Need Religious Schools?

Catholic Convent School run by Mercy Sisters in the 1950s   Photo: ©Anne Frandi-Coory

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Love them or hate them, state schools at least spread literacy quickly throughout the Western world.  The Roman Catholic Church can also take much credit for their educational infrastructures which enabled schools to be established quickly within communities around the world.  Convents and seminaries created ready-made teachers at an economical and speedy rate.  Catholic Schools provided education for the faithfuls’  children so that while being educated, their souls could be saved. Now in the light of  priest sex abuse scandals, millions paid out to victims, and dwindling numbers of priests and nuns,  Catholic schools are closing down while Islamic schools are spreading.

In the past, Catholic schools fought for supremacy over state schools which largely followed Protestantism. Protestant Church leaders were terrified lest papist teachings crept into state school curriculums.   I can remember when I was attending a convent primary school in New Zealand, I was terrified of state school children who shouted at me and my school friends on the street, “Catholic dogs stink like frogs and don’t eat meat on Fridays”.  Of course, in my narrow world I had no idea then of the wars of religious domination raging throughout the world.  I only knew that we were not allowed to walk into a Protestant church or make friends with the children at state schools, ( I wondered what heinous things children in state schools got up to!)  To transgress this rule was tantamount to committing a mortal sin in my mind.

Even in those days in New Zealand there were savage disputes between Protestant and Catholic groups, and in America there were deadly riots over the use of the King Jame’s Bible in state schools.  We were instructed during catechism lessons, never to read any other bible than the King Jame’s version. I never in my childhood’s wildest dreams had any notion of the politics these two Christian faiths were engaged in.

The problem arising is that religious schools have received, and still receive, financial assistance from respective governments out of tax revenue.  Should this continue unchecked?  Perhaps a better use of taxpayers’ money would be investment in more public secular schools.  I can see in the future that this current rise in religious segregation could create problems of separatism.  Schools should have a common purpose:  to educate children and not classify them into separate religious groups.

There is dialogue taking place at the present time in America about this issue, between Perry L. Glanzer, associate professor at the Baylor University and School of Education and Institute of Church-State Studies, and Charles Haynes, senior scholar for the First Amendment Centre in Washington DC.   In America, voucher programmes tend to redirect tax dollars into religious schools.  There have already been tensions over publicly funded charter schools which offer Arabic-language instruction.  Haynes posits that while religious parents should have a choice of schools to send their children to, those schools shouldn’t be funded by tax dollars. He says that “despite all their flaws state schools have played a key role in building one nation out of many faiths and cultures, something that should be appreciated in any debate about choices”.

“There’s really only one institution in the United States where we learn to live with our differences and that’s public schools…the less we do that the more challenging it’s going to be” says Mr Haynes.

State schools are certainly more tolerant these days of other ethnicities and religions than in the past.  Notwithstanding this, history is repeating itself.  Again.  I can see parallels in the current situation of secular state schools versus Islamic Schools, and Protestantism versus Catholicism.

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