This Letter to Editor appeared in the Irish Times on Friday 10 June 2016.
Whatever about the possible merits of the CNS model it completely undermines their bona fides to have it suggested by Minister for Education and Skills, Richard Bruton, that any church have a role in running these school in the future. Does the Minister not know that the people removed the special position of the Roman Catholic church and the recognition of other named religious denominations from our Constitution on 5 January 1973 – yes that long ago! [5th Amendment]
No churches should be involved in management or control of any ‘divested’ or CNS school.
Sir, – Currently, children of parents whose identity is interwoven with a religious faith – Muslim, Christian or Hindu, for example – as well as those whose identity is interwoven with a belief or a life-stance – Buddhism, humanism or atheism – all attend community national schools.
Given this multifaith and belief community, the Goodness Me, Goodness You programme is a response to the ministerial brief given to these new schools in 2008 “to cater for all faiths and none during the school day”.
The programme has been created in accordance with a particular set of guiding principles and governed by the community national school ethos, which includes the commitment “to respect, celebrate and recognise diversity in all areas of human life”.
Goodness Me, Goodness You is a faith and belief-nurturing programme. It is not an ethical-moral programme, nor is it a programme that assumes a secular stance from which it educates about religions. Community national schools do not invite the child to enter the school and then require her to “suspend” a part of herself that it decides should be excluded from its educational endeavour. Rather, it welcomes all children and it welcomes all of “who” the child and her parents believe her to be. It educates by acknowledging and working with the child’s experience, affirming the child’s core sense of identity and belonging and seeking to nurture the child’s developing sense of different ways of belonging and not belonging, in different contexts (home, school, local community, faith or belief community, civil society, material world, and so on). It endorses the child’s faith or belief as an important factor – stronger for some than for others – influencing her sense of identity and belonging.
Pupils and parents in the community national school community share much in common. But they also have differences between them (and indeed within them) – differences that enrich our plurality and are to be celebrated. For example, Islam is not the same as Hinduism, Christianity is different from humanism, and there are also differences within Christianity, as there are differences within Islam, yet all teach respect for the Earth and its life-forms.
In an effort to be true to what is shared in common and equally true to what is not shared but is distinctive, Goodness Me, Goodness You has sought to evolve both programme content and ways of structuring teaching and learning that enhance the educational potential of commonality and difference.
Currently, for 24 weeks of the school year, all children in the class explore the same Goodness Me, Goodness You lessons. Children interpret these lessons in different ways and, with the support and guidance of their home, bring the riches of their particular faith or belief tradition to their interpretation.
For approximately four weeks of the year, children regroup according to their different faith or belief tradition and explore lessons designed to take account of that specific tradition.
Much has been made of this second dimension of the community national school approach as “segregation of children along religious lines”. I would like to challenge this view. In following the primary school curriculum, children form and re-form into many different groupings and sub-groupings at different times and for different parts of the curriculum, depending on children’s needs and available resources.
To interpret the forming of groups according to distinctive faith or belief needs as “segregation” seems to me to deny the right of community national schools to recognise children’s faith and belief needs as needs.
Furthermore, it would seem also to deny this part of the curriculum as a legitimate curriculum on a par with all other parts of the curriculum. It also denies the school, under its ethos, the right to adopt strategies in relation to its curriculum that best meet its children’s differing needs.
The question is not therefore whether it is legitimate that children should form groups according to their faith and belief traditions. The real question is, in the eyes of those who claim segregation, what prejudice prevents children’s needs in this part of their school curriculum from being recognised as valid and deserving of strategies designed to meet them?
If recognition of difference were the only basis on which children’s curricular needs in this area were dealt with, then the accusation of segregation would be a serious one. However, this is patently not so. The fact is that for the much greater part of their school year, children are brought together to be educated in faith and belief. Community national schools, I would argue, are the only schools that deliberately bring children together to educate them in faith and belief. They do not bring children together and bypass the difficulty of “faith” by removing it from the curriculum altogether, in favour of “belief” that is non-religious. – Yours, etc,
Dr CLARE MALONEY,