LUX EDMUNDI: REFLECTION: JANUARY, 2018
Catholic Schools Week 2018 runs from Sunday, 28th January, to Saturday, 3rd February. The theme this year – “The Catholic School: Called to be a Family of Families” – looks forward to the World Meeting of Families in Dublin next August. The website of Catholic Schools Partnership (www.catholicschools.ie), and that of the World Meeting of Families (www.worldmeeting2018.ie), provide resources to help schools mark CSW and in such a way as to help them prepare for WMOF2018 with ever-increasing understanding and, it may be hoped, ever-growing conviction.
Bunreacht na hÉireann guarantees the rights of the Family (article 41), especially in relation to the education of its children (article 42). Our Constitution acknowledges, in effect, that primacy in all to do with the rearing of children lies with the Family and guarantees the rights of parents in that regard. Given that, in 1937, the year we adopted our Bunreacht, totalitarian regimes in Europe and beyond were insisting on the supremacy of the State in every aspect of the life of the citizen, this emphasis in our basic law on the prior rights of families, not least in the all-important sphere of education, is noteworthy. Equally noteworthy, though, is the fact that the State did so little thereafter to help parents exercise those rights in practice. In Education and the Law (2nd ed., 2012), Glendenning writes: “While the family/parents are at the apex of the constitutional structures upholding education, in practice they were excluded from responsibility for the direction of schools until 1975 when voluntary boards of management were introduced in primary schools (p. 94)”.
It is generally agreed that, in both thought and expression, these particular articles were influenced by the social doctrine of the Catholic Church, which, of course, is absolutely emphatic on the parent as the primary educator. However, like the State, the Church in Ireland was dilatory, to say the least, in according to Catholic parents any real opportunity to speak for themselves in relation to Catholic schools. In fact, the Hierarchy saw itself as the exclusive spokesperson for Catholic parents in virtually everything to do with the education of those parents’ children and took a very dim view indeed of any parent who did anything other than accept its instructions as right, final and binding.
Just over a year ago, the Minister for Education and Skills published the General Scheme of an Education (Parent and Student Charter) Bill, 2016. The National Parents’ Council, primary and post-primary, immediately welcomed the Bill. The fact that, 19 years after the enactment, 18 after the commencement, of s. 28 of the Education Act of 1998, parents will, finally, be given the necessary procedures by means of which they may exercise their statutory right to pursue a grievance with a school, may have contributed to the warmth of this welcome. School managerial authorities and teacher unions would seem to be reserving their respective positions. People at school level and their different professional associations have been equally reserved on this, up to now at least.
But, in its broad objectives, this Bill seems in accord with civil and canon law. As citizens and public servants, as patrons, trustees, governors, managers, leaders and staff in Catholic schools, we might, therefore, regard it, not just as a challenge, but as an opportunity. In Ireland, as in the West generally, the family – the basic cell of society, the domestic church, the aboriginal seminary – is, right now, more needed and more threatened than ever. We might, therefore, commit ourselves this CSW to making our schools, really, unmistakably, family-friendly. This, surely, would be an eminently useful service to both Church and State, a truly fitting memorial to WMOF2018.
Provided to CEIST by Dr. Frank Steele