Going to school a happier experience these days

By Fr Michael Commane - The Way I See It

Published 20/08/2016 | 00:00

When little five-year-old Seán heard he was going to the Aqua Dome in Killarney on Saturday with his Dad and siblings he got so excited, his exuberance made his aunt suggest, instead of going to the Aqua Dome they might make a trip to the school. Before she had the words out of her mouth he piped up, 'I love school'. Out of the mouths of babes...

How school has changed and all for the better. Yes, things go wrong, there's no perfection on earth but schooling in Ireland has improved beyond belief. That phrase 'in the good-old days' certainly did not apply to Irish schools. Corporal punishment was banned in Irish schools in 1982 and on a personal note I can say it was the best development in education in my years of teaching. There's hardly a person in the country over 40 who was not slapped in school and indeed many people will have been the victims of savage and cruel beatings. In some schools the 'privilege' of slapping rested with the dean of discipline.What barbarism.

The idea of physically punishing someone because she or he was not able to answer a question in sums or English sounds today so bizarre but that was the reality. Whatever about slapping someone for bad behaviour but it really was inappropriate to hit little people for not being able to add or spell. Is it any wonder so many people suffer from varying degrees of mental illness? School might well have been great for the bright and the well-behaved but a terrible torture for those who were weak and those students who found it difficult to behave in a way which pleased the teacher.

And all this was done in an Ireland that professed strong allegiance to Christianity, where the majority of the schools were run by religious congregations. It really is difficult to fathom. What's even more difficult to understand is how people can look back on that Ireland and see it as the halcyon days. It was anything but.

In preparing this piece, an elderly woman, who is mild in character, told me about teachers who were 'vicious' in school. Those schools and that time played a significant role in brutalising us and indeed helping make us submissive and frightened. Imagine learning a poem off by heart for the sole reason that you would not be hit if you could recite it. That can't have been healthy.

The good teachers never needed to slap pupils. They had the skills and talents to inspire her or his charges to want to learn the material that was being taught in the classroom.

Do you remember that horrible expression: 'children should be seen and not heard'? It sounds like some sort of opening line in a mission statement for bullies. How dare adults say such a thing about children. And we all took it on the chin.

It doesn't mean that everything is perfect these days. At least today a teacher cannot give vent to her or his anger by using physical force on a pupil. They can still use their tongue as a weapon but even with that, pupils and parents have far more recourse today when such things happen than they had in the past.

It's back to school next and guess what, little Seán will be in his element. And good luck to those getting their Leaving Cert results this week.

Wexford People

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