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Since the beginning of the 20th century, education has been one of the most important social institutions which help generations to transmit their knowledge and shared values. In Northern Ireland, the social doctrine of the educators illustrates most dramatically how the idea of extending popular education must have reconciled Irish democrats to middle-class conservatism. Sharing the political prejudices of the professional and business classes, the educators proposed to educate everyone for prosperity as well as citizenship. Hence it is logical to suppose that the idea of national education, fostered primarily by its professional spokesmen, helped to create a mood of popular acquiescence in the contemporary social order. Thesis In Northern Ireland, education helps to preserve unique national and religious values, educate children about social norms and traditions of the nation.
Education and Social Values
By 1940s, at least, farmers and industrial workers were pragmatically ready to accept education if its promise seemed real, and the educators worked to make it as real as possible. Not only did they offer to serve the whole public in all its different interests; it was in the nature of their enterprise that they would constantly discover new services (Mulholland, 2003). A religious conflict between Protestants and Roman Catholics unveils important of strong system of education and upbringing. For Irish community, because of the inadequacy of even the best kinds of schooling to overcome mounting social problems, it is possible to argue that the idea of national education the educators appealed to social consciousness.
The professional educators’ profession enabled them to speak for so much of Irish social thought. The rapid exhaustion of initiative from segregatory unionism left the field to those prepared to pursue an assimilatory path. Though powerful, even dominant, in civil society, this trend was seriously under-represented in the party. With admittedly copious exceptions, middle-class protestants in the late 1950s and early 1960s did largely accord to the assimilatory unionist model. They were self-confident, optimistic of improving communal relations, suspicious of protestant populism, in favor of British norms, hostile to Irish nationalism and Catholicism but willing to accommodate the reform of both (Tonge 2002).
The 1960s were a period of blurring boundaries in Northern Irish society. As we have seen this was only partially reflected in established political structures. It did create, however, an opportunity to remake the political landscape. The Northern Ireland Labour Party, the Liberal Party, and elements of the Civil Rights Movement all attempted to establish new political alignments on the basis of the apparent exhaustion of the old sectarian dichotomy. The most important experiment, however, was that attempted by Terence O’Neill. As Prime Minister from 1963 to 1969 he evolved an assimilatory strategy designed to foster a new pluralist culture based upon acceptance of the Union. This very process, however, threatened the political certainties of both catholic and protestant communities, and indeed challenged their self identities. In a familiar response, both sides reacted by reinforcing their boundaries (Mulholland, 2003). That Catholics were slower to respond in this way is obvious, and partially accounts for the dynamic of the period. But most striking in the longer view, certainly apparent by August 1969, was the fearful symmetry of both communities retreating into militant political segregation. In this situation, national education allows Irish people to preserve unique religious and national values followed by the society.
In Northern Ireland, there was a need for social and educational reform. It sometimes connoted knowledge of techniques of social reform, but more generally it consisted of collecting and disseminating vivid examples of the social effects of an industrial age in the hope they might stimulate a prudent charity (Mulholland, 2003). Acting out their sense of social responsibility, clergymen made their pulpits a source for miscellaneous sociological information, and beyond that encouraged their congregations to interest themselves in the actual conditions of the poorer classes of the community.
In this fashion the social gospel both built upon and reshaped the established Irish belief that popular education rightly employed would solve problems of social organization and social progress that had baffled other societies. True, the original impulse to educate probably stemmed from pastoral tradition rather than educational precedent (Tovey & Share 2003). Moreover, much of what the proponents of the social gospel wrote — their vocabulary as well as their social theology — derived from English clerical agitation, and it would be a mistake to attribute Christian doctrines to Irish invention. But neither the pastoral roots nor the British origins of the social gospel were so important as the fact that the developed doctrine sanctioned liberty and education as the chief vehicles of Christian social responsibility.
In common with other members of the Irish middle class, socially conscious clergymen visualized education as the necessary basis and instrument of urgent social reform. They turned to untrammeled popular education to achieve their social ends. But their very belief that the people as a whole might be educated to sponsor extensive social reforms served paradoxically to limit the specific reforms they demanded (Mulholland, 2003). Relying upon the national education of the people to secure justice, however, the state failed to grapple decisively with the social problems they described.
In other words, many people believed that national schooling based on religious traditions would not solve contemporary economic problems. Some other people were convinced that national education must precede and support his economic panacea. In Northern Ireland, there were two major elements in this belief (Tonge, 2002). On the one hand, people thought that education was necessary to overcome the political obstacles that the contemporary social system put in the way of reform. National education could not overcome poverty or secure social justice, but informal education must overcome popular apathy and popular ignorance so that the voters would adopt proper measures of reform. The only basis on which Irish could hope to achieve ultimate ends was to assume that somehow a higher spirit would spread among mankind, a spirit that would hold up the standard of duty in place of self-interest. Here a faith in religious conversion as well as a faith in secular education was necessary to support religious values (Mulholland, 2003).
In sum, for Irish people education has been one of the most important institutions which preserve national and religious values of the society. In the past fifty years such dramatic changes have occurred in national character that the old traditions have passed away into mild memory. New directions of thought and culture were combined with massive technological and communication revolutions. Irish community believed that education promoted a progressive and inclusive religion that supported social and economic development. Many politicians supported its core to backward Roman Catholicism and Irish nationalism. The main advantage of the Roman Catholic education was its acceptance of ‘religious liberty’. Irish education openly supported the right of Catholics and convinced that at heart the minority rejected political nationalism. The assimilatory approach to community relations was predicated on the core that Irish nationalism was an outdated and declining force.
Mulholland, M. (2003). Northern Ireland: A Very Short Introduction (Very Short Introductions). Oxford University Press, USA.
Tonge, Jonathan. (2002). Northern Ireland Conflict and Change (2nd ed.). Harlow, England: Pearson Education Limited.
Tovey, Hillary & Share, Perry. (2003). A sociology of Ireland (2nd ed.). Cambridge, Massachusetts: Harvard University Press.