I’d like to address the appeal by the Archbishop of Glasgow, Philip Tartaglia, to Catholic teachers who are not working in Catholic schools. The Archbishop has requested them to 'please seek an appointment in a Catholic school'.
Now, my daughter attends a non-segregated primary school. Several of her teachers have been Catholics and are therefore clearly among Archbishop Tartaglia’s target group. What he proposes is that such teachers leave my daughter’s school, and go to work in the publicly-funded segregated sector. The effect on my daughter and her classmates doesn’t appear to figure in Tartaglia’s calculations; his only concern, of course, is RC schools. Non-segregated schools can lose teachers (indeed, this is what the clergyman hopes will happen, despite the euphemistic and disingenuous framing of his appeal to 'Catholic teachers not working in Catholic schools'). Despite the damage to the children in non-segregated schools, their parents would still be legally compelled to pay towards the schools which enticed their children’s teachers away.
In other words, children at Catholic schools have more right to the teachers.
Central to Tartaglia’s plea is the fact that there are insufficient numbers of RC teachers. The causes of this are worth analysing. Of course there are exceptions, but in our day 'Catholic' has increasingly come to mean someone who attended a segregated Catholic school. From my front window, I see significant numbers of children heading to the local Catholic primary each weekday; few, if any, attend mass in the church across the road on Sundays. At baptisms, weddings and funerals, you can’t help noticing how rare are the 'Catholics' who actually know the responses, or the words of the hymns. Few appear to consider themselves bound by teaching on pre-marital living arrangements, or on contraception.
As the Catholic Archbishop of Dublin, Diarmuid Martin, commented after the overwhelming yes-vote in the recent Irish referendum on same-sex marriage, most of the Yes voters went to RC schools, and his church 'needs a reality check'. Yes, in the privacy of the voting booth, just like the privacy of the bedroom, few 'Catholics' accept the church’s teachings.
In short, to be told that someone calls themself a Catholic tells you very little about their system of values.
The church knows this; it’s one of the main reasons why it is so opposed to giving up its schools. The rise of English as a world language can be traced in the increasing prevalence of non-native speaker accents among Scotland’s priests, while Scottish boys’ interest in the priesthood has all but dried up. The one thing connecting children today with the church is segregated schools. To take them away would be to marginalise (even neutralise) the influence of the Catholic clergy.
Paradoxically, perhaps, those of us opposed to these schools might find it easier to convince the segregationists if the church was arguing from a position of strength, rather than weakness; if most 'Catholics' actually lived according to the church’s teaching, said church would have less to lose by allowing children to be educated together.
The traditional claim that RC schools are open to all children (and hence are non-sectarian) has been undermined by reports that several councils want to reserve places at denominational schools for Catholics. Why not just build more Catholic schools, or enlarge the ones that already exist? Well, because they can’t get the teachers. If the schools really were successful at inculcating Catholic values, there would be no difficulty in finding true believers to work as teachers. But most kids at Catholic schools are no more interested than their parents in these values. They’re living in a place and time where the politics of identity trump just about everything else, and they’re not going to abandon entirely their community’s historic distinctiveness (which isn’t necessarily the same thing as believing in transubstantiation). If we can’t get more teachers, the logic goes (and we can’t, because so many of them are living with their boyfriends or girlfriends, and/or never go to mass), then we’ll have to restrict entry.
There were very good historical reasons for RC schools. But it needs to be asked if the schools have overcome the anti-Catholic discrimination that made segregation necessary. If the answer is no, then segregation has proved unsuccessful in righting the wrong, so what is the justification for continuing it? If the answer is yes, if effective discrimination has been marginalised, then there’s no continuing justification for segregated education. And in fact, Scotland’s Catholics, according to Professor Tom Devine, achieved occupational parity in the 1990s. So, if I understand correctly, the argument goes 'we needed to segregate children a hundred years ago to solve certain problems. These problems have now been solved. Therefore, we still need to segregate children'.
No-one doubts that much of what happens in RC schools is good, wholesome, and beneficial to the children, but the same claim could be made for fee-charging private schools. A country’s education system cannot be evaluated solely by what happens inside one (segregated) type of schools; an educational system has wider societal effects.
Taxpayer-funded segregation will not end this year, or next. However, certain observations can be made. First, it can be predicted that the word 'predictable' will be used in eloquent deconstruction of the arguments advanced here. Secondly, the segregated workplaces of our grandfathers’ day will be compared negatively with segregated classrooms today. Thirdly, the declining numbers of authentically practising Catholics will articulate arguments in which they mistakenly assume themselves to be representative of the parents at their children’s schools.
In regard to the longer term, however, the church’s desperation is apparent, its selfishness and arrogance exemplified in Archbishop Tartaglia’s attempt to poach teachers from non-segregated schools. We’d be a lot more likely to respect each other’s right to hold different beliefs if Archbishop Tartgalia didn’t try to undermine our kids’ education.
Is there such a thing as society, Your Grace? Clearly you don’t think so.