What is the heart of education? One photograph, over the past week, said it all for me. It was the picture of more than 50 parents camping out for up to two days to get their daughters into the Presentation Secondary School in Tralee, Co. Kerry.
The all-girls’ school is clearly such a beacon of success that parents are prepared to camp out in the cold to obtain a school place for their children. (And the early birds were mostly rewarded: the school’s principal, Sheila Pontillo said that parents who turned up early on the day of enrolment had a good chance of securing a place for their child.)
There are many discourses today on the function of education. It is often said that education is to benefit the best standards in society — see how the countries with the highest educational achievements (China, Korea, Vietnam, Finland) produce a highly educated workforce.
It is often suggested that education should be a motor for equality in society. Many well-meaning people passionately believe this, and indeed think that private schools should be undermined or even dismantled in order to serve the purpose of social egalitarianism.
Dedicated teachers believe that education — from the Latin verb educare (to draw out) — should essentially develop the human person. An admirable view and a worthy aim.
But the picture of those parents queuing up in the cold trumps it all.
The most passionate driver of education will always be the motivated parent who knows that it is his or her duty to struggle to provide the best schooling possible for their offspring, in knowledge, in formation, in character and within the context of a moral compass.
The candidates for Presentation School in Tralee are lucky children (and infants — some still under one).
They have good and dutiful parents, willing to endure a little hardship for their children’s sake. That’s education.
And what a tribute, too, to the legacy of Nano Nagle, founder of the Presentation Order in 1757.
For all his unorthodox style, I’ve always thought there remains a lot of the Blackrock boy in Bob Geldof.
And now he’s proving to be quite the stern paterfamilias with his 22-year-old daughter Peaches, who is expecting a baby with her 20-year-old fiancé Thomas Cohen.
When Peaches informed her dad she was five months pregnant, he told her (A) she should get married; (B) that the couple should ‘never break up’ and; (C) they should make their child happy.
And grandfather-to-be Geldof is spot-on. Of course the young couple must marry — it is by far the best start in life for their child. And indeed they must try never to break up. And they must focus on their child’s care.
Even if a marriage is not successful in the end — Geldof’s marriage to Paula Yates ended in failure — it is still better to try and make a go of it. Deep down, Bob knows what’s right.
Perhaps he might even marry his own long-term girlfriend, now that he’s 60 and preparing for the grand-daddy role.
The views of Sean Lemass
It has been reported that the late Taoiseach Sean Lemass held ‘racist’ and ‘anti-feminist’ views.
This is according to a former Dublin hotelier, Dermot Ryan, who has 48 hours of taped interviews with Mr Lemass — although no exact details of the ‘racist’ or ‘anti-feminist’ views were given.
It is wrong and unjust to judge the social values of a former era by the political correctness of our time.
Sean Lemass, born in 1899, grew up in a different world, and led a hard life as a teenager, actively fighting in the War of Independence, and witnessing the execution of his brother Noel in the Civil War.
During his lifetime — he died in 1971 — certain phrases and attitudes were part of the culture of the time.
Women were expected to show a certain decorum, and not act ‘mannishly’. It was common to use nicknames we would now think of as rude for people of other races — wops, wogs, frogs, micks, krauts and kikes were heard. My mother had an adored pet dog called ‘Ni**er’.
But ”by their fruits ye shall know them”. Lemass was an honourable man: he learned and grew in political office: he ensured that Ireland had sufficient food-stuffs, fairly rationed, during the 1939-45 war: he was financially straight and worked to alleviate the poverty that had too long dogged Ireland’s economy in the 1940s and 50s.
It seems mean-spirited to attribute either racist or anti-feminist views to a person who belonged to a different period.
After all, what social sins will future generations pin on us? Depend upon it: in 50 years time we will be accused of such heinous crimes as using plastic, driving private cars or eating meat.