My husband and I used to joke that we could teach our three babies all sorts. Drunk on parent power, we laughed about depriving them of language altogether, save for expletives. Oh, the fun we could have with our innocent bubs!
It was a joke — but behind the joke lurks the reality that parents in Ireland are constitutionally entitled to determine and design their child’s education.
A report released this week highlights a sub-set of parents who wish to remove their children from objective relationship and sex education in school.
Teachers and students welcome the inclusion of new material in the subject, but some parents do not.
International human rights standards are clear on the topic; religious freedom should not entitle a parent to remove a child from objective and impartial information.
But in Ireland, regardless of consequences, the parent decides.
The only instance, of which I’m aware, when the State attempted to usurp the primary role of the parent in education occurred in 1942 when the Minister for Education, Thomas Derrig TD, sought to amend the 1926 Act to tackle Traveller absenteeism.
The bill threatened the parents of Traveller children with imprisonment if they didn’t register their offspring at the local Garda station.
The child would also be taken and sent to a special Traveller school. The law never passed of course because it was unconstitutional.
In the case of the Traveller community, our constitution worked for the greater good. Draconian State control of education is dangerous and problematic.
But what about Enoch Burke? How has he fared in this country of ours that permits parents to singlehandedly “educate” their children?
Was baby Enoch fairly served by this State? Because it’s easy to forget that when Enoch Burke was born, he did not bring with him a capacity to recite the Book of Leviticus to use against the LGBTQ+ community.
That capacity was absolutely “educated” into him by his parents, and it was reinforced by some or all of his siblings, all home-schooled by their mother Martina who runs Burke Christian School, all kept within the very narrow confines of that singular world view.
This, to me at least, is the antithesis of education.
Did baby Enoch ever really have a hope of becoming anything other than what he has become?
In Germany, home-schooling is banned. I visited a small island off Ireland recently. German families home-schooling their children make up a considerable percentage of the dwindling population there. It’s no wonder.
In many other countries, home schooling is allowed but with restrictions.
Elsewhere, you can’t do it without teaching qualifications. Here, being a parent is seemingly enough.
Of course, some parents are excellent home-schoolers. But in cases where they are not, the Irish State offers only guidance.
They are advised to provide a “certain minimum education,” of which no definition is given.
It is suggested only that they “provide a reasonably balanced range of learning experiences, so that no one aspect of your child’s learning is emphasised to the exclusion of others.”
Over-burdened and under-resourced, Túsla is charged with overseeing this provision. Since 2004 (Baby Enoch came too early) they have kept a register of children being home-schooled. Assessments are carried out beforehand.
If this is a preliminary assessment, the authorised person does not need to visit the home or interview the child. A conversation with the parent is enough.
A more comprehensive assessment is possible but not mandatory. A review might not happen for a few years.
I wonder if our constitutional protection of the parent in education, in some cases, amounts to child abandonment.
Because a parent passing on a singular world view without any exposure to the beliefs of others is indoctrination, not education, not even “minimum education”.
As Michael Clifford said when discussing the Burkes in this paper, “One wonders… whether a little more effort should have been spent on subjects like civics, that they might have come to understand that when the world is not marching to your beat, it does not automatically follow that the world is out of step.”
But is the whole sorry Enoch Burke saga not a monster of this State’s own making?