The resources prepared by the Bishops' Conference for Catholic Schools Week (this week!) deserve a plug. Not all the prayers and resources chosen are quite to my taste, but it's important that we affirm our commitment to Catholic education.
Incidentally, it's a shame that this hasn't been better promoted on the ground. I only received news of these resources during the week. A little more notice would have enabled me to prepare a lot more work.
A Recent Debate
There's been a lot of nonsense in the media about the Church's control of schools, but thankfully, there've also been some solid refutations of those opinions.
In particular, there's been quite a debate recently about a recent opinion poll suggesting that a majority of Irish adults think that the Catholic Church should give up 'control' of primary schools. When the question is asked like that, the answer is bound to be somewhat skewed. However, no one seemed to bother checking whether we did in fact control the schools at all! I certainly don't 'control' the schools I'm involved in. They are Catholic schools, yes, and have a Catholic ethos, but to suggest that the Church or clergy 'control' the schools is misleading.
Most primary schools in Ireland are under the patronage of the Diocesan Bishop and are run by their Boards of Management. The Bishop nominates two members (including the Chairperson), two members represent the school staff, two represent the parents (normally elected by the Parents' Council) and two represent the local community. Whilst they operate with a Catholic ethos, I think you'll find that most Boards of Management are controlled more by the State than by the local Bishop. After all, it is the Department of Education who lay down the curricula, who pay the teachers, who set down the regulations under which schools run on a day-to-day basis, etc, etc...
Within that framework, however, it's important to cultivate our Catholic ethos. That is something which goes beyond the assigned periods of religious instruction (from which parents are entitled to withdraw their children). Catholicism teaches some fundamental truths about the value of the human beings, the purpose of education and a holistic understanding what growth is. As De Lubac affirms, true Christianity must be a humanism - a philosophy which contains within it a strong and affirmative vision of humanity which is committed to its development. Within that context, it should be clear that our Catholic schools can respectfully welcome those of other faiths.
Part of what we need to do as a nation is to recognise how much of our humanism - the value we place on family and community, our commitment to the physical, moral, spiritual and educational growth of our children - is rooted in our Catholic ethos. We need to recognise that a purely secular vision of education operates from a different ethos, and we need to ask whether such an ethos sustains similar or conflicting values.
Did you know that there's actually a legal definition of the Catholic ethos agreed between the State and the Patrons of Ireland's Catholic Schools? It's called the 'Schedule of a Catholic School' and is a useful thing to know about when questions arise about 'Catholic Ethos' and 'Church Control'. It reads as follows and should (by law) be displayed in all our Catholic primary schools.
The Schedule of a Catholic SchoolThis PDF document provides some useful addenda:
A Roman Catholic School (which is established in connection with the Minister) aims at promoting the full and harmonious development of all aspects of the person of the pupil: intellectual, physical, cultural, moral and spiritual, including a living relationship with God and with other people.
The school models and promotes a philosophy of life inspired by belief in God and in the life, death and resurrection of Jesus Christ.
The Catholic school provides Religious education for the pupils in accordance with the doctrines, practices and tradition of the Roman Catholic Church and promotes the formation of the pupils in the Catholic Faith.
The Schedule indicates that a Catholic Primary School:
o is one established in connection with the Minister and therefore recognised as a national school for public funding
o is a denominational school under the patronage of the local Catholic bishop
o strives to be a good school committed to the ‘full and harmonious development of all aspects of the person of the pupil’
o sees full human development as including a living relationship with God and other people
o provides Religious Education for the pupils in accordance with the doctrines, practices and traditions of the Roman Catholic Church
o promotes the faith formation of the pupils in the Catholic faith including the reception of the Sacraments of Penance, First Communion and Confirmation
o seeks to let pupils experience a religious way of life by being part of a faith community, the values and practices of which model a living relationship with God in Jesus Christ.
The Schedule does not state that a Catholic school is a school only for Catholic pupils.
Neither does it state that the Catholic school provides what may be called a ‘common’ or ‘multi-denominational’ religious education programme open to pupils of all religious faiths and none. The Catholic school is a welcoming and inclusive school.