Secret Diary of an Irish Teacher: In Dreamland, education is blown wide-open

Secret Diary of an Irish Teacher: In Dreamland, education is blown wide-open

Last week, I asked politicians to dream about a better education system. This week, I’m going to ‘dream a little dream’ myself.

In Dreamland, education is blown wide-open. In this world, young people see every possibility, every perspective; it’s no place for faith-based curricula. Rather, it’s a bird’s eye view of our world.

Learning is fun there. There’s freedom in the curriculum; real choice. Students over 16 study the subjects most meaningful to them. This doesn’t involve a dumbing-down of our population, because so much can be covered in the preceding 11 or 12 years.

Things done well don’t take as long.

As is, a third of Irish teenagers wish Engish wasn’t a compulsory subject for the Leaving. As an English teacher, I agree with them.

I love my subject; but I’ve no interest in force-feeding Hamlet to students who’d rather investigate genomes. My Irish-teaching friend feels the same and is angry at how exams are, in her words, ‘butchering my subject.’

In Dreamland, students learn in a neutral place, to allow critical and creative thought. We have state facilities to meet needs, making everyone feel valued. Anything is possible.

This means kicking single-faith teaching of religion out of the classroom. Politely, of course!

Reading An Education, by Tara Westover, is an eye-opener on this topic. It’s a memoir of a girl, brought up in a fundamentalist Mormon family. She leaves her abusive home and undergoes a ‘transformation.’ Her family labels it a ‘betrayal.’ She calls it ‘an education.’

Catholic schools in Ireland are far from Westover’s world, but they’re still teaching through a prism. They’re still granted the freedom, by government, to avoid whatever they wish to avoid in RSE (relationship and sex education).

Might this play a role in future sexual abuses? Might future individuals hold current schools accountable? Considering our past, it seems plausible.

The Archbishop of Dublin wants to remove sacraments from our schools, recognising “the primary role of families in sacramental preparation.” In a survey carried out by the archdiocese, 1,800 people asked “for more movement in the direction of parent and parish responsibility.”

Is Dreamland about to happen? Are we moving towards a separation of classroom and clergy?

I hope so. On a trip to another school last week, I was told how their order supports their needy children from a pot of money, from the sale of real estate in Dublin. What about equally deserving children in other schools? Would anyone mind passing the pot down the table? We can see it, but we can’t touch it.

Interestingly, Cork is set to have a private Catholic school, Mater Dei, from September 2020.

There’ll be no sex education there. None. The philosophy will be Catholic.

In this school, a child will learn, according to their website, ‘who god created them to be.’ It will lead students to the ‘ultimate Truth, which is God.’

For obvious reasons, the teaching of science stops at fourth year. There is no critical thought here, but I’ve no doubt there’s a whole lot of money.

This school has no place in Dreamland: it is the antithesis of it. I can hear voices, perhaps an inner voice from my own schooldays, telling me to sit back in my pew. I’ve learned, through experience and travel, not to listen.

We should no longer accept education with a prescribed doctrine; there should be no limit to information on any topic, if taught in an age-appropriate manner.

It’s not just an inner voice that tells me to quiet down on this topic: colleagues argue that if we have freedom, we must accept schools like these. I disagree. These are potholes of censorship on the road to freedom. Give me a shovel and a hardhat and I’ll happily fill them in!

But I’m also aware that I must, eventually, wake up. So, let me finish with the most important thing about Dreamland.

Dreamland reduces the strain on parents to make the best choice for their child, because it’s an egalitarian, cohesive system.

At my parent night last week, I’d three generations in front of me: the boy’s baby sister, his granny, and his two parents. They all chatted about him reading as a boy, telling them stories. It was joyful.

Leaving the building at half-six, I met another parent, panting and visibly upset.

‘Can you tell them I did turn up?’ she said spikily, without a greeting. Instantly, I felt like the enemy. I pressed her a little and she went on.

‘I had to work late. Then I had to get the bus and it was delayed and I’ve only just arrived, and they’re all gone. You see, it’s only me and him.’

I fought back my tears. She asked me if I taught him. I said I did. ‘How’s he doing?’ A loaded question for teachers, because you never know what a parent means by it. I replied ‘ok’ reflecting his academic ability. She looked at me, ‘but is he happy?’ ‘He is’ I said.

The situations of families are grossly unequal. Home lives are unequal. Parents make choices in an unfair system. Young people arriving at our school gates should get to park those inequalities there.

They should be free to get an education.

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