In this series, 4th year primary Catholic Teaching Certificate students share the findings of their studies on a new elective course entitled Prophets of a Future not our Own: Catholic Schools and Contemporary Issues.
Niamh Torrens, MEduc4 student
Migration is an issue which has a great impact on the world’s community today, with the World Health Organization estimating that there are 1 billion migrants, making roughly 1 in 7 people a migrant. This issue permeates public and media debate around the world, not least in the UK, and also affects Catholic schools directly.
The view of the Church on migration can be interpreted from Catholic Social Teaching which teaches that life is sacred, the dignity of the human person should be the moral foundation for society, and people should be held in higher regard than possessions. CST is based firmly in Scripture. Scripture focuses several times on the issue of migration, with the New Testament beginning with Joseph and Mary escaping to Egypt due to King Herod wanting to kill Jesus (Mt 2:13). This makes Jesus Himself, a migrant. Furthermore, Matthew 25:35 states “I was a stranger and you invited me in”. Pope John XXIII, in his encyclical Pacem in Terris, stated “every human being has the right to freedom of movement and of residence within the confines of his own state. When there are just reasons in favour of it, he must be permitted to emigrate to other countries and take up residence there” (para 25). The dignity of the person reminds us that no one should have to live in an unsafe environment, while currently there are 70.8 million people who have been displaced due to violent conflict. Migrant children have a right to education, and as educators our approach to teaching migration should be rooted in compassion and empathy.
Nonetheless, CST is not always looked at favourably across the globe. Grace & O’Keefe (2007) argue that the spiritual work of Catholic schools may be seen as undermining or distracting from national progress in countries, and the moral teachings becoming viewed as a barrier to the progress of humans, linking the churches teaching to past colonial times. Furthermore, direct state funding and control may put pressure on schools to teach in a way reflective of the current political discourse rather in line with official Church teachings. Basil Bernstein (1971) argues that as the Government is a stakeholder in education, it retains a say what ‘valid’ knowledge should be put into the curriculum, making the curriculum highly politicised. This could lead people to believe that schools must reflect the current ‘hostile climate’ to immigration. Nonetheless, the teachings of Catholic schools on social issues should come from the Church’s social teaching rather than the political climate in which it finds itself residing.
This teaching can also become conflicted if parents – the first and primordial educators of their children – share hostile views to immigration. Migration Observatory’s 2020 report revealed that 44% of people in Britain wanted to see migration reduced a little or a lot within the country, with 48% of the public signifying immigration as a key issue. This could cause tension between family views and classroom teachings. In this respect, part of Catholic teachers’ professional practice needs to be about engaging in dialogue with parents to make them aware of the teachings within the classroom, and educating parents on social teachings if they are unaware of this themselves. This allows us as teaching professionals to create a link between home, school and Church that can be used to educate on God’s mission.
If Church teaching on the dignity of the person is clear, it is also so regarding the pedagogical value of migrant pupils, with the 2013 document Educating to Intercultural Dialogue in Catholic Schools living in Harmony for a Civilization of Love stating “The overlapping presence of different cultures is a great resource, as long as the encounter between those different cultures is seen as a source of mutual enrichment” (para i). If there are any children present in the classroom who have had the experience of migration, this can allow them to teach and educate one another on their journey and culture. Helen Hanna (2020) suggests that to truly be inclusive with migrant children in our classroom, we as teachers must humbly go from knowing to unknowing, allowing migrant children to assume the role of the knowledgeable.
So by promoting the pedagogy of allowing children in our classes to share and talk about their own experiences and cultures, we are also promoting the Church’s view and teaching on migration within the classroom. Dignity, welcome, dialogue, compassion and empathy can be the hallmarks of a Catholic school where migrant children, and Jesus himself, can say, “I was a stranger and you invited me in” (Mt 25: 35).