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Text: Seamus Dunn ... Page Design: John Hughes

The Common School frontispiece

The Common School
Occasional Paper Number Four

by Seamus Dunn
Published by the University of Ulster, Coleraine 1993
ISBN 1 87120 689 8
Paperback 31 pp £3.00

Out of Print

This material is copyright of the Centre for the Study of Conflict and the author(s) and is included on the CAIN web site with the permission of the publisher. Reproduction or redistribution for commercial purposes is not permitted.

The Common School

by Seamus Dunn

Centre for the Study of Conflict
University of Ulster

The Author

Seamus Dunn is Professor of Education at the University of Ulster. He is currently Director of the Centre for the Study of Conflict, a research centre based at the universitys Coleraine campus. He has written and published widely on many aspects of education in societies experiencing conflict and violence. Much of this work has referred to Northern Ireland.

The Common School

I wish to discuss two opposed understandings of the nature of education, each with a long history.1 The first perceives education as a way of preserving differences between groups, these differences being defined variously in terms of caste, class, religion, gender, intelligence, language or dialect spoken or nationality. For many of these groups, separate and distinctive schools are not just desirable but necessary if their particular form of difference is to survive and prosper. Occasionally such schools seek to proselytise, but more often they are exclusive - exclusive because the group has deeply-felt religious convictions, or wishes to preserve a particular cultural identity, is a minority within the society, or has a particular power-base which it is reluctant to share.

The second, and contrasting, view of education is that it is a way of generating a sense of unity or common purpose or national coherence within a state or country; especially when the state is multinational in the sense of containing different national or ethnic groups. This view can arise from a sense of patriotism, in the wake of war, revolution and social disorder; or from a particular social or political ideology. For example, the Polish government for over forty years used a state system to promote an ideology of a classless, egalitarian, collectivist state. More recently, the African National Congress has been describing how future South African schools and universities will function in the shaping of national goals. The concept received its fullest theoretical analysis in nineteenth century America using the title The Common School and the debate centred round what became known as The Common School Agenda.2 So, at its simplest, the contrast I wish to discuss is between, on the one hand, a singular system of education, often state-based; and, on the other, a fragmented system representing particular group interests.

Much of the debate has always been related to churches. The historically close relationship between religion and education ensures that the strongest pressure for separate schools has come from religions and denominations, and their primary motivation rests, not in a wish to preserve differences, but in the need and duty to educate the children of their own members about their special dogmas and beliefs. But, whoever the separatists are, and whatever their motivation, the outcome is the same: separate schools for Catholics or Jews or Muslims or girls or whites or Irish speakers or the rich or the clever: it is perhaps cynical to notice that there is rarely much fuss about who controls schools for the not-so-clever.

To begin to discuss questions like these it is necessary to examine historical contexts. In the Western world, up to the sixteenth century, the only schools in existence, normally, were those controlled by church authorities: and, since the church did not reproduce itself biologically, education was a necessary process in the constant refilling of the ranks of the church elite. Since church and state were often hard to separate, this situation was accepted as normal and uncontroversial, and constituted what was in effect a state system, if an extremely limited and parsimonious one. It was also a system easily maintained so long as the church's unique power-base remained united.

When this unity began to falter, as a result of a number of powerful and significant social forces, educational change inevitably followed. The religious reformation sparked off by Martin Luther, the emergence of the concept of nationalism, the invention of the printing press, all contributed to an effective challenge to the church's previous unity. Martin Luther's notion of a personal piety led him to the view that everyone should be taught to read so as to have personal access to the Bible and to the new religious ideas of Protestantism. Gutenberg's invention made possible multiple copies of the Bible in the vernacular languages of Europe for the new Protestant communities of Germany, Holland, France, Switzerland. In England William Tyndales translation of the New Testament became widely available immediately after its first printing in Germany in 1525.

As a contribution to the curriculum of the new Protestant schools, Luther translated the Bible into German, compiled a German Hymn book, and, perhaps most important of all, created a pocket catechism in 1529 - an important pedagogical innovation involving a system of 'question-and-answer' which was quickly taken up by the Catholic church.

These changes illustrate the continuing truth, once known to Socrates, that the school curriculum is a political matter; it is to do with compromises over what is important to know and what it is permitted to know. It presents particular choices about what is certain and what in question, what is significant and what unworthy of notice.3 It is for this reason that, since the reformation, popular education has been the source of continuous political and social conflict.

The Catholic Church has always been, and to some extent remains, deeply aware of the subversive potential of books. It quickly realised, however, that the spread of freely available literature was unlikely to be reversed and was, from the Church's point of view, in need of control. A Catholic catechism was produced in 1555 by the first German Jesuit, nearly thirty years after Luther, and this system became so much the norm that it persisted as a basic school text until recently, and many of us learnt from its later editions. In succession the counter-reformation looked to schools as a weapon so that the emphasis on and pressure for Catholic schools was often strongest where Protestants were active. For example, in Montpellier in 1677 the new Catholic bishop began a crusade to bring Protestants back to the Catholic faith by opening new schools, increasing the number in a decade from 47 to 86. Clearly schools were not perceived as neutral institutions.

A second important factor in the demand for separate schools was the emergence of the secular state, and its gradual usurpation of many of the historical powers of the church. The conviction that unregulated state power is dangerous was commonly held, not only by both Catholics and Protestants but also within classic liberalism. In a famous passage from his book On Liberty, John Stuart Mill reflects this unease with state power in words which have a contemporary flavour to them:

All that has been said of the importance of individuality of character, and diversity in opinions and modes of conduct, involves, as of the same unspeakable importance, diversity of education. A general State education is a mere contrivance for moulding people to be exactly like one another: and as the mould in which it casts them is that which pleases the predominant power in the government... in proportion as it is efficient and successful, it establishes a despotism over the mind.4

I will digress for a moment to suggest that current educational policies underline the prophetic truth of this. As all teachers today know, too much state control of education can be dangerous especially in a climate of unquestioning ideological certainty where actions are based on dogma rather than reality or common sense.

But, to return, a third important historical factor in the demand for separate schools, and one that has persisted, is the emphasis placed on local autonomy, whether with reference to culture, language, politics or religion. This is often castigated with words, intended as disparaging, such as provincial or regional or parochial, although Irish poets from Yeats, through Kavanagh to Heaney have argued against the simplicity of that exclusion. The claim to authority of centralised cultural orthodoxy has always been open to challenge in favour of local understandings. So the contrast may not just be between races or religions, but can be between the claims of the state and the parish.

Implicit also in much of the opposition to democratic state power has always been a mistrust of the common masses, in the past deeply influenced by the horror felt in the wake of the French Revolution. Voltaire had written earlier that the common people should be guided, not instructed; they lacked, he believed, the leisure to become enlightened and should be content to follow the example of their superiors. The long reluctance to grant the universal franchise sprang from a view that the masses did not possess rationality, the capacity for reflection, knowledge of social and political affairs, and so on. For example, when, in 1807, the House of Commons in London rejected a bill for rate-aided parish schools, one Member of Parliament argued that the Bill would

render the poor fractious and refractory ... it would enable them to read seditious pamphlets, vicious books and publications against Christianity; it would render them insolent against their superiors 5

At root was, for some, a fundamental opposition to democracy: Lord Salisbury, for example, regarded himself, not as responsible to the people, but as responsible for them. He believed that

to widen the suffrage among the poor while increasing taxes upon the rich is a complete divorce of power from responsibility; "the rich would pay all the taxes and the poor make all the laws".6

Throughout history these attitudes contributed to a support in the main for private rather than public or common schooling, and so state intervention in education in the western world is a comparatively recent phenomenon. Popular education in the interest of the state began in the late eighteenth century and, during the first half of the nineteenth century, spread slowly all over Europe and into America. Its characteristic structures had their origins in Prussia under Frederick the Great who established general school regulations in 1763 which included compulsory attendance from 5 to 13, training of teachers, standard texts and religious tolerance.

The leaders of the revolution in France demanded universal popular education, controlled by the state with a central purpose of forming citizens. A common school system, they believed, would function as a statement of national intention and a symbol of national unity. As Luther had done before them, they provided schools with new ‘republican’ texts including an adaptation of the Rights of Man, of the Constitution, and, yet another Catechism, a specially written Republican one. These attempts of course failed, but, in the years after 1839 there was a highly successful campaign to establish in France a system of popular education at least partly independent of the church.

But the common school had its first real success in the Netherlands where a widespread system of public elementary schooling emerged in the early years of the nineteenth century. The purpose was to serve social and political unity, and they were described as nation-forming institutions, which could not be left in the hands of any exclusive political or church party. The schools in Holland were not unchristian or anti-christian: they were nonsectarian, undoctrinal, but deeply religious with a broadly liberal and moral spirit.

The primary schools should be Christian, but neither Protestant nor Catholic. They should not lean to any particular form of worship nor teach any positive dogmas; but should be of that kind that Jews might attend them without inconvenience to their faith 7

Their successful period lasted for about thirty years until the various churches began a campaign to restore religious schools, leading in the end to the famous ‘pillarisation’ system whereby three equal systems of education were constructed according to the wishes of Catholics, Protestants and the State. This apparently democratic division still survives, although it is currently under considerable pressure.

In 1837, just as the Dutch common-school system was beginning to change in response to concentrated church pressure, the Massachusetts Board of Education was established - with Horace Mann as its first secretary - to give state direction to popular education. America is of course a nation of immigrants and so there has always been an important relationship between education and questions of cultural identity. America did not have a national church, or a monarchy and so the new nation had no symbolic focus. The common school was perceived by many as a positive and visionary way of ensuring assimilation of the immigrants, and was thought of as being above religious and political divisions - although it was clothed in the rhetoric of the enlightenment and liberal Protestantism. The common school was therefore a general, undenominational symbol of a single national identity.

Horace Mann became extremely influential and he was motivated in part by the experience of other parts of the world, in part by American liberalism associated with the enlightenment, but also by a nativist movement - by which they did not mean the American Indians - which feared that the society would not be able to cope, in any civilised way, with the massive flow of immigrants, all with different traditions and beliefs - words that were often a euphemism for Catholics. This fear of being swamped (a common word then, and used recently by Margaret Thatcher about a similar fear) was very common; one congressman argued that America should not:

invite hordes of wild Irishmen, nor the turbulent and disorderly of all parts of the world, to come here with a view to distract our tranquility 8

Britain followed behind other nations in generating a national common school agenda. It continued to depend throughout most of the nineteenth century on a combination of private and semi-public instruction, provided mainly by a system of cooperation between denominational bodies and public authorities, with no real attempt by central government to exert control.

This principle did not however extend to Ireland, where a system of National schools was established in 1831. Education in Ireland has always been a political and cultural tool. The poet Spenser in 1596 wrote a recommendation that:

the Irish ... be educated in English, in grammar and in science ... for learning hath that wonderful power of itself that it can soften and temper the most stern and savage nature 9

The document on the founding of the Royal schools in Ulster in 1608, most if not all of which still survive, expressed its intentions for these schools:

to stir up and recall the province of Ulster from superstition, rebellion, calamity and poverty to the true religion of Christ, and to obedience, strength and prosperity

It’s been a long haul. The penal code made school-teaching even more hazardous than today and included the line ten pounds is offered for the discovery of a Roman Catholic Schoolmaster - mind you, when inflation is taken into account, that’s probably more than you would get today.

The National School system was the latest and the most successful plan, designed specifically as an instrument of social engineering. The Irish were to be civilised by learning, and the contents of the national curriculum had clear social and political intentions. The famous books’ of the national schools were the national curriculum of their day: the successful completion of each book was an attainment level known and understood by all, so that the answer to the inevitable question on the way home from school, What book are you in?’ told all about your educational worth. And the plaintive confession that 1 never got beyond the third book, myself was a measure of a loss. The books were in continual use for over seventy years and continued well into this century. Many in this room will know, from listening to their parents and grandparents, exactly what I mean. The old sixth book contained short readings with titles like On the Beauty and Loveliness of Virtue, The Speech of Lord Chatham on the American War, and Education Compared To Sculpture (what sculpture is to a block of marble, education is to a human soul). There were also clear guidelines about teachers who should be persons of Christian sentiment, of calm temper, and discretion; they should be imbued with a spirit of peace, of obedience to the law, and of loyalty to their sovereign. 10

My favourite example of the cultural intentions of the books, which I am always quoting, is the following short poem from one of the school texts: and you have to imagine the barefoot, Gaelic speaking, Glens of Antrim boy or girl learning to sing it off by heart:

I thank the goodness and the grace
which on my youth have smiled
to make me in these Christian days
a happy English child

The copy-books of Vere Foster were also of great importance and not just in Ireland. They reflected the morality of their time with maxims such as the good is the enemy of the best, doing nothing is doing ill and property has its duties as well as its rights.

However the fact that education was always in dispute, and that there never was a universal common school system in Ireland may well be a symbol of that lack of national or cultural unity that still persists. Indeed there is a current process of splintering in the North exemplified by the integrated schools, the independent Christian schools and the Irish language schools, that might be a measure of our current community and social incoherence.

In Britain the first movements towards change were signalled by the rise of societies founded to establish and maintain schools: they were much given to succinct and snappy titles like The National Society for Promoting the Education of the Poor in the Principles of the Established Church throughout England and Wales’. In 1833 the House of Commons granted the sum of £20,000 to assist these societies to build schools, and this was the first example in Britain of state intervention in public education. This, and all following developments, were fiercely resisted by denominational bodies, including in particular the established Church of England. The consequences were that little progress was made until the 1870 ‘Elementary Education Act’ (called the Forster Act). This was the first decisive advance towards a statutory system of public education in Britain. At that time Ireland had had such a system for nearly forty years. The Forster Act faced fierce and sustained opposition on its way through parliament, because although it allowed the voluntary system to continue, it gave the state the right to fill in the gaps through the medium of local school boards. The resulting compromise was a system of ‘dual’ control of public education between statutory and voluntary bodies, a system that continues to some extent to this day. This dual system was a recipe for avoiding both secularism and church control.

And, as in Ireland, education was designed to have a social and transformative purpose. In England the moral and religious needs of the lower classes required constant attention if society was to remain peaceful and civilised. So school work often reflected this in the form of morality tales, the writing of tracts and rules of behaviour. Consider for example what was called ‘The Virtuous Arithmetic’, a bizarre combination of sums and moral exhortation. The first few lines went as follows:

Twenty pence are one and eight pence,
Wash your face and comb your hair.
Thirty pence are two and sixpence,
Every day to school repair.
Forty pence are three and four pence,
Learn to read while you are young.
Fifty pence are four and twopence.
Never use a lying tongue

And then there was, occasionally, a degree of racial triumphalism as in the following:

Lord, I ascribe it to thy grace
And not to chance as others do,
That I was born of Christian race
and not a heathen or a Jew

There was of course the public schools preparing the sons of the upper classes for service in the empire. Their curriculum was dominated by Latin to a degree scarcely credible today. In 1884 there were twenty eight classics masters at Eton, six mathematics masters, one historian, no modern language teachers and no scientists. 13

It is worth mentioning at this point the particular case of Scotland which, after a long period of religious and sectarian strife during the nineteenth century, found a hard-won compromise agreeable to the churches which continues to exist today, even though there are currently some pressures. After long and complex negotiations an Education Act in 1918 placed Catholic schools under secular or state control in all but religious matters. The result was that church schools were transferred to the state; there was a guaranteed freedom with regard to religious instruction, appointment of teachers and access by clergy; and, education authorities were to provide new schools where necessary.14

To summarise therefore, by the end of the nineteenth century, almost all countries in Western Europe had created some form of state controlled common school system, albeit with often elaborate arrangements to

allow interest groups, usually churches, the right to their own private schools. George Bernard Shaw, you will not be surprised to hear, had views on the subject. Although he favoured a state system, he was clear about the difficulties. He writes:

And when the state has to prescribe a uniform moral curriculum the variety of our temperaments makes it impossible to please everybody. The Quaker and the Ritualist, the Fundamentalist and the Freethinker, the Vegetarian and the flesh eater, the missionary and the cannibal, the humanitarian and the sportsman-hunter, the military terrorist and the Christian, will not agree as to the faiths and habits to be inculcated upon the children of the community in order that they may be good citizens. 15

I should add that I have not had time here to discuss the role and influence of Imperialism on education, both at home and abroad. That would constitute a long paper on its own.

An argument that is often put in debate about these matters, and I heard that distinguished educationalist, John Major, put it recently on television, is that education is really about teaching children to read and write and add up, and that it should not be used for social engineering; further that it is the home (or in some cases, the playground) rather than the school that matters. I hope it is clear from what I have been saying that education has always been used for social engineering. And, also, that most societies appear to believe in the power of education as a medium for the making of their preferred type of citizen, for the assimilation of minorities and the rebellious, and simply as a system of discrimination. Modern examples can be found in the political approach of Nyerere in Tanzania, Castro in Cuba and Thatcher in Britain, with her politically correct knowledge in subjects like History, Literature and Religion. In Japan school history texts still say little about the Pacific war, and a recent court case there provided support for this approach. In Italy there have been long and fierce debates about the idea of a unified Italian language ever since Italy itself was unified in the 1 860s, a debate that usually became reflected in the school curriculum. In Malaysia there is a system of quotas and positive discrimination which greatly favours the Malays as against the Chinese.

And it would be possible to go on. Whether or not education should be used in this way is a nice theoretical argument: but the facts suggest that it always has been so used and is so currently in many countries.

The relevance of all this to modern events hardly needs rehearsing. Not long ago social theorists were arguing that cultural differences were disappearing in modern society caused by mass migration, global industrial capitalism, modern communication systems, and so on; that the various ties and pulls of race, language, religion and ethnicity were slowly losing their vigour and intensity. Even in retrospect that seemed a reasonable contention: and yet all the recent evidence is that, on the contrary, all of these signals of modernity have tended to reinforce ethnic and cultural differences and that the modern world is becoming increasingly fragmented. Most countries now have their minorities and their recent immigrants. Older migrations have left widespread patterns of ethnic dispersion notably and most visibly in Eastern Europe. The concept of the Diaspora, once used exclusively of the Jewish people, can now be applied to Muslims, Irish, Peruvians, Chinese, and many others. And, closer to home, we have all come to know of places like Brixton, Southall, Bristol, Moss Side, Handsworth - not to mention Belfast and Derry-stroke-Londonderry.

For many, an important element in trying to understand and deal with the confusions and difficulties caused by all this is education. Much of the language and the bulk of the literature about this role for education originated in the USA where there has been a long history of attempts to understand and deal with the questions raised. A study of the American experience is therefore an important source in the debate.16 Until the second world war the dominant view among all the groups there, including liberals and black-support groups such as the NAACP, was that all citizens of the USA should and would become acculturated, and this would be closely followed by assimilation. The society would, in this way, become colour-blind, and indeed the only form of difference acceptable would be religious difference. The schools, it was thought, would make a massive contribution to this process by promoting a curriculum that was about being American. Unfortunately it became apparent that both acculturation and assimilation might occur and even be embraced by minority groups - or at least some parts of them - without any accompanying decrease in the discrimination practised against them.

There are difficult issues here which are not easily resolved. In all periods of history some migratory groups have succeeded, at least in part, in holding on to their own culture, while others were assimilated more or less completely. The planters in Northern Ireland in the seventeenth century have remained unassimilated - steadfastly or stubbornly - depending upon your point of view; similarly Jewish groups all round the world. But there are examples of groups which, when circumstances make it possible, have become part of the native population, have learned the language and have become assimilated.

The Normans, or old English, who came to Ireland in the twelfth century, became known as Hiberniores Hibernicis Ipsis, or more Irish than the Irish themselves - even if modern historians are likely to qualify that cliched epigram. This was much to the consternation of the English court of the day. Spenser, the poet, wrote Lord how quickly doth that country alter men’s natures. 17

Completely satisfying reasons why some groups become assimilated and some do not are not easy to find. A more recent example comes from research on the steel area of Lorraine in France. 18 During the 1920s this area received considerable numbers of immigrants from Italy, Poland and elsewhere and, it is claimed, had the largest percentage of immigrants in France during the twenties. The research indicates that the children of these migrants were very quickly, efficiently and deliberately turned into French citizens by a remorseless school system. No special provision was made for their specific cultural characteristics and, although the system was - to say the least -insensitive in emotional and cultural terms, from the point of view of the state it could be said to have succeeded.

In modern times however there has been a strong political and moral reaction against assimilation, and, in America, this led to the emergence of what has come to be known all round the world as Multiculturalism. In the thirties, the increased racialism worldwide stimulated by Nazi power helped to move the approach towards what was then called inter-cultural education. By the early sixties the state became much involved in effecting and financing this process, beginning with the movement towards desegregation of schools and the great expansion of civil rights legislation in the late sixties and early seventies.

However, the impact of school integration and the three decades of desegregation did not have the dramatic effects that were forecast, and in some parts there is a voluntary movement back to segregation on the grounds that integration made the employment situation worse and had a detrimental effect on black culture. The hard economic climate of the seventies and the eighties helped to change the national mood in America, and the election of Reagan in 1981 marked the virtual end of of the state’s support for attempts to use education to promote cultural variety and to support minority rights. 19

The modern situation in the USA is much more confused. Newer immigration groups, along with a growth in what has been called interest group’ politics, mean that the debate has become fragmented by a range of issues including class, gender, language, ethnicity, religion, and other special-need groups. In education it is therefore difficult to find any coherence of demand. For example the approach of Hispanic groups, while various within itself, is rarely similar to that of the African Americans. The former argue for segregated schools where the Spanish language can be given status; African Americans want integrated schools because of their long experience and detestation of segregation. There is a segregationist movement among some Bible Christian groups who find the secular ethos and curricula of modem schools harmful to their beliefs. A debate is going on among feminists about the importance of single sex education.

There is considerable disagreement about the dynamics of this range of response and about causes and effects. Those who support the pluralist approach, in the form of separate schools, have yet to find a way to avoid what sometimes seem to be unacceptable consequences. For example the evidence is that, when educated separately, many minority groups - although not all - end up at the lowest and most unstable end of the occupational structure; that their children appear to benefit least from the educational system; and that there is both explicit and implicit prejudice against them which contribute to their inability to integrate fully, even if they wished to. It was presumably as a means of ensuring social and economic inferiority that segregated systems were enforced in the USA and in South Africa.

All of these problems can be replicated to a greater or less extent in many other countries. In Britain there has been very little attempt by the state to create separated schools for new minorities, and the assumption, usually but not always unspoken, is one of assimilation. For both economic and religious reasons some groups within the immigrant Muslim and West Indian populations have begun to demand separated education as a way of ensuring their cultural and religious survival. In Northern Ireland it has been argued that the effects of long-term cultural separation have helped bring us to our present distressful state. If racial violence were to occur in Britain on any great scale the problem would undoubtedly acquire a higher profile there.

Once again, the importance of religion can hardly be exaggerated. As we have seen, one of the most formidable opponents of state control of education is and has been the Catholic Church, which has always maintained its right to its own schools: it regards these as the major mechanism by which the Catholic community maintains its group identity. Separate schools are necessary in order that the distinctive and pervasive Catholic ethos can be created and supported. The central purpose of education is religious: the secondary school which I attended had as its motto, Querete Primum Regnum Dei, which can be translated as Seek ye first the kingdom of God. This ethos, therefore saw life and education as a preparation for the hereafter. An English Catholic school headmaster was once asked by a mother what he was educating boys for. His reply was For death, madam.

But the Catholic Church is not alone in these views. The emergence in recent times of independent Christian schools, particularly in the southern states of America, but also in Northern Ireland, is another example of the importance attached to the need for schools where a particular perspective on life can be presented to children.20 These schools oppose much of the morality of modernity and seem to be prepared to accept the consequences such as lower economic standards. There are other Christian approaches also. In South Africa school separation was made part of the apparatus of apartheid. This meant that there were separate schools for the Afrikaans white group, the English speaking white group, the Coloured race group, the Indians and the various black ethnic groups.

Increasingly attention is being directed to the Islamic faith. Muslims, like the committed of other world religions, are convinced that their faith is the only one that is in the fullest sense true and universally valid. There are currently about twelve million Muslims in Europe and their strong, uncompromising and badly understood religious convictions make it extremely difficult for them to become part of the modern secularised and industrialised world

Where their numbers make it feasible Muslims are increasingly making demands for separate schools that reflect their religious views, and there is the perhaps ironic twist that in some cases Moslems and Christians have joined forces against the common enemy of secularism. What is certain is that, in western countries where Muslims are in a minority., there will be more and more independent Muslim schools. Muslims therefore present us all in the West with the dilemma that, although the historical values and principles of the enlightenment are deeply rooted in our social, political and economic life, they are not universally accepted as invariant rules of civilisation.

It would have been easy to have devoted all of this talk to Northern Ireland and to the particular educational problems that we face here on what might be called the faultline of Irish culture. I made a deliberate decision however to try to place our own difficulties in wider contexts, both historical and geographical, so that we might become aware of the universality of many of the questions which we think are ours alone. By widening the perspective I wished to give emphasis to the fallacy that because we Catholics and Protestants speak the same language, this has sustained the delusion that we understand each other.

The historical context can be dealt with briefly. 21 When our current troubles began in 1969 there were two separate and distinct school systems here, that were defacto Catholic and Protestant, although the Protestant system was dejure a state system. Whatever the substantive differences between them amounted to - and there has been no research that has probed this question in any great detail: that is, that has got beyond the classroom door - it became widely believed that there was an insistent connection between the actual separation itself and the absence of an enabling community understanding and cohesion. I should add that it is also suspected that the range of forms of separation here (by religion, by sex and by ability - that is social class) might have something to do with the fact that this society is patriarchal, hierarchical, conservative and male-dominated.

Attempts over the last twenty-four years to find ways of ameliorating the supposed effects of denominational education have produced two main programmes. The first of these is the integrated school movement, now with 18 schools almost all created and structured by parents, and a total enrolment in 1992-93 of about three and a half thousand. So far as it is possible to predict, it appears that this programme will continue to grow and prosper although there are of course many uncertainties.

The second programme has responded to the apparent paradox that, while a great many people within the community wish to preserve divided school systems, many of them also believe the religious division to be actually or potentially divisive in social terms. One logical way out of this paradox is to argue that, if children cannot be educated together, then everything possible should be done to make them known to each other, including as much contact as possible. The response has been to build compulsory themes relating to mutual understanding and cultural heritage into the curriculum, and to create enabling mechanisms for inter-school links and contacts that are structural, long-term and part of the normal pattern of school life. The ambition is that, in the future, no Ulster school child will be able to say, with poet Michael Longley that he knew no Catholics as a boy in Belfast, and that, at Trinity in Dublin, he did become friendly with two Catholics - an American and a Rhodesian. Not exactly The Real Thing. 22

And this might be the moment for me to remember some of the events and people who were important influences on anything that I might try to say about education. When I joined the Education Centre in the New University of Ulster formally, in 1972, I was fortunate to have as leaders people such as Professor Alan Milton and Professor Malcolm Skilbeck, two men who insisted that no mould be left unbroken. And, more recently there has been the stimulating powers of analysis and refusal to accept nonsense of Professor Peter Daws. But no one who knows me will be surprised if I remember in particular two former colleagues whom I think of as mentors, that is Don Batts and the late Dr Joe Harris with what Seamus Heaney calls ‘the special gratitude we reserve for those who have led us towards confidence in ourselves’

Returning to the wider world, old migration patterns have returned, as it were, to haunt us. Plural societies around the world, where minorities reflect earlier population movements, and where a degree of stability seemed to have been established, have quickly demonstrated the enduring power of ethnicity. Partly as a consequence the number of independent states rises continually, and there is an increased level of political fragmentation and an almost atavistic resurgence in ethnic nationalism. This is particularly evident in Eastern Europe and tragically in the former Yugoslavia, but also in Great Britain, Canada, Spain, Sri Lanka, India and many other places.

Paradoxically this is parallelled by a counter-movement towards internationalism in such things as increasing economic homogeneity and world-wide communication systems. The undoubted popularity of statehood as a form of national identity seems to be based on an overestimation of its capacity to determine or indeed have much influence on economic and social forces.

A similar paradox exists in education where there is evidence of the development of what might be called a global educational culture, alongside a tendency towards exclusively national curricula. Recent comparative studies of national curricula suggest a convergence towards a world standard for curricular topics during the past ten years. 23

The problems for education are practical and empirical in the end and there is unlikely to be one universal answer. But the dilemma is to devise a system that satisfies the two opposed aspirations towards separation and unity which have been the subject of this paper: such a system will have to allow for deeply-felt differences and yet aspire towards forms of social coherence if violence and conflict are to be avoided. The desire to allow and protect differences seems to be an entirely reasonable and acceptable aspiration, and there is no obvious logical reason why such a stance should be incompatible with social stability. However, all our evidence is that the peaceful co-existence of religiously and culturally distinct groups is difficult to manage, that violence and wars between such groups are increasing worldwide, and that the relationships between education and social stability are in need of constant and sophisticated interrogation.

It is however somewhat disconcerting to read, in a book published by the OECD in 1989, the following:

... in Yugoslavia regulation of the rights of the different nations and minorities ... is central to education ... there is no denying that the model has been quite successful. The solutions adopted ... draw general conclusions that might be of use elsewhere. 24

It might therefore seem to fly in the face of such evidence to say that our experiences in Northern Ireland may also turn out to be useful more widely. If there is one message to be drawn from these it is that there must be a range of approaches to the task of schooling a divided society, and that this range must be sensitive to local as well as national imperatives. In Northern Ireland we have learnt to be aware of the hidden ambiguities and duplicities that characterise our life and speech, and to use, in the words of Seamus Heaney, echo-soundings, searches, probes, allurements. 25 It is this awareness of complexity and refusal to accept simple answers that I hope will be our epistle to the world.


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1. This paper was given as a professorial lecture in the University of Ulster on 5th May 1993. The author is grateful to Professor Valerie Morgan for helpful comments and advice.

2. Some of the ideas in this paper, including its title, resulted from reading The Myth of the Common School by Charles Leslie Glenn (1988) Amherst, London: The University of Massachusetts Press, 369 pages.

3. Glenn, (1988) op. cit. page 11.

4. Mill, John Stuart (1859) On Liberty, Edited Gateway edition, 1955, Chicago: Henry Regenry Company, page 157.

5. Ascherson, Neal, The Observer, December 1986.

6. Tuchman, Barbara (1966) The Proud Tower, London: The Macmillan Press, page 11.

7. Glenn, (1988) op. cit., page 38.

8. Ibid., page 67.

9. Canny, Nicholas (1983) Edmund Spenser and the Development of an Anglo-Irish Identity, The Yearbook of English Studies, vol. 13, page 6.

10. Coolahan, John (1988) Imperialism and the Irish National School System in ‘Benefits Bestowed’? Education and British Imperialism, edited by J. A. Mangan, Manchester University Press, page 78.

11. Digby, Anne and Peter Searby (1981) Children, School and Society in Nineteenth Century England, London: The Macmillan Press, page 113.

12. ibid., page 123.

13. Stallworthy, Jon (1984) The Oxford Book of War Poetry, Oxford University Press, pages xxiv.

14. Findlay, Ian (1988) Christianity and Educational Provision in Scotland in ‘Christianity and Educational Provision in International Perspective’, edited by Witold Tulasiewicz and Cohn Brock, London and New York: Routledge, pages, pages 17-37.

15. Shaw, George Bernard (1934), Prefaces, London: Constable and Company, page 364.

16. Glazer, Nathan (1983) Ethnic Dilemmas 1964- 1982, Cambridge, Mass., London: Harvard University Press, 359 pages.

17. Spenser, Edmund A View of the Present State of Ireland, edited by W. L. Renwick, Oxford University Press, 1970, page 151.

18. Centre for Educational Research and Innovation (1987) Multicultural Education, Paris: OECD, page 24.

19. Goodenow, Ron K. Schooling, Identity and Dernominationalism in Tulasiewicz and Brock, op. cit. pages 192-2 16.

20. Moshman, D. (1985), Faith Christian vs Nebraska: Parent, Child, and Community Rights in the Educational Area, Teachers College Record, 86, 4, 26 pages.

21. a. Dunn, Seamus (1990) A History of Education in Northern Ireland Since 1920, Fifteenth Report of The Standing Advisory Commission on Human Rights, Northern Ireland, London:HMSO, Appendix B, pages 49-96.
b. Dunn, Seamus (1991) The Social Context of Education in Northern Ireland, European Journal of Education, 26, pages 179-190.

22. Longley, Michael (1990) in Cultural Traditions in Northern Ireland, edited by Maurna Crozier, Belfast: Institute of Irish Studies, page 33.

23. Ramirez, F.O. and J. Bohi (1987) The Political Construction of Mass Schooling: European Origins and Worldwide Institutionalisation, Sociology of Education, 60, pages 2-17.

24. Centre for Educational Research and Innovation (1987) One School, Many Cultures, Paris: OECD, page 46/47.

25. Heaney, Seamus (1984) Station Island, Part 2, xii, page 94.

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