- 13 Dec 21
Simon Lewis shares his thoughts and experiences as part of 100 Voices: #AllAgainstRacism.
Principal of Educate Together School, Carlow Town
I identify as being white, Irish and male. But the one thing that makes me slightly less ‘the-same-as-everybody-else’ is that I’m from a Jewish background. Unfortunately, that has given me a few experiences where I’ve been racially abused based for my ethnicity.
More interesting to me, however, is that I’m almost 20 years in the game and I’m still the only primary school principal in the country from a different ethnicity that isn’t Christian. I find that very worrying.
I’m trying to do a bit of work to raise awareness of that issue; that there’s only ‘me’ in the principals division. In fact, never mind principals, there are very few teachers out there – and the very few teachers that are in the system are too afraid to speak out. I suppose, there is a possibility, legally, they can be disciplined for not following the ethos of the school.
One reason is that there are no role models – there’s no one to look to. The other is that any teacher of a different racial background ends up getting a huge amount of abuse online simply by existing. For example, Emer O’Neill – who was on RTÉ’s Home School Hub – she’s been on The Late Late Show talking about her experiences.
So what I, and a couple of others, are trying to do is to promote teaching as something that anyone can do, even if you’re not from the “right” background. But also to challenge the fact that it is far too difficult for people in minorities to get into teaching.
There are less than 10 teachers of colour in primary schools in the country. Why? Because the education system is predominantly denominational. It’s overwhelmingly Catholic. And the Irish language can be an issue, particularly for first generation migrants.
We have to question the things that are considered normal, or that we’ve been doing for a very long time. For example, a majority of people will go through the Catholic rites of passage like communions, confirmations etc in school. But the impact is that people that aren’t Catholic are effectively told “you’re not part of this.” That cannot be the right way to treat children.
Read Part 2 of 100 Voices: #AllAgainstRacism in the current issue of Hot Press:
Special thanks to the Irish Human Rights and Equality Commission for their support in this project.