Last week, I was listening to my OH’s mother’s stories from her childhood. This is a woman who grew up in rural Leitrim in a time of radio and long drop toilets. She was recalling how people would call to her family home during the evening time and tell stories and share gossip. These visits of course generated their own stories. Inevitably perhaps, there was a little conversation about the decline of domestic story telling and the rise of the television. Which got me thinking: how do neighbourly concerns and stories get folded into national concerns? I mean it is not as if our everyday experiences are spatially or temporally nested like Matryoshka dolls, the local into the regional, the national and international. Briefly, where exactly do anecdotes about Jimmy Frank’s outdoor toilet cease to have a relevance? I inarticulately introduced this into a later conversation with OH but I needed to keep my eye on the road.
On Tuesday morning last, the report of the Advisory Group to the Forum on Patronage and Pluralism in the Primary Sector was released. Aside from it being a nice little headline-earner for Quinn as he attended the INTO annual conference, it is not an insignificant report. Certainly in the first twenty pages or so, the Group’s overview of the development of primary education in Ireland threw up some surprises, to me. For example, religious ethos being distributed across the school curriculum came only in political moves of the late 1960s: a certain consolidation by the Catholic bishops in the face of seeming momentous alterations in the political landscape.
As is stated in the text above, such a development represents a “significant change” in a few different things. Change is a repeated theme in the first section of the report. On a simple accounting, the word ‘change’ appears 93 times in the document.
The changed character of the population is evidenced in Section II of this Report. p.1
The cultivation of trust and confidence in the process of transition is important so that people can understand the rationale for change and the values for the common good… p.3
Regarding the administration of primary schools a striking feature of the political changeover was the lack of change, and the continuity of the inherited tradition of primary schooling. p.10
No significant policy changes affecting Irish primary education took place thereafter until the 1960s. The sixties was a period of significant political, economic, social, cultural and demographic change. p.13
You get the idea. What strikes me on reading this first part of a very well written document is the notion of change as being symbolic to the stories we all tell collectively or, in the content of primary educational policy, ‘nationally’. Change in Ireland, like Obama’s 2008 Hope, is reserved for some elements of political life in Ireland. A change in policy to favour land speculation is not considered Change although it represents one of the turning points of our recent history. Under what conditions does Change happen in Ireland and most particularly where does it happen?
Change in this sense is too static a conception of how we notice things being one way and then becoming another way, over time. Change for the Advisory Group is a grab bag of assumptions which occludes the lived reality of people’s everyday life where symbolic and actual violence was evident. There is a story in Ireland about how Change occurred in the 1960s and 1970s: where women bought condoms and brought them to Dublin on a train, where telephones became more widely available in homes and Phil Lynott came from London a hero. In this narrative, change occurs on many scales and in different places at different times, e.g. Leitrim is temporally ‘behind’ Mount Merrion. Places coexist but differentially access something called Change, because where ‘we are now’ is the achieved terminus of progress. I might call this a Reeling In The Years phenomenon. It is not as if people in these places wake up and say to themselves “that new measure that Maurice O’Doherty read on the news last night? That’s going to change things from today!” This is a really difficult narrative to employ when talking about changes to primary provision in Ireland or how a Change in religious practice occurs over time.
What is this Change? Can you yet tell that I’m struggling with this?