Education, Education, Education...

This morning's Thought for the Day... For those who missed it and prefer to listen rather than read, you can find it here 25 minutes and 85 minutes in, and in the second case just after an interview with Linda Ervine, about the Irish language classes in East Belfast Mission, proving the power of education in all its forms to help us to understand one another and find a new way of relating to each other.

It was encouraging to read over the weekend that a stand-off at Hazelwood College in North Belfast, between their management and the Belfast Education and Library Board is heading towards a resolution [although to later hear of the issue being dragged into the High Court didn't exactly fill me with joy... recourse to law rarely produces reconciliation...] I don’t know all the rights and wrongs, but it was not good to see children padlocked out of classrooms…
Much worse however, were the threats supposedly made on Friday, by the so called Red Hand Defenders, against parents, pupils and teachers at three North Belfast Catholic schools. The police say that they are aware of these threats but that there is currently no evidence to corroborate them.
Some however, have suggested that these threats have simply been cooked up by republicans to smear the loyalist community, undermine the ongoing protest at Twaddell Avenue and stoke up tensions across North Belfast.
Again I don’t know where the truth lies… If these threats genuinely came from a loyalist grouping, even without the desire or ability to follow through… it is a disgrace… But if they have been fabricated as part of some sort of propaganda war, then that too is appalling… Because a perceived threat, genuine or not, still generates anxiety and stress… and means that already stretched police resources need to be diverted to the protection of pupils and teachers.
Jesus, in one of his less “meek and mild” statements suggested that it would be better to be thrown into the sea with a millstone tied around your neck rather than cause a child to stumble in any way… This might be a millstone moment…
Education is a precious thing… It is the key to employability for young people in this era of extreme competition for jobs… And this is especially important in an area like North Belfast, which for various reasons has largely been by-passed by any significant economic peace-dividend to date…
It is also potentially, a forum where young people might learn what has happened in this province in the recent past, in the hope that they never have to experience it themselves…
Victor Hugo famously said that “He who opens a school door, closes a prison.”  Well, given the pressures on the justice budget at present surely that is a good thing.
But we have a history of using education as a party political football in this province so that, instead of it being part of the solution it is often a symptom of the problem and a focus of tension… Whether it be about the merits and demerits of faith schools or integrated education, the merits and demerits of the transfer test, be that at 11 or 14, or politicking regarding the resources allocated to a school on one side or another…
If G.K. Chesterton is right in his assertion that “Education is simply the soul of a society as it passes from one generation to another” may I respectfully suggest that there is a profound soul sickness in our society at present…

Shalom

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