Rule 68

Ireland has National Schools. The Wikipedia version:

In Ireland, a National school is a type of primary school that is financed directly by the State, but administered jointly by the State, a patron body, and local representatives.

I’m not sure what a “patron body” is or how it gets standing to administer state schools. The point I’m interested in though is that they’ve always been entangled with religion. Still Wikipedia –

National schools, established by the British Government with the Stanley Letter in 1831, were originally multi-denominational. The schools were controlled by a State body, the National Board of Education, with a six-member board consisting of two Roman Catholics, two Church of Ireland, and two Presbyterians.

Secularism, apparently, wasn’t an option.

Which brings us to Rule 68. Emma O Kelly reported for RTE a couple of years ago:

Comments by the head of the Catholic Schools Partnership at a conference today prompted me to look up the rules that govern the running of primary schools here.

They’re available online and they make for fascinating reading.

Published in 1965, its difficult to see many sections of the “Rules for National Schools” as anything other than an anachronism.

Even the language is from another era. Teachers and pupils for instance are always referred to as ‘he’. That is, apart from when the rules need to mention a female teacher or “mistress” as it calls them. For example the document states that Junior Infants boys should be taught “as a rule” by “a mistress” or by an “assistant mistress” as opposed to a male teacher. I wonder what was the reasoning behind that?

But its one rule above all the others that is now causing controversy. Rule 68 deals with religion in schools. The Forum on Patronage and Pluralism, which is due to publish its final report shortly, believes this rule need to be abolished entirely. The Department of Education agrees that it has to go.

What is Rule 68?

Of all the parts of a school curriculum Religious Instruction is by far the most important, as its subject-matter, God’s honour and service, includes the proper use of all man’s faculties, and affords the most powerful inducements to their proper use. Religious Instruction is, therefore, a fundamental part of the school course, and a religious spirit should inform and vivify the whole work of the school.

The teacher should constantly inculcate the practice of charity, justice, truth, purity, patience, temperance, obedience to lawful authority, and all the other moral virtues. In this way he will fulfil the primary duty of an educator, the moulding to perfect form of his pupils’ character, habituating them to observe, in their relations with God and with their neighbour, the laws which God, both directly through the dictates of natural reason and through Revelation, and indirectly through the ordinance of lawful authority, imposes on mankind.

It’s dreadful. It asserts and demands right at the outset the very worst thing about religion, which is the pretense that it’s not this world and our fellow human beings (and other animals and the planet we depend on) that matter, but One Top Guy who is absent and unavailable yet demanding and absolute. It makes obeisance and submission to this imaginary Boss the most important thing, shoving everything else into inferior status. It’s the great human perversity: declaring the imaginary to be the boss of the real. The “proper use” of all our faculties – it says all – is “God’s honour and service.” How revolting, how abject, how clueless, how dangerous.

The second paragraph quickly falls into the usual confusion, talking about moral virtues that in fact mostly make sense only in terms of what we owe to each other as opposed to what we (are claimed to) owe to “God.” It gets downright incoherent with “in their relations with God and with their neighbour” – as if there’s no tension between the two, as if they hadn’t just spelled out the tension themselves. Then after that they move comfortably into the normal fascism, where we have to obey “lawful authority” because god says so. Priests of course are more lawful authority even than cops, not to mention bishops and cardinals and popes.

And that rule is still in force.


  1. Pierce R. Butler says

    From the title, I expected this to bean example of Rule 34, only doubled.

    Allowing for the difference that it involves something at least twice as obscene as pornography, I was right.

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