There’s a subculture of Judiasm known as the “hyphenated Jew” where the word Jewish becomes Jew-ish with a heavy emphasis on the “ish.” A hyphenated Jew could mean a number of things but it is usually somebody who was raised in the Jewish faith but no longer practices but still would describe him/herself as Jewish, at least in heritage. Hyphented Jews might not believe in a god, fulfil any of the dietary requirements or obey any of the laws of the religion but they might go to synagogue once a year or circumcise their son in a Bris-ceremony or even let their child have a Bar or Bat Mitzvah.
Today, I read an article by Yvonne Hogan in the Irish Independent, which for the first time opened my eyes to why we are having such issues with the divestment process with primary schools. In the article, Hogan says:
I would describe myself as a cultural Catholic. I go to mass at Christmas and Easter … I don’t have a problem with the tenets of Catholicism; I have a huge problem with the Catholic Church and how they irreparably destroyed thousands of Irish lives. I abhor the hypocrisy of the Vatican, but I see the value of the Christian narrative as a way of connecting with something greater than oneself and negotiating one’s place in the world … I see the Catholic churches and their schools as parts of my community, my cultural heritage, and I am happy for my family to be part of that.
In these few sentences, I think Hogan probably shares the same eyes as the vast majority of Irish people. It’s the equivalent of the hyphenated Jew. It is contradictory and makes no sense – e.g. The Catholic Church has irreparably destroyed thousands of lives / I am happy for my family to be part of that, and while that might infuriate people, whether we like it or not, if we’re being completely honest, it seems to be a mindset that is prevalent in Ireland.
In fact, the very basis of this article is the supposition that everyone is like Yvonne Hogan and I don’t think she would have written the article if her entire network of friends and colleagues weren’t of the mindset, including her editor. Unfortunately she and those in her life, assume that these views are shared by everyone.
When creating a school system, it can’t be through the eyes of the “hyphenated Catholic” where one doesn’t believe in any of the teachings of the church but likes the heritage, the milestones and the celebrations, even if this is the majority. When creating a school system, it can’t also be through a lens of trying to give everyone what they want either, which is essentially the “Pluralism and Patronage” model. Both these models fail to do what Hogan aspires to do in her article: Having the majority of the children in a locality educated together, regardless of ability, class or creed, is one of those things that binds people together.
So, whose eyes should we see our school system? I believe that the success of a school system is how we can be assured that every single member is treated with equal respect throughout the school day and never felt like an outsider, or to use an awkward turn of phrase: “to be othered.”
In order to give an even playing field to every single child that lives in Ireland, try and have a look at the current set up and see it through the eyes of a person who is not in your circle. Think of the hyphenated Jew and how he/she navigates the current system if he/she doesn’t live in Dublin 6. Think of the Baha’i family living in Leitrim. How do we make our school system fair and equitable for these children?
In fairness to Hogan, she concedes that if having children educated together means divesting them of religious ethos, then so be it. I think she nailed it in the end.