Remarks On Schools, ‘Self-Harm’ and ‘Nihilism’ Are Deeply Offensive

Educate Together takes issue with statements attributed to Fr Paul Connell, president of the Joint Managerial Body and the Association of Management of Catholic Secondary Schools, as reported in the Irish Times today.
Fr Connell states that the alternative to ‘growing in faith’ as facilitated in Catholic schools is ‘a vacuum that can express itself in nihilism and the growing phenomenon … of self-harm’(Irish Times 29th April). This assertion is deeply offensive to organisations like Educate Together that provide a values-rich ethical education curriculum in their schools. It is also offensive to parents and students of non-majority belief backgrounds. Educate Together would like to state that such claims cannot be proven by any credible research.
Furthermore, Fr Connell asserts that the ‘presence of children from other traditions enriched the educational experience offered in [Catholic] schools’. We would like to point out to Fr Connell that children ‘from other traditions’ are not in the classroom to enrich the experience of those of the majority tradition – they are there to learn and to be treated with exactly the same respect and to be enabled to grasp the same opportunities as any other child.
If ‘the Catholic school cannot relinquish its own freedom to offer a formation based on the values to be found in a Christian education,' as Fr Connell states, then the State must act to provide parents, pupils and teachers the opportunity to attend equality-based schools: schools that don’t demand proof of religion at the school gate; schools that don’t segregate children along religious lines during the school day; schools that cherish all children equally.
An Ethical Education curriculum is utilised to great effect in Educate Together schools. This curriculum has been internationally acknowledged and is now taught in all state-funded colleges of teacher education in Ireland. It is proving highly popular to parents, students and teachers.  Students are challenged to ask themselves difficult questions such as: what do they value? Who do they respect? How do they cope in hard times? Their eyes are opened to the diversity in our society and the opportunities that exist in embracing and celebrating that diversity. Students are helped to grow as respectful global citizens – to see commonalities shared rather than differences that separate.

Educate Together sincerely hopes that Fr Connell will reflect on how his spurious assertions regarding self-harm and nihilism are unhelpful to young people of all ‘traditions’ and in all types of school. To suggest that students attending an equality based secondary school would be more prone to such negativity is totally unfounded and unacceptable.