23 SES 08 D, The Politics of School Knowledge
Historically, curriculum reform in Ireland has had a complex relation to the State, which since the establishment of the Republic in 1922 handed over the management of schools to various patrons (Walsh 2016). Thus any change in curriculum has to contend with the Catholic Church who is patron to 96% of primary schools. This means that teachers, even though they are paid by the state, are beholden to the religious ethos of the school, and by law are supposed to uphold the central role played by faith formation in the primary sector. It is against this background that this presentation explores the new proposals for Education for Religious Beliefs and Ethics curriculum at the primary level. The curriculum aims to create opportunities for religious literacy that more adequately meets the realities of an increasingly pluralist Ireland: one that is multi-religious, multi-cultural, and multi-lingual. Already heated debate has ensued, with Catholic Bishops coming out strongly against the curriculum, despite the involvement of recognised Catholic representation within its development. The curriculum addresses issues of cultural and religious pluralism through stories as well as through students’ life experiences. What is striking, however, is how religious beliefs and ethics are entwined, creating a view of ethics that is as always already part of a religious worldview. That is, the ‘and’ acts to join ‘religious beliefs’ to ‘ethics’ in such a way as to distort the depiction of what counts as ethical knowledge. This has the effect of side-lining philosophical approaches to life questions and dilemmas, and missing the question of plurality, which is the purpose behind the curriculum in the first place. Methodologically, I explore the language within the consultation document, along with available consultation feedback, within a philosophical framework built on the ethical philosophy of Emmanuel Levinas (1993) and drawing on feminist ethical perspectives of embodiment, discourse and narrative (Butler 2005; Cavarero 2000). Through these frameworks I analyse the documentation’s terms, categories and themes through 3 questions: 1. How does the ethical curriculum respond to questions of pluralism? 2. To what degree is ethics a lived embodied experience? 3. How do stories of worldviews contribute to an ethical sensibility? In conclusion, the presentation addresses how curriculum knowledge itself embodies an orientation to the other and to what degree the specific formation of knowledge in the new Education for Religious Beliefs and Ethics actually furthers this orientation.
Butler, J. (2005) Giving an Account of Oneself. New York: Fordham University Press. Cavarero, A. (2000) Relating Narratives: Storytelling and Selfhood. London: Routledge. Levinas, E. (1993) Otherwise than Being, Or Beyond Essence. Pittsburgh: Duquesne University Press Walsh, T. (2016) ‘100 years of primary curriculum development and implementation in Ireland: a tale of a swinging pendulum’. Irish Educational Studies, on-line pp. 1-16. http://dx.doi.org/10.1080/03323315.2016.1147975
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