Education, Ethos and Engagement – Archbishop Addresses Conference on Faith Schools
Archbishop Michael Jackson gave an address at a conference organized by the Catholic Primary School Management Association in Dublin today (Friday March 3). The conference was on the theme of ‘Why Faith Schools Matter’ and the Archbishop was one of a number of speakers.
Entitled ‘A Perspective on Education, Ethos and Engagement’, the Archbishop’s paper addressed a number of aspects of school patronage including ethos, education and values. He contended that ethos is twofold: there is an ethos of educational content and delivery and an ethos of religious or Faith principles, values and practices in human relationships and in civic responsibilities which infuse a secular school that is under religious patronage.He suggested that the tendency to move away from Faith–based school patronage to deliver what he said is erroneously called ‘secular patronage’, discriminates against religious minorities. He stated that Church of Ireland schools have always espoused pluralism and diversity within a secular context.
In conclusion the Archbishop said: “People of faith together need to engage with everyone else in the secular space with listening and love – not least when such religious bodies have largely allowed themselves to recede from the public square into a zone of non–engagement leading towards non–entity. This approach is essential if the educational ethos in and of itself is to be enriched by and enriching of a diversity of publicly funded forms of patronage and if policy makers are not simply and increasingly to seek to strip out the assets of the inherited forms of patronage, in order to make room for what need to be supplementary rather than substitutionary forms of patronage, and in the process disallowing such continuing and still widely respected forms of patronage from speaking into the civic society from which their members come and in which they belong. Churches never intended to do it by themselves. We need the partnership of conversation and the conversation of partnership. We need to speak up. We need to engage”.
The full text of Archbishop Jackson’s speech is below:
CPSMA CONFERENCE MARCH 3rd 2017
WHY FAITH SCHOOLS MATTER
A PERSPECTIVE ON EDUCATION, ETHOS AND ENGAGEMENT
An address by The Most Reverend Dr Michael Jackson, Church of Ireland Archbishop of Dublin
ETHOS AND PATRONAGE
I remember having a conversation some years back with Gerald Goldberg who had been Lord Mayor of Cork. He attended Christ Church School in Cork, a school under Church of Ireland patronage, as a child and ‘after school’ he attended the Schule directly opposite the synagogue, again in Cork, where he learned The Torah. As a Jewish person, he had the opportunity of experiencing, I would argue, at very least four expressions of ethos: the educational ethos of each of the two schools and the religious or Faith ethos of each of the two schools – and that constitutes what he experienced outside of his home. He went on to be the First Citizen of all the people of Cork, the overwhelming majority of whom were neither Jewish nor Church of Ireland but still he was their Lord Mayor – all of them. Teaching and Rabbis go together and each Rabbi will have a different style of teaching information and of imparting the interpretation of historically inherited texts. Education for all and faith for all have gone together in a very specific way since The Reformation, the five hundredth year of which we mark this year, in the Protestant traditions and since the Counter–Reformation in the Roman Catholic tradition a little later in time, worldwide. This was part of the Reformation instinct for literacy in the vernacular. It may well surprize a contemporary audience that the Bible and its translation into the vernacular were catalysts in the formation of a wide range of modern European languages for secular use. Education and faith have been interwoven for at least five centuries in a specific and public and democratic way.
My contention is that ethos is twofold. There is an ethos of educational content and delivery; and there is an ethos of religious or Faith principles, values and practices in human relationships and in civic responsibilities which infuse a secular school that is under religious patronage. There is an increasingly widespread view today that the privatization, and therefore the exclusion, of religion from the school day except in the form of information about World Religions and None is a better educational experience for students and more accurately represents parental choice. It is the very concept of patronage that draws together an educational–ethos and a values–ethos, because a patron body has responsibility for the well–being and development of all who are committed to its patronage. The problem is that either these two concepts of ethos are genuinely confused or else they are erroneously conflated in the ecclesiastical, the popular and the governmental mind. And so we get the conflagrationary term: ‘our schools.’ It is putting it mildly to say that religious patronage is under pressure; it is moving in the direction of obliteration. One question is: How does anyone, how do we, substantiate it, give an account of it, in a contemporary world? Another question is: On what criteria does a self–confident secular state substantiate its entitlement effectively to be its own lobby group for the gradual and increasingly accelerated dismantling of religious patronage in order to provide schools for those who desire different and ultimately atheistic patronage?
EDUCATION AND VALUES
Patronage today in practical terms has to do with custodianship and management. The value–system of the school is infused by and reflects the values of the patron or patronage body. It is customarily expressed in the Ethos Statement, something which is shared with parents of students and to which they formally agree on enrolling their child as a student. Parents therefore bind themselves into a school life that fulfils a role in loco parentis for their child during the school day. This is about much more than denominational or Faith adherence or expression. It is about willing engagement with a philosophy of life. It is about invitation and inclusion at every level in a common humanity. It is about participating in a community informed by such a philosophy. The contemporary debacle in the school sector in Ireland seems to me to be a clash about the assumed and all–too–frequently unexplained overlapping of educational–ethos and values–ethos under overt religious patronage in the life of the school (and this does not have to do with the religious curricular content per se) and its continuing appropriateness, as the value–systems in Irish society change. At this stage it could be summed up as a cry: Get God out of ‘our schools’. At this stage it is clear that the phrase ‘our schools’ can mean whatever you want it to, whoever you are.
CHALLENGES, ACKNOWLEDGED AND UNACKNOWLEDGED
The challenging of the inherited situation derives from a number of things. The first is the understanding that such a system of patronage discriminates on the grounds of equality and equivalence; and therefore when you have a range of Faiths, no expressed Faith and no Faith represented in the parents of students (and this argument holds, rightly, by extension for the students themselves), you are imposing such a faith ethos as something monochrome and explicitly or implicitly repressive without sufficient choice in the life of the school being offered to its clients. This means also that, while everyone is equally exposed to the values of a particular Faith or of a denomination within that Faith, the entitlement to opt out of this ethos which has the character and the lifestyle of the religion of patronage is not given. The second is the understanding that ethos seen in this way is indoctrination by stealth. The third is the understanding that somewhere else there is a superior ethos that is value–neutral and that better catches the spirit of the age and of the society; and that such a value–neutral ethos is non–directive, non–prescriptive and non–repressive. The debacle is all the more intense and embattled because Faith Schools are funded in significant part, both at primary and secondary level in Ireland, by state money. The argument begins to sound like this: Why should State money fund a God who does not exist?
ETHOS LIVED RELIGIOUSLY
Those who administer – and administering in a school context is a big and a cumbersome thing and a significant part of patronage – such schools do so on behalf of the State and carry the burden of responsibility at no direct extra cost to the State. The core of the problem now seems to have advanced to the point that an active dismantling of religious patronage per se is being advanced as an argument to free up resources for non–religious, post–religious patronage. We are told that the religious ethos of a small neighbourhood school actively discriminates against parents of no expressed belief. This is popularly referred to as: The Baptismal Ban. The argument of those who work within the paradigm of religious patronage is that the imparting of a religious ethos as a contribution to the educational ethos of a school is not brainwashing. It is a specific value system described and imparted in such a way that those involved in the school at every level and in every part live and share and learn and apply to the school day critical human values of compassion, tolerance, justice and altruism through the focus of a faith system that is not dead and that is driven by caritative altruism (looking out for others as well as looking out for yourself; recognizing the neighbour as a gift to the community); and that these qualities, which need exponents of their belief system to apply them to the life of the community of the school but do not presuppose from the outset full adherence on the part of those who feel their benefit in their preparation for life within and beyond school, contribute to the social DNA of the school and prepare people for active, participative, adult citizenship through a lived world view which, with both confidence and humility, works on the premise that values derived from the presence of God in the world of God’s creation contribute tangibly to the common good. Those of us who live religious lives in the civic space are fully aware that theological values do not of themselves create or build a society. We do not live in a theocracy. We do not want to. We do not want to be caricatured as doing so. We are secular.
A SECULAR SPACE
Were it otherwise, I suggest that the patrons would not be true to the belief and action systems which are their motivation and their Constitutional duty to promote. I have no doubt that agnostic or atheist patronage will have systems that it wishes to promote. The structural problem now presents itself as follows: the tendency of public conversation and policy (because in the world of today communication drives strategy, media creates events) is towards the dismantling of Faith–based school patronage to make way for a form of Hiberno–laicite. Education seems to have come of age as an organ of social engineering. Religious patronage, by extension of this argument, is fast joining a long list of perceived self–trumpeting, or even self–satisfied, exclusivities in Irish society. While those who feel that their parental values of atheism are discriminated against by the current system seek patronage of their own, the difficulty is that, in order to meet this need, Government policy gives all the impression of moving in the direction of passive, and increasingly active, discrimination by atrophy against religious minorities such as the Church of Ireland and Reformed Christian traditions in order to deliver what is erroneously referred to as ‘secular patronage.’ Why? It is because we are deemed to be an irritant to progress and to the building of the big educational stage. Our schools are not large; our numbers are not large; from the very outset we have espoused pluralism in human and social terms (and would argue that our religious values have helped others as well as us to implement this through collaborative understanding one of the other) and diversity of membership in the school population – all in a secular context. This clearly is a significant irritant in a world were atheism and agnosticism now claim the moral high ground of pluralism and diversity and ownership of the secular. The argument, however, has shifted significantly in recent times and we are clearly seen as custodians of exclusivity and harbingers of stultification by having religious values woven into the social fabric of the school day and its ethic of care as it seeks to complement the ethic of learning.
ANGLICAN AND REFORMED
The aim of Anglican and Reformed patronage is to provide and to sustain the highest level of academic education by inclusion and by aspiration to intellectual and personal fulfilment of individuals forming a community of educational adventure for their time together. It is a truism to say that everyone learns from everyone else but it is also a truth. Patronage seeks to do this by encouraging and inculcating personal growth and development for those entrusted by parents to the life and the ethos of such a school in loco parentis. The duty of care is, therefore, paramount and to this the value–ethos makes a strategic contribution. The ethos of this patronage is informed and infused by the principles of The European Reformation and The European Enlightenment as we live them out today in changing circumstances but still making our decisions on the interaction and coherence of Scripture, Tradition and Reason, the bedrock of Anglican theological method. It is also informed by an appreciation of a living ecumenical and Inter Faith understanding of civic and family life in a context of the secular where at the same time quantifiable church membership is in sharp numerical decline. We have no intention of being deprived by atheists and agnostics of our being secular and of living our faith in a secular society publicly.
THE CHURCH OF IRELAND TRADITION IN EDUCATION
Church of Ireland patronage aims to be true to its principles and to be true to the contexts in the future, so far as it or any educational system can predict, for which it is preparing its students; such a school is not a seminary or an ideological thought–camp. From the outset, such a school seeks to be positive and progressive in being three things: faith–based, that is holding a systematic lived World Faith as its bedrock of engaged identity; Christian in ethos, that is offering to all members of the school the values of what I called above caritative altruism as its bedrock of human engagement; within Church of Ireland and Anglican patronage, that is presenting the way of believing, living and worshipping of the contemporary Church of Ireland tradition as its bedrock of joyful expression of community life and a celebration of God in the world. I should argue that each of these things is distinct as well as making a specific whole. I should argue also that provision needs to be made for those who attend the school and for whom this amalgam is not possible in conscience. In no way has this cluster of values and principles been seen until recently so negatively or as anything other than the desire to serve primarily, but not exclusively, the community of membership and the community of extension in which such a school is to be found. It can therefore without inconsistency describe itself as welcoming of children of all faith traditions and of none. It comes as a surprise to many, but this has ever been the Church of Ireland way. It is always our concern to see that a school under Church of Ireland patronage is open and inclusive. We are regularly under intense pressure, simply because of size, not out of a wilful desire for exclusion or tribalism, to deliver this ethic and this altruism within the schools to the very wide range of those who want to attend and form such a school community. The statistical case could indeed be made to The Department of Education and Skills to increase the size of our schools. Generous pluralism is the pathway we seek to offer as our contribution to the educational sector in an Ireland in which wider social pressures and premeditations will for the foreseeable future be brought to bear on schools and their spirit and therefore on their pupils and their staff. These pressures give all the signs of being increasingly negative and give us the impression that we are considered to be well beyond our Sell–by Date.
THE ROMAN CATHOLIC TRADITION IN EDUCATION
If those of you who are members of the Roman Catholic tradition find much of the above discussion of patronage familiar, I am not surprized. A volume entitled: Catholic Education and the School, Some Theological Reflections (Dermot A Lane) sets out expertly the issues and the contributions to the debate from a Roman Catholic perspective. He makes the distinction, as well as voicing the overlap, between Catholic education and the school under Roman Catholic patronage. He points to the recognition on the part of Vatican ii that the act of faith is a free act and that faith and culture have a critical and constructive relationship. He also explains the distinction between the enduring reality of faith and its historically and culturally conditioned expression (which of course is flawed and insufficient) and the need to make and respect this distinction. He goes on to outline a philosophy of education as needing the following components: to be person–centred and therefore individual and global at the same time; to promote an explicit system of values which include attachment to the good, commitment to justice, pursuit of truth and cultivation of beauty as objective values rather than private tastes; to promote in the school community an approach to life that goes beyond being utilitarian of people or of actions or of relationships; to work with a generous understanding of what is involved in knowledge itself and what make up the sources of this knowledge. As far back as 1991, Dermot Lane was articulating the above four points of an educational philosophy as addressing ‘the market–inspired forces of individualism that at present threaten Irish education.’ (page 9)
REFORMATION A REGULAR FEATURE OF ENGAGED CIVIC LIFE
Anyone with ears to hear and eyes to see will soon realize that the sorts of institutionalized Christendom to which we have accustomed ourselves have long ago had their day in both their past and recent manifestations in Ireland as elsewhere. The Reformation opened up questions about identity and independence for both individual and society that continue to fuel contemporary debate about political and religious life. Institutions are characterized by impermanency. Perhaps ironically, reformation in some shape or form needs to be part not only of every church but of everybody that seeks to contribute to society and shape its direction. But there is no point only in looking in the direction of a crumpled institutional Christendom either for future comfort or for current entitlement to ridicule. Other social regimes and paradigms – whether they be liberal or conservative, left or right wing – have also time and again shown their limitations and impermanencies. While religious patronage in whatever form continues to insist that churches per se are the sole interpreters of a Christian ethos, rather than its custodians in limited and flawed ways and time–limited in their work, we as Christian people generally do the Christian Faith most widely understood a dis–service. Where the ecumenical endeavour can do the churches a service – and urgently – is in creating an energy for Christian people to develop a new and theologically–informed Apologetic for the remainder of the twenty–first century for the society and therefore for a wider range of school patronage. This needs to engage also with people of Other World Faiths as a matter of urgency. People of faith together need to engage with everyone else in the secular space with listening and love – not least when such religious bodies have largely allowed themselves to recede from the public square into a zone of non–engagement leading towards non–entity. This approach is essential if the educational ethos in and of itself is to be enriched by and enriching of a diversity of publicly funded forms of patronage and if policy makers are not simply and increasingly to seek to strip out the assets of the inherited forms of patronage, in order to make room for what need to be supplementary rather than substitutionary forms of patronage, and in the process disallowing such continuing and still widely respected forms of patronage from speaking into the civic society from which their members come and in which they belong. Churches never intended to do it by themselves. We need the partnership of conversation and the conversation of partnership. We need to speak up. We need to engage.