(image credit: Google images)

Staying Bright

future-of-incandescent-bulbs-not-so-bright

                              – taking responsibility for our lives as teachers –

It’s easy to get worn out in the teaching profession. The multiple needs of our pupils, the weight of implementing educational reforms, the issues regarding pay restoration and job permanency and the struggle to maintain a sense of calling amidst monotonous schedules can unite to really drag us down. But for the sake of our pupils, our families, our communities and most of all our own self-worth, we must stay bright.

Firstly, don’t obsess over bad behavior. I have found it necessary to avoid lengthy discussions in the staff-room about misbehaving pupils. Chatting about the latest incredibly wicked feats of a particular child can be a temptingly easy way to pass a 15-minute break; but unless it leads to constructive action being taken, or has a positive visible outcome, it leaves you with nothing but negative thoughts. It drags you down – for no good purpose. We should, instead, share good stories, positive thoughts and solutions that work.

Secondly, be an activist. We too often make the mistake of living out lives watching the evils of the world around us. Of living our lives as onlookers. Of being commentators – commentators who disappear or fall dumb when the opportunity to make a change comes along. We all have experienced that heavy, uncomfortable silence that often descends during a staff meeting. We love to talk but shrink from doing. And the more we shrink, the hollower our words sound. To stay bright and useful, we must pledge with ourselves not to speak unless we intend to act – not to voice a solution unless we, as individuals, are willing to do all within our power to make that solution work.

Thirdly, be the boss. A teacher mentor once told me to practice being king in my classroom – to practice developing a culture behind the classroom door where clear boundaries and tough love are paramount. He encouraged me to deal with discipline issues myself, and to learn to refer an issue only if it is totally unmanageable. In those workplaces where leadership is lacking, it is important to overcome frustration by taking ownership of our own areas of responsibility – to be in charge where possible, to be a leader whenever possible, to be self-sufficient as much as possible.
Staying bright requires effort and practice. There are actions we can take to better our life experience as teachers. After all, ‘There’s only one person responsible for your quality of life – That person is you’. (Jack Caulfield)

Image credit: Google Images