Friday 1 August 2014

Ireland's Shame

As you know, my two girls Dau.I and Dau.II never went to school. They were completely different but both taught themselves to read in the month after their sixth birthday which gave them the competence to learn whatever they thought was important.  Dau.I internalised a dozen plays of Shakespeare and the complete works of Jane Austen in her early teens and became a poet, blogger and journalist.  She also read everything written by Neil Gaiman, Tamora Pierce and eeeuw! J.K.Rowling.  Actually she read everything. Dau.II, OTOH, turned out differently. They both left home a few months before they got the vote and are now productive members of their community, respected by their employers and earning enough to support their modest needs. It's not just them. They are members of an extraordinary cohort of  youngsters, now in their late teens and early twenties who are artists, musicians, journalists, craftsmen and scholars : most in college, some not.  All true to their own individual selves, all articulate, independent of thought and action and all home educated: not a dim bulb among them, although some are painfully quiet.

I've written before about the family of two of this group who are The Future of Ireland. I've also written about my own flabby moral compass and so am heartily glad that the girls grew up before the Feds took them away. Because since 2000, the government of Ireland has taken it upon themselves to licence the right to educate your children at home.  This despite that right being explicitly buttoned into Article 42 of the Irish Constitution by Eamonn de Valera. Actually our girls weren't going to be taken into care by a beneficent and increasingly intrusive state because, after a decade of ignoring the new Education Welfare Act and getting out of the way while they educated themselves, we caved in and registered with the National Education Welfare Board NEWB. It was easy. We have 3000 books in the living room, I have an intimidatingly educated English accent and was then working as a teacher and researcher in Trinity College Dublin, while Herself their mother has better formal quals for teaching and the girls made a brief appearance: open, articulate, interested and knowledgeable. Registration was assured in half and hour.  But that's only part of it.

What right does the state have to intrude in the lives, particularly the family relationships, of their citizens?  These are difficult moral and ethical questions, that can be conveniently shuffled under the carpet because they don't matter to those of us who are middle-class, white, and have a penis. We make the rules, we decide what is normal. For example, we decide what is on the curriculum in schools, so we turn out generations of people who know how to answer questions about a single Shakespeare play (Hamlet, Macbeth, King Lear on a three year rotation) but have usually never seen it acted. Maude Delap, a superb Irish naturalist, doesn't feature in the biology curriculum; cripes! evolution barely features there. We are all shifting into an uncertain future. If everyone has the same education then who is going to propose the outside-the-box solutions?  Clearly we want every child in the state to achieve at least "a certain minimum education" as required by Article 42, but compelling the handful of home-educating parents to register with a government appointed quango is maybe not the best way of achieving this laudable aim. It is an ominous fact that the government has spend thousands rebranding the NEWB as the Child and Family Agency of Tusla - optics matter!

My reading of the situation in the case of Monica O'Connor and Eddie O'Neill is that they have mounted a barricade for the rest of us.  The government on the other hand is concerned with the letter of the law: it says you have to register to home-educate, so you will be punished if you don't register. It's easier for everyone if parents register, the optics can then be kept polished.  But the difficult cases, the awkward squad, compels us to think about why law is there and whether the tail is wagging the dog.

Thanks Monica and Eddie for taking one for the team.  I'm sure you'll handle slopping out with the care and competence that you've handled so much else, including raising of a parcel children who stand up straight so that they can see over the hedge. is short for this post.
The Blob goes all ethical:
1) blows: smacking - boxing - rugby - ECT - school - chlorine -
2) the dispossessed: Guildford - Mississippi - Viginia - Derry - Berlin - Dublin - Belsen

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