Homily of Archbishop Diarmuid Martin for the Opening of the School Year 2010
23 September 2010
Homily of Archbishop Diarmuid Martin for the Opening of the School Year 2010
We remember children who have special needs; we remember those children who have come to our shores from abroad; we think of those who are just beginning their life in school.
With them we remember the teachers and others who provide support and liaison with parents, the principals and the boards of management, as well as the diocesan offices for education and the schools advisors. I greet representatives of CORI and the new educational trusts established by religious congregations.
I welcome the representatives of teacher’s organizations, the local authorities and of the Department of Education.
We begin a new school year. We begin a new school year in an Ireland which is changing. We pray for our schools and we pledge our commitment to each and every child that they will be able fully to realise their talents and put them at the service of the community for the years to come.
We have heard in the first reading what God’s plans are for each of us. Those same words can well be applied to the aim and the aspirations of each of us who has responsibility in any way for the education of our young people: “I have plans of peace for you and not disaster, reserving a future full of hope for you”
“A future full of hope” is what we aspire to offer the children who come to our schools. It is what parents hope the education system will provide for their children. It is what children today wish for themselves. Our ceremony this evening is a pledge that even in difficult economic times we will never cut short our common commitment to offering a future of hope to all our children.
Education is not simply about imparting information. Education is about forming a rounded human person. It is about transmitting a passion for learning; it is about opening the minds of young people to see the potential that they possess and reminding them that they possess talents not just for themselves today but talents they can bring to forging a better society for tomorrow.
Education is about wisdom, about meaning and about discerning. The Gospel reading of the Beatitudes is a fascinating comparison between the vision of Jesus and the various alternative visions which have been proposed over the past two millennia and by which we can be tempted still today.
The kingdom of God belongs not to the powerful and the arrogant but to those who are gentle, who hunger for what is right, who show integrity in their intentions and actions, who are merciful and kind, who are peacemakers and bring people together. In times in which there is so much fascination with success, power, possession and celebrity, we need occasionally to take a moment to reflect on what is deepest in our lives and what values we wish to transmit to our children.
I was fascinated by the question which Pope Benedict put to the large group of children from every Catholic school in Great Britain when he met them in London last week. He asked them: “what are the qualities you see in others that you would most like to have yourselves? What kind of person would you really like to be?”
These are questions that are put both to us who have responsibilities in education and to the children entrusted to our care. What are the qualities that we see in others? This means what qualities do children look for in us? Children today are much more perceptive and discerning that perhaps we were in judging teachers and leaders.
When most of us are asked about our own school life and the things we remember most of all, I have never heard anyone answer “we had a good curriculum” or that “the timetable was well planned” or even that “our classrooms were bright and modern”. These and many other aspects of school life are important and must be attended to, but in my experience what always appears as the most significant memory is: “I remember Mr or Miss someone”, in other words: “I remember a teacher who was different”.
We remember the teacher who recognised us as individuals who acknowledged our talents, who transmitted to us that we were capable, capable of doing more than we had imagined, teachers who helped and encouraged us when things were not going well, and teachers who quietly rejoiced in our small successes.
Teachers do not constantly ask their children “what kind of person would you really like to be”. They draw out from within the child through patient dialogue what is best and most challenging in the child. Sadly many children today never arrive at that situation in which their talents are fully realised. They never reach a situation in which the talents they have can be offered and used to better society.
Life has changed; the economy has changed; society has changed. The teacher can only do a certain amount. Most teachers go way beyond the requirements of mere duty and they deserve as individuals and as a profession greater societal recognition. We should not overburden our teachers with expectations that they alone can heal the wounds produced in children by a broken society. Very often however they are among the few who heroically try.
Children today are more perceptive and discerning. They are aware of the dichotomies and contradictions in society. They reflect our society and all its good points and all its problems. They are children of our society and within our society. I ask myself:
- What is the effect on our children of the violence that mars the life of many of our communities? What is their impression when they see young lives taken in feuds between criminal gangs? What happens when such a criminal culture is made seem subtly attractive to young people?
- What is the effect on children when they hear about honesty and decency and find that many aspects of public life are marred by dishonesty and corruption? Our children are more aware than we imagine.
- What is the effect on our children of a growing breakdown in family life or when they live with unresolved conflict and division?
- What is the effect on young people when they see a Church which fails to live up to the message that it possesses in trust from the Lord?
- What is the effect on children who know that they have ability but find that opportunity seems to pass them by or that they do not have opportunity just because they do not live in the right area of our city?
- What is effect on the morale and enthusiasm and application of children when they find their classmates and seniors in school unable to enter the workforce or forced to emigrate?
One of the pillars of the foundation of our Republic was that of cherishing all our children. Every time we fail in cherishing our children or hindering their ability to flourish we fail to realise one of the fundamental ideals of our nation.
Similarly, when we see that Jesus presented children as images and models of the kingdom then we realise that when children are harmed within the Church of Jesus Christ, we have failed to understand the message of Jesus and of the kingdom.
We are living in difficult times. Funds for education, like any other sector of society, will be more restricted. But it would be short sighted if not blind not to recognise that failure to educate is the path to failure for our future as a society and as an economy. Investment in education is investment in the primary resource for the future of our country: our children.
Education policy is too important to be left to just the experts much less to ideologues’ of any side. Society must constantly reflect on what education is about. We need spaces in which the broad questions about education can be reflected on by a broad community of interests. The recent Beatification of Cardinal John Henry Newman has stimulated reflection on education in such a broad context.
There are many specific questions which must be addressed in educational policy in the coming year. Consultation about the type of patronage system must continue and begin to produce results. But consultation is not a simple matter of a questionnaire.
People have to reflect on what the real options are before they can make decisions which will affect not just them and their children but also future generations.