Book Learnin’

By way of celebrating St. Patrick’s Day, I reviewed Kevin Myers’ memoir of the Northern Ireland troubles, Watching the Door, for Taki’s Magazine. (Review not yet posted.)

I noticed the following curiosity on p.159, though I didn’t include it in my review.

Within the Protestant folklore [i.e. of working-class Northern Ireland] Catholics were immigrants from backward, southern Ireland …  into Protestant Ulster. Catholics didn’t keep their word, and were lazy and ignorant; and indeed there were elements of truth in the broadstroke mythologies.

For there was a dysfunctional quality to Catholic education. Catholic schools did not teach engineering, metalwork, or mechanical drawing — and this in an economy which had been traditionally based on engineering. So, if a business was looking for a fifteen-year-old apprentice, which would it choose — the little Catholic lad with his Latin, or the Protestant boy with an entire array of technical skills?

To be sure, there was little enough evidence that engineering firms were thirsting to give jobs to Catholics: but the Catholic educational system actually made discrimination against Catholics wiser to implement. For Catholic schools had their eyes on the professions: low achievement for the unscholarly was a pathological norm within Catholic working-class society. One can loathe [Provisional IRA terrorist commanders] Martin McGuiness and Gerry Adams and their deeds, yet at the same time recognize that they are men of extraordinary intelligence and talent. Both left school without a single qualification, McGuinness to become an apprentice butcher, Adams to become a barman.

This prompted a number of thoughts. There is, for example, the broad educational issue probed in Charles Murray’s recent book Real Education, about the overly academic emphasis of current U.S. public education, with its implicit assumption that every student is headed for law school — what Steve Sailer calls the “Yale or jail” approach. My son’s school has no shop classes.  This seems to be the same educational problem Myers is talking about.

Then I got to wondering if this a true thing about Catholic education in general. I have no clue, but perhaps readers with an experience of parochial education in the U.S. might offer opinions. It does seem to be broadly true, in my experience anyway, that there’s a sort of nit-picking argumentativeness that you find much more in well-educated Catholics than in others. Do Catholic educators spend so much time hammering grand metaphysical schemas into their students’ heads — the blessed Aristotle, the sainted Aquinas, and the rest — and training them in arguments they can use to confound heretics and unbelievers, they have no time for anything practical? It fits with the general high quality of Catholic intellectuals (assuming you like intellectuals …), but I’m really just curious to hear opinions.

Kevin Myers is himself Irish-Catholic, by the way, though he was raised in England.

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