In this series, MEduc4 students on the ‘Prophets of a Future not our Own: Catholic Schools and Contemporary Issues’ elective course reflect on how a Catholic educational perspective can enhance school’s’ approach to current challenges.
Jennifer Gray, MEduc4
Tackling controversial topics is considered vital for children to develop citizenship, allowing them to learn about such prevalent issues that they may face when entering society (McKinney, 2015). Among the many controversial topics in Scotland is that of sectarianism. Today, children have greater accessibility to media; as sectarianism is often sensationalised in media, it must be ensured that children create their own informed view by examining different perspectives of sectarianism in Scotland.
What is sectarianism?
Sectarianism can be defined as groups of people who share a distinct ideology that can often create a divide between themselves and other groups (Wallis, 1975). However, McKinney provides a more recent analysis of what sectarianism is. He claims sectarianism is surrounded by intolerance and exclusive beliefs which could result in wide-scale consequences (McKinney, 2015). Often sensationalised in the media, sectarianism remains prevalent in Scottish society today, with associated controversy regarding what the root cause of it all is.
Are Catholic schools divisive?
Flint (2012) suggests, there are writers who favour Catholic schools, arguing the root cause of sectarianism is its historical origins which cannot be attributed to the presence of Catholic schools in Scotland. On the contrary, Flint continues that many opposers of Catholic schools contend that the segregation itself of denominational and non-denominational schools is the definitive factor of division in Scotland. In fact, an article from The Times (2007), saw a former Scottish education minister, Sam Galbraith, called for the abolishment of Catholic schools, claiming that denominational schools only established bigotry and sectarianism in society.
Moreover, in section 1.9.8 of the Scottish Government’s Final Report (2015) on tackling sectarianism, it is suggested that the “existence of choice in schooling relating to denominational schools was sectarian in and of itself while others arguing that targeting one sort of school as a contributor to sectarianism was itself sectarian.” However, McKinney (2015) strongly contends the report presents a lack of external coherence as it shows no evidence to validate such pejorative claims. Former Green Party member, Robin Harper, seemed to agree with the report findings, suggesting if Catholic or Protestant children grow up without the presence of the ‘opposing’ group, it becomes easier to create an ill-informed perception of the other group (Flint, 2012). In correlation with the report, it has been argued that the social division between faith schools, fails to consider segregation within such schools as a factor. For instance, Clayton (2009) suggests that children may unconsciously segregate themselves within a specific school as a result of ingrained social norms. However, SCES highlights a crucial point; Catholic schools are “communities which are open, welcoming, and inclusive.” Therefore, it could be contended that the arguments examined above, do not fully understand the nature of Catholic schools, which is also shown in the lack of evidence to support said arguments.
Contrary to the belief that denominational schools cause sectarianism, evidence has clearly shown that the Scottish people do not think that Catholic schools are the main contributing factor to sectarian behaviour. Indeed, over half of participants stated that football is at the forefront of sectarianism in Scotland, yet less than 5% of participants contended that denominational schools were the direct root of sectarian behaviours in Scotland (Scottish Government, 2015). Furthermore, a mere 15% of a child’s life is spent in mandatory education (Conroy, 2001). Thus, it is fair to suggest that children’s judgements are not solely determined by schooling, there are other outer influences such as “social and spatial identities” which contribute to children’s views (Flint, 2012:509). Based on the evidence thus far, it could be argued that Catholic schools may be indicative, rather than the direct contributing factor of sectarianism in Scotland.
How can Catholic educators help bridge the divide?
If Catholic schools can be a solution rather than a problem in terms of sectarianism, how can contemporary Scottish Catholic educators “support learners’ understanding of themselves, others and their contribution to the development and sustainability of a diverse and inclusive society” (GTCS, 2021:5)?
The Scriptures can provide inspiration and pedagogical resources to Catholic schools as they tackle this issue. The inclusive nature of Catholicism is rooted within scripture; in his letter to the Corinthians, Paul (1 Corinthians 1:10-13) states “that there be no divisions among you, and that you be united with the same understanding and the same conviction.” Paul implies here that there are many kinds of people that God appoints to spread the Word of God as all Christians belong to Christ. Hence, Catholic educators recognise and value the varying spectrums of faith they may encounter within their class (SCES, online). Teachers could therefore foster a deductive pedagogical approach in their teaching; this is when children are taught through the meaning of scripture, and then make the connection between the teachings to life itself (TIOF, 2010). Furthermore, the RERC principles and practice highlights that the teacher’s responsibility in a Scottish Catholic School, is to ensure that all children “understand and appreciate significant aspects of other Christian traditions and major world religions” (Education Scotland, 2009:2).
Therefore, by fostering all teaching approaches outlined above, children are learning about peace and acceptance from a young age, which should encourage them to challenge the sectarian divide in Scotland as they have an informed mindset of the topic. Our pupils will have the tools to make informed decisions, and thus become prophets of a future not their own.