Cromwell is a remembered in Ireland for his brutality. Stories of Drogheda and Wexford would still send shivers down the spine of school children today. What probably is less know about Cromwell’s reign is his Rule of Saints. Each year the children in my class would laugh at the stringent measures he imposed upon his people – no dancing, no singing, no alcohol, no merriment and not even a Christmas. The bitter irony of the story today means that the joke is lost on the children. The stern restrictions he imposed resemble that of normal life in school’s today.
Our traditional woodwind instruments stand idle in children’s bags for another year as they are deemed as Covid tin weapons of mass destruction. Children sit in ‘pods’ unable to mix indoors with their peers in their classrooms. Indoor singing is strictly prohibited in fear that virus could mutate into another variant upon hearing the Fields of Athenry. A sneeze is like sending a shock wave through a classroom and a cough like an earthquake. Cold classroom eyes survey the phlegmy perpetrator and instinctively that child walks meekly to sanitise their already alcohol ridden hands. The harsh Arctic feeling that has taken hold in classrooms is not just only from winter winds blowing through our windows and doors but also from the lack warmth and compassion that comes through music, drama and dance all of which are impossible to conduct in an Irish classroom today.
This is having a detrimental impact on our children. The inability to freely socialise at school, the encroachment on their liberties and the stifling of the freedom of thought is and will continue to impact negatively on their future. Children are creatures of habit and the lessons we are teaching them today serve no benefit for what is yet to come.
Our school have reverted back to the Murder Machine that Pádraig Pearse compared the Irish Education system to in 1912. Our culture and our ethos are not at the heart of who are anymore. Our faceless, masked children sit rigidly without an outlet to express themselves. Their purpose in school is to stay safe, not to take risks, not to question authority and to subdue all their childhood spontaneities. Why are these primary school pupils being asked to sacrifice their childhood and their culture? As a society how long are we willing to allow this travesty go on? Is it when the numbers of ICU Covid patients go below 100? Or is it when the booster jab wins the fabled race against Omicron? Or is it when we flatten the curve? Or is it when we say enough is enough?
Cromwell would have looked fondly on our Irish Education system with its new found lust for authoritarianism and with a little bit of anti-Catholic sentiment thrown in for good measure. Unfortunately, our desire for compliance would suggest that we are more Puritan than protestor. Perhaps it’s time for our school leaders who share my concerns to examine our past in a hope to solve a problem from the present or else we will be as useful as O’Leary six feet under.
The author of this piece is a school principal in a school within the country