Lolek Ltd’s delusional view of secular schooling.

There follows a rebuttal of yesterday’s publication by the Iona Institute. You can view the original here.


Michael Nugent of Atheist Ireland has outlined his wishes for Irish schools in The Irish Times. If implemented they would result in the effective elimination of every denominational school in the country, bar a few privately-funded ones.

As per usual with Iona articles, Mr Quinn leads with his signature cocktail of fear-mongering and hyperbolae, sadly lacking the required addition of fact. The article in question (linked below) specifically states both that reform should be starting in exactly nine primary schools, and – more importantly – “Discriminating against religious families is as wrong as discriminating against atheist families.”. Why let things like facts get in the way of colouring a proposed move towards equality as some sort of attack on the poor downtrodden Church?

The details of his proposals you can read in his article. However, if you strip down his vision to what I believe is its core, it is based on the delusion that it is possible to run a school on the basis of an all-inclusive ethos.

This, of course, is absolutely impossible. Nugent himself says he wants schools to teach what he calls “moral education”, so long as it is kept separate from religion.

On this point, while I disagree with Mr Quinn, I also have reservations about Mr. Nugent’s proposed moral education. I (and I imagine most parents) would agree that morality, ethics, and the basic principles by which we live our life must be taught in the home as well as the school. Then again, I don’t think anyone really believes that a child’s moral code should be prescribed from an organisation that values women as mere walking incubators.

Presumably he wants moral education kept separate from religion because religion, in his opinion, cannot be all-inclusive while morality can be. This is nonsense, of course. There is no system of morality to which everyone subscribes any more than there is a religion to which everyone subscribes. Morality is every bit as controversial and controverted as religion.

Firstly, nothing in the history of mankind is “as controversial and controverted” as religion. Secondly, the argument here seems to be that seeing as morality is the examination of many points of view, and that not all people share the same point of view, that we should instead exclusively subscribe to the existing dogma. In other words, “Not everyone likes that, take what we like instead”. Absolute stuff and nonsense, even by Lolek standards.

In the same vein Nugent speaks of giving children an “objective, pluralist education”. What does the word “objective” mean here and who decides what is “objective” and what is not? Ultimately some authority must decide. I wish that authority luck in coming up with an “objective” vision of education that everyone agrees is “objective”.

Not for the first time, I feel the need to assist Mr. Quinn in one of his linguistic difficulties. Objective is an adjective with the following definition:

“Not influenced by personal feelings or opinions in considering and representing facts.”

Some good examples of objective statements would be the following:

  • All children in the Republic deserve an education
  • The Catholic church in Ireland currently uses its stranglehold on primary school education to discriminate against non-Catholic children
  • The two statements above are the root of the problem
  • The problem requires a solution

A “subjective” statement, defined as “based on or influenced by personal feelings, tastes, or opinions.”, would be any one of the following. You’ll note that some of them fit Mr Quinn’s world view, whereas some probably don’t so much.

  • Everything’s fine the way it is
  • Ireland needs to return to fawning at the feet of an Italian church
  • All opinions should be heard, but all those outside my beliefs should be ignored or steamrolled
  • Leaving primary education in the hands of an organisation that hates women, pays no tax and has at best a sketchy track record with children is absolute madness and should be ceased immediately
  • Strong-arming a service as fundamental to a state’s well-being as education in order to achieve nothing short of forcing parents to pay for baptisms and keep collection plates full while dragging Ireland back to the 1950s is an appalling strategy, and one that nobody’s likely to fall for any time soon.

I hope that cleared things up for Mr. Quinn.

No matter what kind of morality Nugent’s schools would teach, no matter what kind of “objective, pluralist education” it offers, many parents would end up disagreeing with it.

Again, lack of universal agreement doesn’t necessitate adherence to the status quo, despite what the conservative spouts would have you believe.

What is to be done with these parents in his vision? What schools are to exist for them? None, is the answer, unless they can afford private schools.

Even if this was true as opposed to wild hyperbolae, it’s been the case that Church of Ireland ethos schools have been few, far between, and fee-paying since time immemorial. Yet, strangely, Lolek Ltd don’t flock to the defence of religious teaching there, outside the sphere of the Holy See.

What is noticeable about Atheist Ireland’s proposals for our schools is the short shrift it gives to what parents want for their children.

At present, the Constitution puts parents in the driver’s seat constitutionally speaking. It makes the State their servant. It allows that there will be a plurality of opinions among parents as to the education, including the moral and religious education, they want for their children.

Oh it allows for a plurality of opinions, as long as all legislative education policy remains subservient to the One True opinion held by the One True Church. As for giving parents the “short shrift”, a quick look at the numbers attending mass should speak volumes to the number of Catholics that truly want a Catholic education for their children.

It rejects a one-size-fits-all vision, which is really what Nugent’s ‘inclusive’ vision amounts to, a vision that by definition cannot include everyone because as with religion and morality, there are multiple conflicting visions of what education should offer.

A one-size-fits-all vision may in fact be the best way to describe the status quo, wherein the choices are as follows:

  1. Send your child to a Catholic-ethos school, regardless of your beliefs.
  2. Enter the effective lottery that is the waiting list for one of the few non-Catholic schools
  3. Keep your kids at home and hope for the best next year

The State has no right to impose what it believes is the ‘correct’ one.

Again, this statement represents a staggering about-face in position for Lolek. Clearly, Mr. Quinn and his ilk are absolutely fine with the State imposing what they see as the correct version of morality. Who needs options or plurality when we already know that Catholicism has proven the perfect answer to every question?

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