On American shores, attending a private religious school is an expensive privilege.
Such schools only accept certain people and tuition per student easily eats up $5,000 or more a year. My daughter was briefly enrolled in a kindergarten at a classical Catholic school and although we were allowed in on the “Catholic rate” versus the extra $3,000 most non-Catholics were charged, the extras really added up. We’re talking uniforms, mandatory contributions to the school operating fund and required volunteer hours by the parent.
But what if the only school available to you was Catholic? That’s what NPR tried to describe in this broadcast:
In the U.S., parents who want to give their children a religious education have to pay for it for the most part. In Ireland, it's the opposite -- 92 percent of state schools are run by the Catholic Church. That's even though growing numbers of people in Ireland no longer identify as Catholic. And this is creating new tensions for parents trying to find schools for their kids. Miranda Kennedy has been digging into this from Dublin. ...
MIRANDA KENNEDY, BYLINE: Nikki Murphy is showing me around the small house she shares with her husband, Clem Brennan, and their two young children. She loves their neighborhood. … But when their older son Reuben turned 4, they discovered a problem with their neighborhood.
MURPHY: One huge obstacle is trying to get Reuben into school. Yeah, it's been horrendous.
KENNEDY: Nikki and Clem chose not to baptize their son. Four years later, they've discovered they were seriously limiting the schools he could attend. Almost all public schools in Ireland are run by the Catholic Church, and they're allowed to discriminate in their admissions policies to give preference to baptized Catholic children. A new measure in Parliament will force schools to be open about their admissions policies, but changing them is another matter.
I cannot imagine living in a situation where either your kid has to either be baptized a Catholic or do without school. (I’m sure Catholics could not imagine having to baptize their kid into a Protestant denomination to get schooling either, if that reality exists somewhere).
Ireland sure has an odd set-up but there are several things missing in this story. For instance, there are more folks living in Ireland than just disaffected Catholics. How does the country’s fast-growing Muslim population handle this? (Muslims, we learn from this Atlantic article, have 12,000 school-age children and actually appreciate the large number of single-sex schools in Ireland). And, by the way, Protestant schools are growing in Dublin like crazy although some say the growth isn't from disaffected Catholics as much as it's from people seeking a more rarified educational atmosphere.
So there is a question: Did this couple try to enter a Protestant school? If so, what happened?
Not exploring that basic question left a huge hole in this story.
Even more confusing was a quote from Jem O’Sullivan, the country’s education minister, about each religion being allowed to keep its own ethos. So maybe there is something in place for Muslims, Jews, Baha’is and so on, but we’re not told what that is. And I hate to nitpick on whomever did the transcript, but First Communion (which the transcript did not capitalize) is always upper case.
But the biggest hole in this report was the lack of comment from a Catholic educator.
Stop and think about that for a second. Do you think the country's church-run public school system has never before encountered parents such as Nikki and Clem? Did the reporter even seek out someone from the Catholic Church to comment? Or are we into a variant on Kellerism whereby the Catholic Church doesn't deserve to have a voice in this piece because it's the source of Ireland's priestly sex abuse crisis?
At the end of this story, we learn the reporter did the story with the help of a grant which means she wasn't on a tight deadline and could have rounded up more sources.
Please understand: I am not saying this couple doesn't have a problem. The comments below the story tell us that Irish citizens' taxes help support these schools, a factoid the story should have included. That would have built a better case for this couple; they have to pay for a school system they don't believe in plus said schools get to discriminate against unbaptized children.
But at least give both sides a voice in this story. At least explore how this situation affects a few other religious believers. Doing that kind of work is good journalism, last I heard.
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