BY Ryan McDougall | September 27 | comments icon 0 COMMENTS     print icon print

9 barbara

Attacks on Catholic schools are victim-blaming: it’s time to fight back

Barbara Coupar, director of the Scottish Catholic Education Service, says it is time to challenge those who blame Catholic parents and teachers for Scotland's problem with bigotry

Another week and another news headline that challenges the existence of Catholic schools in Scotland. This time we are revisiting an argument that we thought had been put to bed many years ago: that Catholic schools cause sectarianism. This time there is a particular sting in the tail, as the advocate of this suggestion was a former police official. As I reflected on his words, and the responses that filled the newspaper columns over the following days, I could not help but be struck by the silence from many elected members and other prominent education officials.

It seems that evidence has no bearing in this argument. Evidence from Her Majesty’s Inspectors about the quality of education in Catholic schools, or evidence that thousands of families from all religions and none actively choose Catholic schools, or evidence about the positive contribution that alumni from Catholic schools make to Scottish civic society is apparently irrelevant.

Challenging the agenda

The anti-Catholic agenda that continues to be given oxygen needs to be challenged. I am absolutely positive that if the comment had been that the existence of our one Scottish Jewish school was the cause of anti-Semitism, there would have been outrage—and rightly so. We would have heard from high ranking politicians, distancing themselves from the comments and the person at the origin of it all would have been pressurised into a public apology—again, and rightly so.

However, instead of any challenge, what we saw was the result of the constant attacks on Catholic schools becoming such a pervasive part of the commentary on Scottish education: when an outrageous, unfounded and inflammatory statement is made, no one bats an eye.

False accusations

Let us be clear: the statement that Catholic schools cause sectarianism is not actually suggesting that the buildings themselves are divisive. A building can’t cause hate can it? No, what is being said is that our teachers are educating towards a culture of prejudice and our children are bigots. What is being said is that by choosing to send your child to a Catholic school, you are the cause of the centuries of hate crimes in Scotland and you are part of the problem.

If you see this attack together with the other challenges to our Scottish school system, the Secular and Humanist societies assault on Church representatives on local authority committees, crowdfunding to fund campaigns to remove faith schools, the manipulation of the United Nations Convention on the Rights of the Child to prevent parents from raising and educating children within a faith environment, the consultations by local authorities to remove denominational schools from their education estates, you cannot help but see the wider agenda: a removal of faith from the public square and a society where rights, respect and tolerance are afforded to everyone, except people of faith.

Good for Scotland

Last year, as we marked the centenary of the Education Scotland Act, our Scottish education system was hailed across the international education community as being one the world should aspire to.

Our education system, which is open, inclusive, free for all children, reflects the cultural and religious heritage of our country and respects the religious freedom of the people, is a beacon in a world where emerging democracies are trying to reform education systems that were dictated by the state and imposed on families, where the pupil was a citizen first and a child within a family second.

Surely we want to protect our system, not diminish it by letting arguments, such as the one about Catholic schools causing sectarianism, influence the debate.

While reflecting on this issue, I was reminded of the #metoo campaign. That campaign has been successful in reminding us—and at the same time perhaps embarrass and chastise us as a society—that even thinking that the victim is responsible in any way for the perpetrators crime is abhorrent.

Yet, here we are, again, as a Catholic community having to respond to the allegation that it is our ‘fault’ that sectarianism, a crime most notably committed against Catholics, is caused because we won’t just ‘assimilate’ into Scottish culture and accept a secular education imposed us.

Perhaps it is time to let our elected members know how we feel and ask what their position is on Catholic education?

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