Education: A Benign Form of Apartheid?

I have to admit it’s not often that I agree with Peter Robinson.  However, his statement that the education system in Northern Ireland is a ‘benign form of apartheid’ is, in my view, somewhat correct.  Where I might differ with Peter Robinson is in his reasons.  It does seem true that a segregated education system reinforces segregation in wider society and because it is good to break down segregation in society, a reasonable place to begin is in education.  Never mind Robinson’s financial reasons, our shared future is dependent on it.

The idea that I think is particularly applicable to Robinson’s statement, and our education system in general, is one which is prominent in Richard Dawkins’s The God Delusion. Basically the idea is that children should not be labelled according to the faith of their parents.  So instead of saying ‘Catholic child’ and ‘Protestant child’ we should move towards calling them ‘children of Catholic parents’ or ‘children of Protestant parents.’  The basis of this argument is that children are not old enough to make an educated, informed and rational decision on what religion, if any, they should follow.  We don’t refer to children as ‘Sinn Fein children’ or ‘DUP children’ because they are not old enough to make decisions on politics.

With this in mind, we should not have separate Catholic and state schools, but schools which teach the ethos of all traditions in society with a view to allowing to children to make an educated decision on what paths they should follow.  I know this sounds like integrated education by another name and in a sense it is, but it is an integration not of ‘Catholic children’ and ‘Protestant children’ but an integration of children whose parents have different religious views.  As such, the term non-denominational, which my own Grammar school operated under, is preferable as it suggests that it is education designed to present all views and allow young people to make their own decisions unfettered by history or the choices of their parents.

I myself attended a Catholic Primary school and a non-denominational Grammar school, but what mattered was not where the funding of these schools came from, nor was it from the particular flavour of religion they taught but it was the standard of education I received at these schools, which was excellent.  If parents, politicians and the media were to stop labelling children according to the religious persuasions of their parents and so sent them not to a Catholic or state school but the school best suited to their children’s needs a lot of division may dissolve.

To return to my disagreement with Robinson the issue is not that we have to integrate ‘Catholic’ and ‘Protestant’ children but rather that we have to educate children from all backgrounds and allow them to make their own religious and political decisions.  This is where our energies should be focused – in making sure our children have all the facts at their disposal to make rational, educated and informed decisions about the paths they should follow.  It is only through the truly non-denominational education of our children that a cohesive and shared society can be achieved.

  • In what way has Peter Robinson’s speech been distorted.
    He suggested that State funding be withdraan from denominational schools – obviously hoping that financial pressure will bully Catholics into surrendering to integrated education.

    I have news for you. That was tried in the 1920s and it did not work.

  • We Catholics have a right to our own schools because we do not get fair play in the State schools.

  • Even if all education were secular, I want it to be segregated. It is not the teaching of religion which protects Catholic children and teachers, it is the segregation which provides the protection.

  • “We wouldn’t want ‘Catholic’ plumbers, electricians etc having to learn their trade alongside non-catholic ones.”

    Well said. It says in the bible “Come ye out from among them”.

  • Not true. The Shankill Butchers were the products of State schools.

  • Cahir O’Doherty

    Why are you so focussed on the teaching of religion?
    There are many other issues.

    What flags would fly on these integrated State schools?
    What games would be played? What anthem would be played as school social events?

    Who would appoint teachers? And promote teachers?
    Would their be Catholic teachers in these integrated State schools? If so, what proportion of the teachers would be Catholics? Would any of these schools have Catholic Headteachers? If so, what proportion of Headteachers would be Catholics? Would priests, nuns or monks be employed as teachers in these integrated State schools? Would members of Sinn Fein be employed as teachers in these integrated State schools?

    Would the Protestant Churches continue to have the right to appoint 50% of the voting governors of all State schools? If so, would that same right be extended to the RC Church?

    How would you protect Catholic children and teachers from sectarian bullying – physical or verbal? How do you protect teachers from unjustified allegations – motivated by sectarian malice?.

    Administering an integrated education system would be a field of thorns.

  • Why should any Catholic allow his defenceless little children to be taught alongside your children?

  • You are being less than honest. Dominican College, Portstewart has a mainly Protestant student body because of its location. Many English academics based at the nearby University of Ulster send their children to it. The college is a little bit of Englsnd in northern Ulster.

  • What point are you trying to make?

  • Please keep your vulgar language to yourself. We Ulster people are easily shocked by such language.

  • So you want rid of Catholic schools so that you can more easily oppress us. I have long suspected that. Thank you for being so honest.

  • “In my opinion, the nationalist opposition comes from fear of a system where young children of Catholics may be able to choose the school sport the rest of their friends play”

    I thought that the argument against Catholic schoolls was that young Catholics did not have non-Catholic friends. You seem to be contradicting that argument.

  • Oh please, get real. Gerry Adams is a politician who is often a candidate in elections. To be elected one needs many people to vote in one’s favour. Catholics have voting rights. Gerry has to toe the line. Likewise the SDLP.

  • Alan

    “It’s a disgrace that our children are educated separately.”

    Why is it a disgrace? Anyway, every school in Northern Ireland which receives public funds is obliged by law to accept a child of any religion> That has been the law since 1831. so why have you not sent your child to a Catholic school?

    “Do the RC leaders think children of that faith mixing on a daily basis with protestants will become contaminated?”

    Probably yes. And might also have sex with Protestants. [The RC church barely condones mixed marriage, it does not encourage them.

    “Are protestant children not Irish enough to educated alongside catholics?”

    They are not Catholics. Please remember that in Eire the Protestans maintain their own schools.

    “Surely this would be a great way, not only to stabilise this part of the world but also introduce to protestants the irish language and gaelic games.”

    In November 1976, a leading supporter of integrated education and Ballymena councillor said on TV “The GAA should be outlawed in Northern Ireland.” Sometime later he was appointed Chief Executive of one of our Teachers Unions. I suspect that integrated education is a Protestant plot to destroy the GAA in Northern Ireland.

    P.S. The RC Church policy is that all children should attend the same school and the same church, the Catholic Church and the Catholic school.

  • Barnshee

    “This is at least a recognition that the religion argument is a red herring Roman Catholics want separate schools to promote IRISH– irish language,irish nationalism gaelic games etc etc esentially its bugger all to do with religion.”

    What is wrong with that?

    Would those things be catered for in State schools? Are they catered for in Dalriada Grammar school?

  • Shane

    I agree entirely with your suggestion. BUT I accuse you of under-stating your case. Besides giving parents freedom of choice, a voucher system would put schools and, therefore, teachers under the financial thumbs of the parents of the children being taught by those teachers.
    Under the thumbs of parents is the proper place for teachers.

  • John of East Belfast

    So far as I know, poppies are not displayed in any Catholic school in Northern Ireland. In Northern ireland the poppy is an anti-Catholic emblem. It was probably not intended to be but that is how it is.

    Religion is part of identity. Even if all Catholics wanted to be part of the British State, I would still oppose integrated education – as I do for Catholics in England. Catholic schools are the result of anti-Catholic bigotry in Ireland, Scotland, England. USA and Australia. Until nearly all Protestants have lost their kick-the-Pope mentality, there cannot be integrated education.

  • Comrade Stalin

    “If funding for Catholic schools is enshrined in European law then why is France’s secular system allowed to stand ? ”

    There are Catholic schools in France – for those who want them – and they do receive some State funding.

    “There’s bollocks being talked somewhere.”

    There most certainly is – a lot of it by your good self.

  • Yes.