Fee Paying Schools and Democracy: A Comment

This is a comment I left in response to an article on the Irish Times website today (well, I think it was today, but with that site’s new design it’s hard to tell) by Labour TD Aodhan Ó Riordáin titled ‘Reducing State support for fee-paying schools is logical and equitable’.

Though I’m sure Aodhan Ó Riordáin will be portrayed by some as an amalgam of Stalin and Godzilla for calling for a reduction in State subvention in private schools he does not even touch on the fundamental issue here: why should the State be contributing toward private schools at all? The very fact that the State does so, as with similar arrangements in health services, illustrates that the State -despite the fact that it declares itself a democratic state- has no commitment to quality, universal, public-funded education for all, and does not treat education as ‘the great liberator’,  but rather as a commodity.

Most parents think deeply about their children’s education, not just those who send their children to private schools. It is just that for many, a lot of this thought goes toward how they can afford a new pair of school shoes or winter coat. Should they be congratulated for this, as Ó Riordáin suggests?

Meanwhile, Belvedere and other schools get lauded in this article for making access more inclusive, when such inclusivity is nothing more than a warmer, more variegated form of exclusivity, albeit one that helps obscure the icy cold matter of hard cash –who has it? who doesn’t?- that keeps exclusive private education afloat.

So there are different ways in which society can ‘value’ education, as Ó Riordáin puts it. On the one hand it can treat it as a commodity to be bought and sold or, on the other, it can treat it as an essential element of democratic life, in which the abilities and knowledge that people develop serve to address the human needs of their fellow citizens, in the interests of a flourishing life for all. The fact that the current Labour Minister for Education was, before taking office, Chair of the Fund Advisory Committee for  4th Level Ventures, a firm that sought to ‘commercialise the business opportunities that arise from university research’, is a fairly good indicator of what the government’s take is on all of this, and how they really value education.


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