Prophets of the Future 2: Poverty and Catholic schools in the post-Covid era

In this series, 4th year primary Catholic Teaching Certificate students share the findings of their studies on an elective course entitled Prophets of a Future not our Own: Catholic Schools and Contemporary Issues.

Sophie MacInnes, MEduc4 student

Photo by cottonbro on Pexels.com

The Gospel of Luke (Luke 6:20-21) states that Jesus said to his disciples, “Blessed are you who are poor, for yours is the kingdom of God. Blessed are you who hunger now, for you will be satisfied.”  Examining Jesus’ roots, Patrick Hogan notes that ‘the story of Jesus begins with the birth of a child in degrading circumstances and it is striking that the Saviour of the world should be born in less-than ideal conditions, wrapped in swaddling in a manger of temporary accommodation.’ Angie Miller (2014) further elaborates that ‘Jesus was born into a society with a distinctive hierarchy where he was firmly placed at the bottom.’ Furthermore, throughout scripture, Jesus repeatedly aided those within minorities. He proclaimed, “When you give a banquet, invite the poor, the crippled, the lame, the blind, and you will be blessed. Although they cannot repay you, you will be repaid at the resurrection of the righteous.” (Luke 14:13-14)

When engaging with the children in our classrooms, we must recognise the contemporary challenges that individuals are faced with and apply our Catholic values when evaluating the needs of the children facing us, a critical issue being poverty. 1-in-4 children in Scotland are living in relative poverty (Health Scotland, 2019) and this number is generally spatially concentrated in urban and industrial areas. A highly affected area is within Glasgow and areas throughout the West of Scotland, meaning that the challenges that our pupils are facing are often ones we must also challenge as our own.  Jesus went beyond merely alleviating financial poverty, as addressed in multiple scenarios particularly in Luke’s gospel, and in living a life mirroring Jesus we as Catholics must uphold his commitment to promoting social justice.  We should aim to achieve this by providing opportunity for all through a Christocentric ethos, echoed throughout all aspects of our school ‘to promote and manifest a common outlook with a common Christian vision centred around the teaching and life of Jesus Christ.’ (Keiran and Hession, 2005; cf. Charter for Catholic Schools in Scotland).

The challenge of COVID

A critical challenge that every school is currently facing is the repercussions of COVID 19. Stephen McKinney (2020) observes the disruption of education alongside the long-term effects on children’s health and wellbeing as parents and carers have had to recalibrate their familial role into one of a part time educator.  Although COVID 19 undeniably has affected all children, those living in poverty have been arguably impacted detrimentally more than those with a secure home life. It is evident when assessing the children in our classrooms that they have extremely varied experiences of engagement with online learning and home education. What McKinney labels the ‘digital divide’ is a problem that schools worldwide are currently tackling and as Catholic teachers, we must make provisions for those living in poverty who have limited or no access to technology and therefore have not engaged with a substantial amount, if any, educational resources over the lockdown period. It is our unequivocal duty within Catholic social teaching principles to attempt to bridge the consequential COVID gap which has undoubtedly left children in poverty far behind their peers and forced even more children and families into poverty. (Kharas, 2020). When applying social teaching principles, several values overlap when applying them whilst teaching children living in poverty, but we must always answer to the preferential option for the poor when evaluating whether we are achieving our goals as Catholic teachers successfully. We must constantly reiterate that, ‘Jesus does not side with oppressors, but loves the humble.’ (CAFOD, 2020)

Responding to the challenges

As Catholic teachers, what provisions can we implement to aid the multitude of children who have been affected by this problem? In Scotland, schools residing in areas with high levels of deprivation have been awarded additional COVID 19 related Pupil Equity Funding (Education Scotland, 2021) and this is dedicated to those most in need. Although it is at the head teacher’s discretion how it is to be spent, there are already many educational initiatives from the Scottish Government targeting children advancing in learning that they have missed prior due to the pandemic. Therefore, I would urge schools to review the gaps in faith that have appeared as a result of the pandemic amongst children. Parallel to the lack of access to education, we must recognise the children’s lack of access to the church, their faith-related learning experiences and the barrier to pastoral care. As a Catholic community, it is our duty to ensure our learners are supported and these gaps in faith are bridged by the school and church simultaneously.

Alongside achieving educational goals, our role should prioritise ensuring children are engaging with our local church through re-strengthening the community bond between the school, church and home (cf. Reilly, 2020). Allowing children to watch Masses online in classrooms whilst better than nothing, is certainly not substantial enough to allow children to fully emerge themselves in their faith. Consequently, it is our duty to bridge the gap between the school and church and converse with our parish priest to adapt to contemporary COVID issues to find solutions that will allow children to return to church in person. Whether this is through a system which alternates students to attend weekly, or exclusive full school Masses and other services in school, it is crucial to students’ spiritual development to make provisions that allow pupils to engage with their faith face-to-face.

I believe it is imperative in our mission to live a life mirroring Jesus, that we must take steps to alleviate the burden of the poverty related faith-gap that is an apparent consequence of COVID amongst children in schools today.

Prophets of the Future: Catholic schools and Sectarianism

In this series, 4th year primary Catholic Teaching Certificate students share the findings of their studies on an elective course entitled Prophets of a Future not our Own: Catholic Schools and Contemporary Issues.

Aimee McCallum, MEduc4 student

Photo by Markus Spiske on Pexels.com

‘All Catholic education is Christocentric’ according to Keiran and Hession (2005: 123), thus the common aim within Catholic education is for all members of the community to demonstrate a likeness to Christ.

The ‘Charter for Catholic Schools in Scotland commits all Catholic schools to honour Jesus Christ through ‘a commitment to communicate Catholic social teaching and thereby to promote social justice and opportunity for all’, and to live guided by Gospel values. Despite the centenary year of Catholic education in Scotland, 2018, focusing on the positive contribution Catholic education has had on Scotland, critics such as Tom Woods, Professor Grayling and Sheriff Richard Davidson have claimed that Catholic schools are responsible for sectarianism in Scotland. However, what evidence do critics have? Headlines such as ‘if we want to end sectarianism, we must abolish Catholic schools’ (Goring, 2019), make bold claims, but where is the evidence of Catholic schools are promoting sectarianism? If Catholic schools are to promote and live by Gospel values, there is no place for the promotion of sectarianism despite critics such as the former Deputy Chief Constable of Police Scotland, Tom Wood (2019), claiming Catholic schools foster and promote sectarianism.

What is the social concept of ‘sectarianism’, and do Catholic schools create division along sectarian lines?

Sectarianism

Stephen McKinney (2015) has highlighted there are multiple understandings of ‘sectarian’ and ‘sectarianism’, however both refer to a distinction between sects, whereby each sect is exclusive and holds a distinctive ideology shared amongst its members. Although a sect can exist within art, politics, or science, in Scotland sectarianism refers to hostility between Roman Catholics and Protestants. In attempts to tackle sectarianism in Scotland, the Scottish Government commissioned an Advisory Group to move forward from sectarianism as a society, defining sectarianism in Scotland as:

‘a mixture of perceptions, attitudes, actions and structures that involved overlooking, excluding, discriminating against or being abusive or violent towards others on the basis of their perceived Christian denominational background. This perception is always mixed with other factors such as, but not confined to, politics, football allegiance and national identity’ (Morrow et al, 2015: 5).

This working definition highlights that prejudices and stereotypes have allowed sectarianism to manifest across generations, creating a persisting issue which cannot be solved in isolation as intolerances are translated into actions at micro, meso and macro level.

Therefore, it can be argued a sect involves an exclusive understanding of religious beliefs to cultivate a shared identity, however, the connection to religion is often questionable despite claims that sects are founded in historical religious roots. McKinney argues against the validity of these claims labelling them as ‘selective, self-serving or semi-mythical’, thus highlighting sectarianism is often a front for the justification of the marginalisation, alienation and demonisation of groups stigmatised as the ‘other’.  This ultimately highlights that sectarianism, although closely connected to religion and football, is a social problem resulting in extremist behaviours that unfortunately permeates Scottish society.

To address this social problem, Fuller and Myers (2003) advocate increased awareness, policy determination and reform. As social problems are complex, there may be various causes and effects which require a multitude of solutions, therefore, by increasing public awareness, engaging in discussions to find a means to an end and reform by creating legalisation to combat the issue, in theory, attitudinal changes can occur.

Catholic Schools: Good for Scotland?

Reports by the Scottish Government (2005 and 2015) have clearly indicated that Catholic schools should not be held accountable for causing sectarianism, and there is no evidence to support claims of Catholic schools being a contributor. Similarly, Catholic schools are situated globally and educate without accusations of cultivating sectarian beliefs and attitudes, instead reflecting their specific social, cultural, local and national contexts (Flint, 2012). Thus, highlighting sectarianism as a social problem caused by Catholic schools can be a reminder of a lost Protestant culture in Scotland (Flint, 2012).

Charting a way forward

Nevertheless, as sectarianism is a social problem there will undoubtedly be individuals (including those associated with Catholic schools) who demonstrate sectarian beliefs and actions (McKinney and Conroy, 2014). If the person is an educator, the General Teaching Council for Scotland and SCES would investigate as this publicly contradicts the Charter for Catholic Schools in Scotland. Similarly, if this was a pupil, individual schools would handle the situation appropriately. However, various measures can be taken to raise awareness of sectarianism to avoid reaching this stage, and there are various projects which aim to tackle sectarianism in Scotland through government funding. Using resources devised by these projects, including a programme with focus on educational, sporting and cultural activities, can raise awareness and ultimately allow learners to question social problems, thus enabling them to be ‘effective contributors’ as they are equipped with the knowledge and understanding to question social injustice in society.

Education is the most important tool in raising awareness of sectarianism, therefore, all schools in Scotland, denominational or non-denominational, have a responsibility to educate young people on the injustice of sectarianism, by providing a curriculum where the topic of sectarianism is integrated, to create a more harmonious future where the dignity of each person is respected.

Short Courses in Religious and Moral Education: 30 Years On

William Liston (Former R.E. Adviser, Diocese of Motherwell)

Photo by George Milton on Pexels.com

It is thirty years since the Scottish Catholic Education Commission published Short Courses in Religious and Moral Education. The document introduced four possible new courses: Christianity Today; A World of ValuesLiving in a Plural Society and Issues of Belief – all designed for pupils in S3 and S4.

The publication was significant for several reasons, not least because it was the first Catholic religious education document to make it possible for pupils – during the time allocated for so-called ‘core’ religious education – to gain a Religious Education qualification from the Scottish Exam Board.

This development came about as a result of a series of discussions between representatives of the Catholic Education Commission and the Scottish Exam Board. Aims of short courses developed for use in non-denominational schools, e.g. “to promote an enquiring, critical and sympathetic approach to the study of religion”, were adapted for use in Catholic schools by the addition of two other aims relating to catechesis, namely: “to assist pupils to consider the implications of Christian belief in their lives” and “to assist pupils in preparing to make an adult commitment to God in faith” (p.6). Significantly, it was agreed that choice of course content would remain entirely in the hands of the Catholic Education Commission.

For the writers of the Catholic Short Courses, religious education sought to accomplish two tasks: 1. to develop pupils’ knowledge and understanding of the areas of man’s religious search for meaning, value and purpose – what they described as ‘education in religion’ (p.3) – and 2. to be a form of catechesis by promoting the development and maturing of faith – what they described as ‘education in faith’ (ibid.p.3).

In choosing the term ‘education in faith’ instead of the more commonly applied ‘catechesis’, the writers underlined their emphasis on the educational value of the Short Courses. This focus on educational value can be seen in the significant changes the courses made to hitherto standard aspects of both learning and teaching – in particular, to the balance between skills and content, and to methods of assessment.

The writers had noted that “many well-intentioned R.E. teachers have found to their cost that merely telling teenagers what the Church’s teaching on a particular topic is fails to motivate or interest” (ibid. p.7). Instead, they advised that skills such as “Active Learning, Resource-based Learning, Investigation and Discussion be part of normal classwork in the Short Courses” (p.7) and suggested that a balance of whole-class teaching, group activities and individual work should be the norm at the S3/4 stage.

In relation to assessment, the writers again suggested significant changes to standard practice. Specifically, they made a distinction between the traditional kind of assessment which takes the form of an end-of-term test, and what they termed ‘assessment in learning and teaching’whereby pupils address a number of learning outcomes throughout the course, with each outcome being assessed individually, thereby making assessment “an ongoing and integral part of the learning and teaching process” (p.9).

This latter form of assessment was a new initiative – one which challenged the view of many Catholic teachers of the time that “assessment has no place in the R.E. classroom” (p.9). Teachers were no doubt concerned that if less gifted pupils received a lower mark in the end-of-term test, they might develop negative feelings towards religious education. (I myself remember similar feelings when scoring only 35% in my third-year religious education test! – at that time referred to as ‘C.D.’ – Christian Doctrine).

To allay such concerns, the writers offered a series of mitigating proposals, specifically that:

– assessment will “be ungraded. There will be no order of merit”;

– “in the attainment of each learning outcome pupils must be informed of tasks which contribute to summative assessment”;

– “normal classroom activities will provide the evidence for the greater part of assessment”;

– “pupils who have not been successful must have the opportunity to be re-assessed after appropriate consolidation” (p.10).  

It is interesting to note, however, that the writers acknowledged “that there may be some well-motivated and diligent pupils who still fail to achieve all the learning outcomes” (ibid.p.10). In this circumstance, the writers suggested that schools or dioceses “consider the possibility of awarding such pupils some form of Certificate of Course Completed” (ibid.p.10).

In summary, the writers of the Short Courses made substantial efforts to ensure that religious education engaged pupils in a range of educational activities more specifically tailored and appropriate to the teenage stage of development. Furthermore, in proposing a vision of religious education as both ‘education in religion’ and ‘education in faith’ the writers made a significant contribution to the development of R.E. in Catholic secondary schools in Scotland. They would no doubt be in wholehearted agreement with Fr. Stephen Reilly, who in a recent Cloisters blog asserted that “the key is for R.E. to be truly educational”.

Thirty years on, the principles of the Short Courses retain their relevance in the ongoing debates over such issues as assessment in RE, certification of core RE, and the balance of education and catechesis in the current This is Our Faith era.

The Gospel according to Ben

John Sullivan
Professor of Christian Education
Liverpool Hope University

Photo by Artem Beliaikin on Pexels.com

On Sunday I sat behind Ben, a five-year old little boy.  I was enchanted by him throughout the Mass.  It would be wrong to say that he distracted me from the Mass.  Rather, he helped me to appreciate some aspects of what is at the heart of our Christian faith.  He deepened my appreciation of the essence of the Gospel.  I felt graced by Ben.  He was a gift to me, a gift which enriched my experience of the Mass.  

What was it about Ben that had this effect on me?  

Ben had two little cars.  He told me that his favourite colour was red.  He was captivated by these two cars.  He patiently rolled them back and forth along the bench and delighted in catching them before they fell onto the floor.  He was quiet throughout the Mass, a model of good behaviour.  But he was not cowed by what was going on; he was not frightened into being quiet.  No doubt, in his own way, he had some sense of the solemnity of the occasion and of the reverence expected of this holy place and sacred time together.  

Next to him was Roseanne. She was watching over him but without needing to intervene.  There was no heavy hand needed to keep him under control.  Roseanne was relaxed, and her calmness was transmitted to Ben.  Ben knew she was there and her presence, along with his evident experience of her love and support no doubt made him feel completely at ease.  He knew she was otherwise engaged and did not expect her to play with him at this time.  He was full of trust in her presence.  She was there if he needed her.  She was doing something special and important and he respected that and he did not press her for her attention as she took a full part in the Mass.  

Because of this relationship between Roseanne and Ben, he could live in the present moment, fully in that moment, with no worries about the past and no fears for the future.  He delighted in the colours, in the movement of the cars, in the smoothness of how they moved along the bench; he was thrilled by the sensation of speeding them along and taking the risk that they would fall on the floor (which would make a noise, a noise he knew would not be suitable in this time and place).  He rejoiced in the repetition of doing something so enjoyable, yet so simple.  

He took a special delight in repeating the sign of the cross multiple times, proving to himself that he knew how to make this gesture.  He could tell that this was part of what the grown-ups were doing.  It was obvious to me (but, of course, I could be wrong about this) – it was obvious to me that Ben knew he was present at a holy event, one he was glad to be attending, although attending in his own way, a way fitting for a five-year old boy.  

If I could feel that level of trust displayed by Ben; if I could be so patient as he so evidently was; if I could leave aside the worries of the past and concerns for the future and live fully in the present moment in the way Ben did; if I could attend to what was immediately around me with the intensity and appreciation that Ben did – I am sure I would find myself nearer to heaven – though not as near as Ben is.  

GEN Z RELIGION: THE FUTURE OF THE CHURCH

Photo by Roman Gordienko on Unsplash

Blog by Chiara Dell’Orfanello

For a year now, the lives of each of us have been devastated by the pandemic, and who could have thought that one of its consequences would have been an unprecedented increase in young believers. Recent studies by the University of Columbia indicate a divide between generations: on the one hand the Millennials, most of whom still do not identify with any faith and on the other Gen. Z who, during this period of crisis, reflected on their belief, getting closer and closer to religion. This juxtaposition is not entirely a revival of traditional values and customs, but a rediscovery of a sense of belonging that is not manifested only in worship, but which instead highlights the importance given by young people in applying theological teachings more than in merely hearing them recited.

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The relevance of Philosophy in our Catholic schools

Luca La Monica, teacher of Religious Education, Trinity High, Renfrew

Raffaello Sanzio da Urbino, The School of Athens, Vatican Museums

The teaching of Philosophy as a discipline has a millenary tradition which goes back to Ancient Greece (with regards to the Western world), where it assumed a key role as the highest form of human reasoning. Philosophy has historically maintained an important role up until the start of the XX century, when it has been gradually overshadowed by the rising of scientific subjects. In this way, Philosophy has been marginalized as a purely theoretical and abstract kind of knowledge. This type of definition differs hugely from the one that any Ancient, Medieval or Modern intellectual would have accepted.

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Prophets of the Future 5: Technology and Mental Health in Catholic Schools

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.

Nicola Ramsay, MEduc4 student

One of the growing challenges facing the Catholic school system is tackling mental health issues in children and young adults growing up in the technology-driven 21st century. I believe Catholic schools can take action to combat this and create meaningful change.

For many, mental health issues continue into adulthood and lead to harmful consequences which could have been avoided given the correct support and nurture. Schools have increasingly been targeted as sites for mental health promotion and teachers placed to identify issues concerning students’ social and emotional wellbeing, thus there is an expectation that schools can play a major role in reducing impacts of these pressures.

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Prophets of the Future 4: Results-driven Education and Catholic Schools

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.

Morgan Healy, MEduc4 student

Today, the view of education as a measure of success is a globalised discourse. Assessment-driven educational systems are controlled by large transnational institutions such as the OECD, with the PISA testing system in particular having a strong influence. This raises the question of how competitive results-driven education specifically effects our schools within the Catholic education system, which seek to balance a commitment to excellence with the non-rivalrous values of the Gospel.

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Narrating the Resurrection

James McDevitt (Head Teacher, Holy Cross Primary School, Edinburgh)

Photo by Gerhard Lipold on Pexels.com

All Christians are aware of the basic story of Easter. Jesus died on the Cross on Good Friday, and on Sunday, the third day, he rose from the dead. The stone had been rolled away, the tomb was empty and the Risen Jesus appeared to his disciples on a number of occasions thereafter.

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Fratelli Tutti: Pope Francis’ Vision for a Better World

John Dunlop and Callum Timms

Introductory Remarks

Pope Francis’ Fratelli Tutti is a timely contribution to the authentic social magisterium of the Catholic Church. It is as “a diagnosis for our social ills, which have been complicated by the Covid-19 pandemic” (Dulle, 2020). Fr Augusto Zampini, whose work on the Vatican’s Covid-19 Commission contributed to the Holy Father’s thinking, revealed something of its thought process in a recent conversation, explaining that the Holy Father’s challenge to the task force was to “prepare the future” (Jesuits in Britain, 2020). Thus, he embraced the call of Pope Paul VI to “become the artisans of [our] destiny” (PP, #65).

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