Friday, September 21, 2012

David Quinn: Minister causing mischief?

The Irish minister for education Ruairi Quinn suggested last week that less time be spent on teaching religion and Irish in Irish schools. David Quinn of the Iota Institute is not impressed :

Education Minister Ruairi Quinn has made similar points in the past. Last year, commenting on figures indicating that literacy and numeracy levels among Irish pupils have fallen, he suggested one answer was to spend less school time preparing children in second class and sixth class for First Holy Communion and Confirmation.
He did, however, allow that religious education still has a place in Irish schools.[Link]

David Quinn somewhat reasonably points out that religious teaching did not cause this decline because "if the time spent teaching religion is the culprit, then literacy and numeracy levels should have been lower in the past as well."

But in the quote we are given, the minister did not claim religious and Irish language education are directly responsibly for the decline. He only suggested that to improve mathematics and science, we should, well, spend more time on teaching maths and science.

 In fact, by blaming RE so readily, without investigating other possible causes, the critics are merely showing they are prejudiced. In other words, they are being unreasonable and unscientific. Or to put it another way, they are not being led by evidence.
That is rather ironic given that they are attacking the teaching of RE in the name of science.[Link]

Who are these critics and where do they claim RE is directly causing this decline ? David Quinn does not say. He switched from specific comments by the minister to alleged comments by unnamed critics, damning the minister by association.

Of course RE represents an opportunity cost : If we spend time teaching RE, then this is time we cannot spend teaching another subject.  This is quite different from claiming RE has a direct causal link with declining standards. David Quinn happily knocks down the straw man of the latter.

We are then treated to a lecture on the virtues of faith run schools :

In the UK, for example, official Government studies have found that Church-run schools typically outperform State-run schools, and it's not because they cherry-pick students. In fact, Catholic schools in England have a higher percentage of children from non-English-speaking backgrounds than State-run schools do.
The result is that parents are queuing up to get their children into those schools. None of those parents have the slightest fear that, because Church-run schools devote quite a lot of time to religion (surprise, surprise), their children will emerge at the other end less literate and numerate than the norm. They know the opposite is likely to happen.
This is the gigantic fact the critics of RE in schools need to explain away. They won't be able to.[Link]

 But David Quinn does not explain why religious education is responsible for higher results. Perhaps devoting less time to RE, will produce even more favorable results and the differences between state and religious run schools is due to factors such as demographics and resources.

David Quinn has not learnt that correlation does not equal causation.
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