Who Are Schools For? Or: It’s About (Religious) Ethics In Public Education

Last week, we’ve been hearing about a teacher who, while interviewing for a Catholic primary school, was asked what her views were on “homos”. Yes, they said “homos”, and yes, they were talking about her personal as opposed to professional views. She’s taken her case to the Equality Tribunal, who rightly criticised the school and her interviewers.

Let’s back up a bit, shall we? Here in Ireland, the vast majority of public schools are run by the Catholic church. Before you ask, I don’t mean ‘public’ in the English sense that actually means private (seriously, what’s with that?). The public schools that are being run by the Catholic church here are national schools, paid for by our taxes. It’s a little complicated, but the tl;dr of the situation is that the Church has historically been involved in running most of our schools and hospitals, and although there are now some other options (such as the wonderful Educate Together, which I was lucky enough to go to as a kid myself), they aren’t letting go of any more control than they have to.

The other important point? While in most areas workers in Ireland are protected from discrimination under the Equality Act, this specifically does not apply to educational institutions due to a loophole put in place because of pressure from- wait for it- the Catholic Church, which allows them to implement a specific ethos and hire and fire according to that, regardless of whether it’s discriminatory.

There’s a lot we can say about this. Most of it is either righteously angry or frustrated and annoyed. I’m just getting to the stage where I may have to retire the concept of either ‘ethos’ or ‘ethics’ from my everyday language, which is a pity because I used to like them, damnit. They were good words. Sometimes it’s easier to mourn perfectly good words than to take on the combined powers of Church and State.

We could get bogged down asking questions about whether it’s acceptable to fire a teacher for being queer or unmarried and pregnant or saying she’s just fine with the homos. That wouldn’t be a waste of time, although we already know the answers and we do need to make space for outrage. Today, though, let’s ask a different question.

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Who Are Schools For? Or: It’s About (Religious) Ethics In Public Education