A tale of two young groups

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Picture by Sinn Fein

Two sets of young people, both the victims of circumstances.  There were those young Irish people In Berkeley, California, out on a J1 visa, who lost their lives or were seriously injured in that ghastly balcony collapse earlier in the week. There are few flights as awful as that which you know will end with confronting the dead or mutilated body of a loved one. The New York Times proved that you don’t have to be stupid to be stupid by publishing an article which talked about the issue of J1s as “an embarrassment” for Ireland and how it was  “marked by a series of high-profile episodes involving drunken partying and the wrecking of apartments in places like San Francisco and Santa Barbara.” Well done, NY Times. Stay classy.

The other group of young people are Protestant boys, who as you probably know do very poorly academically – according to a report put together by Dr John Kyle of the PUP and others, they’re one of the most academically deprived groups in Europe. The report calls, among other things, for the abolition of academic selection to secondary schools. How refreshing, to hear a PUP spokesperson taking the same line as the Catholic bishops. And what an implicit condemnation of the social consciences of those who insist on maintaining the grammar school system, both Catholic and Protestant. Young Protestant boys are simply the most visible and spectacular of the many educational problems created by academic selection. In effect, academic selection says “I’m all right, Jack, the hell with you”. Whether this study will do anything to change that attitude within Protestant/unionist ranks remains to be seen. Judging by the Catholic/nationalist response to the Department of Education’s drive to end selection, they’ll have a  serious fight on their hands. There are few schools that cling to tradition like State/Protestant/unionist grammar schools.

But of course the boys themselves have a part to play. The students who died on that Californian balcony were in the US to earn some money to help cover  third-level study costs. They didn’t roll their eyes and give up, third-level study is not for me, nothing I can do, dice loaded against me. Likewise young Protestant boys, supported by their parents, need to break out of the cycle of fatalism that says, with the changes in society and the absence of ready jobs for young Protestant men, the best we can hope for is a bit of rioting in protest at the destruction of our culture.

.I’m not much given to hyperbole but here’s one: education, when it’s proper education, changes everything. It changes your chances of getting a decent and interesting job, it changes your narrow vision of the world, it encourages you to look beyond parochial horizons and do some thinking for  yourself. That’s what the young people tragically killed in California were on the brink of experiencing; and that’s what young Protestant (and Catholic) boys – and girls – deserve as a right. Hats off to Dr John Kyle and his multi-party group for producing this report. Even if we knew what it would say before the first word was written.

10 Responses to A tale of two young groups

  1. Bridget Cairns June 18, 2015 at 9:16 am #

    Whilst I agree that an education is easy to carry, I am not sure you can draw a parallel between these two groups as the one thing obvious to me is that the students in Berkeley, (may they rest in peace) and the disadvantaged youth in Belfast are from totally different social classes. I am sure that young middle class Protestant men go abroad for the same reasons as these students from Dublin did. We can be proud of our young men and women who access higher level education but we must acknowledge, as academic selection, as you have suggested can be a disadvantage to less affluent young people.

  2. Iolar June 18, 2015 at 9:24 am #

    A tale of two cities

    “The students who died on that Californian balcony were in the US to earn some money to help cover third-level study costs…”

    The brightest and most capable people in Ireland are left with no choice other than to make a living for themselves in various countries throughout the world In the north of Ireland, elected representatives discuss ‘fantasy budgets’ and ‘flegs’. Some others, the product of educational underachievement, engage in extra curricular painting in the evenings. The PSNI appear to approve of some aspects of kerb crawling in Belfast.

    “Being born in a stable does not make one a horse”

    The above quote is attributed to Arthur Wesley, Duke of Wellington, born in Dublin in early May 1769. In 1798, his aristocratic Anglo-Irish family changed their name to Wellesley.
    Taoiseach Enda Kenny attended a commemorative banquet to mark the 200th anniversary of the Battle of Waterloo on 17 June 2015. Although a staunch conservative and defender of the Protestant ascendancy in Ireland, Wellington was instrumental in the granting of Catholic Emancipation in 1829. He was British prime minister at the time and convinced King George IV to give his consent for Catholic Emancipation.

    Recent studies have suggested about one-third of the Duke of Wellington’s army was composed of Irishmen and references to the ‘fighting Irish’ continue, fixed in perpetuity, fighting for some Royal household or other vested interest, in some other country.

    However, there is another battle raging in Dublin at the present time.
    Clery’s store in Dublin was quietly split into two parts in 2013, a property company, which owns the building, and an operating entity, which ran the store. The operating business was sold to specialist insolvency practitioners in the UK for €1 who petitioned the High Court to appoint liquidators. The petition was granted and the liquidators moved in to Clerys to inform staff and concession holders that there was no money in the kitty and the business would close with immediate effect. A Boston company is reported to have sold Clerys for €29 million, almost double the €15 million it paid Bank of Ireland in 2012 to secure control of the business. It has made a handsome profit from its three years in charge and the workers have met their Waterloo.

    • Am Ghobsmacht June 20, 2015 at 5:55 am #


      Just a heads-up;
      Though I can’t confirm this just yet (need a bit more research) I’ve heard from fairly reliable sources that the ‘born in a stable’ comment has been subject to the great Irish historical myth-making machine and was not actually from Wellington himself.

      Rather it was attributed to Daniel O’Connell who was speaking OF Wellesley when asked a question that inferred that both O’Connell and the Iron Duke were Irishmen.

      O’Connell was seemingly not happy to include some members of Anglo-Irish society as Irishmen.

  3. Belfastdan June 18, 2015 at 1:01 pm #

    I come from a working class background, went to a secondary school and came ot the other end in 1975 with 2 ‘o’ levels; one of which was english and the other not very useful.
    I worked at whatever came along from making watchstraps to Delorean eventually ending up in the civil service where I have been for the past 30 plus years.
    Lack of paper qualifications never made me feel inferior to anyone, as in my time I have met many educated fools. The best education I got was in primary school which encouraged a love of reading and I was fortunate enough to always have books and newspapers in the house. I also made good use of the Falls Library.

    My wife came from a background that today would be described as being in deep poverty. Again she went to a secondary school but went on to get a degree. Like me despite her familys lack of money she had access to books and again she used the library.

    3 of our 4 children went to grammar schools and one to a secondary. The boy who went to the secondary worked hard got a trade and is doing very well. One child had to be removed from the grammar school but later did an access course went to university and is now doing a Phd.

    Of my other 2 children one is a nurse and one has an honours degree and is currently job hunting.

    Not one of our children was coached or tutored in any way, but they were encouraged to do their best at whatever they undertook and more importantly we were interested in whatever they were doing . They had access to books and were read to from when they were very young. I did not have to spend too much money as I got many books from charity shops and library sales.

    My point is that education and learning does not depend on academic selection or class background alone but is nutured in the home. How many parents read to their children or are they happy enough to set that child down in front of the TV? How many people would rather give their child a smartphone or tablet rather than buy books?

    If people want to send their children to grammar schools let them do so for that is their choice. We should be aiming to make all schools equally as good with a high quality and academically varied education available to all, but it is the attitude family that will ultimately determined how well or how badly a child will do in life.

    • Jude Collins June 18, 2015 at 3:49 pm #

      Well put, Bd – that about sums it up.

  4. Ryan June 18, 2015 at 4:24 pm #

    I was born in 1990, I grew up just off the Falls Road as the youngest of a 4 siblings in a single parent family. As is well known West Belfast is the most deprived area in the 6 counties and ranks in the top 5, I believe, of most deprived areas in the UK (the benefits of the Union, eh?).

    In my family education was always considered important. It was never shoved down our throats mind but we were expected to achieve at least a pass in most subjects, especially Maths, English and Science, so we stood a better chance of getting a good job. There seems to be a tradition amongst Catholics, especially in the North, that education was acknowledged for a long time to be a route out of poverty. I once heard the line, and I’m not sure that its true but it went like this: “Catholics have to be twice as educated as a Protestant in order to even stand a chance of getting a job”. Now that obviously refers to the period of discrimination against Catholics in jobs, housing, etc by the Unionist Government of Stormont. While on the other hand Protestants could’ve walked into jobs under the Unionist Government, in East Belfast the likes of the shipyards the workforce was overwhelmingly Protestant/Loyalist and the sectarianism and anti-Catholicism manifested there is still known and remembered even today long after the high days of the shipyards have passed.

    So what does this have to do with the situation we’re in today? Well some may disagree with me but I think the reasons Protestants don’t do well in education today isn’t because they are denied good education, good teachers, facilities, etc its because there’s a culture within the PUL community for so long that education wasn’t needed. They could’ve just walked into jobs, often at the expense of Catholics. Now that discrimination is over and the manufacturing base here is basically gone and we’re now moving towards an economy that requires its workforce to be highly educated there’s now suddenly an emphasis on education and not surprisingly the people with least respect/value for education are at the bottom of the heap while those who have had great regard for education for decades are at the top. (I’m referring to education tables).

    What needs to be done today, not only in education but in jobs, etc is that priority of resources should be allocated on the basis of who is most in need, not on the basis of community, religion, etc. So if West Belfast is most in need of jobs then it should get priority regardless of what religion the people have there. If East Belfast is most in need of resources to help its children do better at education then it should get priority, etc.

  5. paddykool June 18, 2015 at 5:29 pm #

    I too, like Belfast Dan’s take on it , Jude. Education is not something solely taught at school . My own father left school at fourteen to train as a bricklayer and stonemason. Being a mason wasn’t his whole persona of course .He also had a questing mind and and could quote Shakespeare and talk about any topic under the sun.He was an open- minded man and instilled that same questioning outlook in his children.I would call both him and my mother “wise”. The house was full of books and schooling was encouraged.The question I find myself asking here is not that some children are having trouble academically and therefore should be helped through schooling without a selection process of some sort…. but why those children should be Protestant children specifically. What is happening in Catholic households that is not happening in Protestant one .That is the question that nobody asked.

  6. George June 19, 2015 at 4:16 pm #

    I couldn’t agree more with Jude when he says “education, when it’s proper education, changes everything. It changes your chances of getting a decent and interesting job, it changes your narrow vision of the world, it encourages you to look beyond parochial horizons and do some thinking for yourself”. I could have written that statement about myself.

    However, where I differ with Jude is how we make that education available to everyone. Abolishing the grammar schools and academic selection is not the answer. Bringing all schools up to the standard of the grammar schools must be the right strategy. If we do that, everyone will have access to a quality education all schools will be equal and the grammars will no longer have a need to select.

    I grew up in a pretty hardline loyalist area, paraded in a “kick the pope band” went to the 11th night bonfires – all the usual activities that a protestant boy from a working class background got up to. But I had the opportunity to go to a grammar school because I fluked my 11 plus and gradually over time, my attitudes changed to many things.

    So I know from personal experience that education works. It certainly made me more tolerant and prepared to consider, for instance, that Nationalists and Republicans just might have had a legitimate historical grievance. That may seem like a small step to many but it’s a long way for me.

    However, as Belfastdan says “it is the attitude of family that will ultimately determine how well or how badly a child will do in life”. My parents were working class people but they didn’t have a chip on their shoulder about sending me to the “snobby” grammar school. They wanted me to go there, they were proud that I got there and they had aspirations for me. They didn’t quite know what those aspirations were but they just knew that they wanted me to “do well” in life.

    So, to my mind, the attitude of the family is everything. For many in our estate, although good people, they really didn’t seem to care where or how their children were educated. As Paddykool says, the real question here is “why”?

    I actually don’t think that Ryan is right when he says that Protestants don’t do as well in school because they felt they had a historic right to just walk into a job and Catholics realised that they needed to be educated more to rise out of poverty. I think it is more complicated than that.

    I have to say that young Catholics definitely do appear to be much more driven to do well in education than young Protestants. However, I think this drive primarily comes from the realisation, perhaps even on a subliminal level, that being educated will help them achieve political objectives and turn the political balance of power in their favour.

    Almost without exception, the Sinn Finn politicians appear very capable and adept. They seem like they have been “educated” – they run rings round the Unionists and young Catholics must want to be like them – they are role models. Protestants, in contrast, are not striving to achieve any major political objective that you need to be educated for. You certainly don’t need an A level for a flag protest.

    Until you give young Protestants and their families something that they can aspire to that is more appealing than a band parade or getting pissed in the Rangers club, underperformance amongst working class protestant boys will continue. They are disconnected and isolated and we would do well not to ignore them.

    • paddykool June 19, 2015 at 10:56 pm #

      Maybe George…It could be something to do with conservative attitudes about life, religion, politics…the kind of books or maybe lack of them…the musical likes…the attitudes to art…the conversation over dinner…all these things in the household that actually are different in individual households…that make the different attitudes to education.After all why do young protestants seem to be much more conservative and less forward thinking?…It has to come from the hearth surely?

  7. RJC June 22, 2015 at 4:29 pm #

    Anyone would think that the high heid yins of Unionism/Orangeism don’t want their electorate to be educated…