Zapping Holyrood's little green men
Often the question is like the little puffs of mephitic air that swamps give out - noisy, a bit noisome, but regular. At a time, though, when Edinburgh promises to turn into a place of seigneurial presences, straining to present a cohesive vision of the future, and even mould it in their own images, the question "Should we keep Catholic schools?" takes on a little more significance than usual.
I have spent my teaching career within the denominational sector, from the day I was given a choice by Glasgow's Bath Street headquarters of a teaching post in one or other of two denominational junior secondary schools each set in a spectacularly blue riband slum, through to my current post. And it was my choice to do so.
Under no circumstances could I ever be called a man with a mission, but I must admit that I can become tired with these bouts and spasms of "let's get rid of Catholic schools" that turn up with all the regularity of meteor showers, periodicity of sunspots or quartan ague.
I have never been able to fathom out why a minority group in our Scottish society that makes such a fetish of priding itself on applying the homespun couthy values preached by Rabbie Burns braised on to that old-time socialist religion of live and let live, a man's a' man for a that, and we are all Jock Tamson's bairns, has such a blind spot about Catholic schools.
I can never grasp how a professedly tolerant Scotland that prides itself on how broad-minded and considerate it is to the viewpoints of others can tolerate the regular attacks on the schools of one of its minority groups. Why Catholic schools should close, why they are a blight on our educational landscape, why they are considered glowing bonfires of bigotry in an otherwise tolerant landscape, I cannot fathom, though I have certain suspicions.
A prime one is that the minority opinion cannot thole the fact that Catholic parents keep sending their children to Catholic schools. Their reasons why they continue are their business, even though opponents of Catholic schools may despise them for it, draw away the hems of their garments, sniff patronisingly, and think up a hundred reasons why such parents are wrong, misguided, irrational and unreflective.
In the expanding democratic state we profess to pride ourselves in, and to which Holyrood's political architects increasingly direct us, this kind of opposition is an anachronism, a misfit in the polity we are aspiring to, a new fascism that would force everyone into preconceived, preformed moulds.
Parents who send their children to Catholic schools will include among their reasons that they want their children to be exposed to a caring and moral atmosphere and to Christian values. Perhaps that is why they are dismissed out of hand.
Catholic teachers don't expect to be cutting edge wonder-workers, nor are they expected to wander corridors muttering "Bless you my child". What they do want is for the Christian beliefs, moral values, and overall attitudes they themselves do their best to hold to rub off on the children whose parents want them to attend Catholic schools. As simple, and as difficult as that. This is not an easy task in a society that has secularised itself, that professes to no belief, yet is prepared to believe anything that any huckster turns up with.
Now is a bad time for exterminators. The Scottish parliament and the new millennium need stability in order to set their mandates on the right path, even though the temptation is to go for a fresh start. In the educational field, the Catholic school provides a stable model. After all, the Catholic Church has 2,000 years of experience under its belt, and a mandate a little more permanent than Scotland's new parliament.