My father left school in 1929 at age 13. I completed my education with an engineering degree in 1987 at age 22. My son effectively left school in 2008 at age 13.

This represents a failure of the catholic school system to support me in bringing up my children, and indeed a failure of the Catholic Church to support catholic parents in the obligations it places upon them.

Why did this failure occur?

Catholic schools are well resourced, and the use of technology to improve learning outcomes in key learning areas is developing every day.

All the teachers in catholic schools are dedicated motivated, well intentioned, and well educated. Many are extremely experienced and skilled, and some are absolutely brilliant in identifying the learning needs of students and fulfilling them.

Why then did they fail so poorly with my son? How could such well resourced, well educated, well intentioned people produce a failure? Why was such negative synergy evident, that the result was less than the sum total of the parts? Why did the shortcomings and minor mistakes undo and destroy the hard work and excellent work of the majority? Why was his desire to learn destroyed?

There are two poisonous ideas which have no place in catholic schools and no place in 21st century schools.

The first is a punitive 19th century approach to education, entrenched in the policies and procedures of schools, and in the memories of many parents and teachers. This approach says “learn or you will be punished, and if that doesn’t make you learn you will be excluded from the school.” Or as one teacher said of another teacher “he’s the crime and punishment man, and the worst crime is not learning”.

Education, like our faith can only be taught by gentle invitation, not imposed from above under threat of punishment and condemnation.

Plato said “Knowledge gained under compulsion has no hold on the mind”.

The punitive approach to education is not compatible with the teachings of the gospel. There is a view that better results can be achieved by punishing and condemning low performers. This is an insult to the dedicated, skilled and expert teachers who understand that their main role is to help every child appreciate and use their own unique learning style as best they can. They show every child that school can be a place of hope with a positive vision for their future.

It is time to remove punitive approaches to education from catholic schools.

The second poisonous idea is a new academic rationalism which demands performance above all else. A child’s value as a human being is measured by how well they assist the school to achieve its academic performance goals. Parents are encouraged to value their child by their position in class, and the marks they produce. This notion is propagated by pushy parents, funding fears, viewing school as a competition and focus on assessment instead of learning. Production of acceptable marks becomes more important than Christian or educational principles.

It may be good business, but it is poor education and unchristian.

It may be that I am a lousy parent of unmotivated, ungifted and untalented children. These are the children which God has blessed me with; I have no others to offer.

Yet I often feel that I am asked to supply a child that is suitable for the school. I would like the school to supply a learning environment suitable for my each of my children. I would like the school to be able to discern the learning needs of my child, and to be able to communicate this information to all teachers who are involved in their education. It is left to individual teachers to do this, some do it well, others struggle with it, but every new teacher has to reinvent the wheel. Why can’t they just talk to each other?

Principals and co-ordinators are under incredible pressure to promote the school image to “compete in the marketplace”. This is not a catholic ideal.

They should be working to understand my children’s learning needs rather than trying to market the school to attract better students. I find this vaguely offensive.

My son’s experience is that catholic schools are only for the clever and the beautiful and the devil take the rest.

Let’s make sure every child’s journey is valued as sacred and unique.


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