Guidelines for Involvement  of Edmund Rice Schools in Advocacy Actions

The Call to Justice in Catholic Life

To ‘act justly’ is fundamental to living the Christian life. However the call to justice goes beyond living one’s own life in a just way; there is also a call to contribute to the bringing about of the reign of God.

In ‘Justice in the World’, a landmark statement issued by the Synod of Bishops meeting in Rome in 1971, we read:
“Action on behalf of justice and participation in the transformation of the world fully appeared to us as a constitutive dimension of the preaching of the Gospel.” [1]

Education for Justice in Catholic Schools

By its very nature the Catholic school is part of the evangelizing mission of the Church. This mission informs how we understand
the ethos of a Catholic school. In this regard the Congregation for Catholic Education has stated: [2]

“Since it is motivated by the Christian ideal, the Catholic school is particularly sensitive to the call from every part of the world for a more just society, and it tries to make its own contribution towards it.” [3]

The involvement of schools in advocacy actions that promote social justice is specifically encouraged by the Church:

“Therefore a Catholic school should be sensitive to and help to promulgate Church appeals for peace, justice, freedom, progress
for all peoples and assistance for countries in need. And it should not ignore similar appeals coming from recognized international organizations such as UNESCO and the United Nations.”[4]

“The defence of children’s rights is another particularly important challenge… persons involved in the educational mission have the inescapable duty to devote themselves to the protection and promotion of children’s rights. The concrete contributions that they can make both as individuals and as an educational institution will probably be insufficient with respect to the needs, but not useless, inasmuch as aimed at making known the roots from which the abuses derive.”[5]

 

Action for Social Justice in Edmund Rice Schools

As Catholic schools, Edmund Rice schools recognise that justice and education for justice hold an important place in the curriculum. The charters of Edmund Rice education trusts espouse a philosophy of education that explicitly acknowledges the educational value of developing students’ critical thinking in relation to social justice issues:

“The curriculum and activities of the school enable students to experience and value a critical awareness of social justice issues.
The school provides opportunities for each member to be active in identifying and alleviating forms of injustice in and beyond the school community. Networks of solidarity, within and beyond the school, are encouraged in the seeking of justice for all within the community.“[6]

“The concerns of women, the welfare of indigenous peoples, the alienation of some youth, the oppressed and starving poor, a sustainable planet, the inadequacy of educational opportunities for many and the injustice in political systems are just some of the new starting points for the explication of our approach to God (Theology) and our contemporary understanding of Christology, Ecclesiology and Missiology.“ [7]

“An awareness of social issues and action for social justice permeate the entire curriculum of the Edmund Rice School. A concern for social justice cannot be divorced from a concern for ecological justice. Environmental and justice issues are intertwined in how humans are called to relate to God’s creation. Major challenges face humanity, including environmental degradation, limits to material resources, and threats to biodiversity. The Edmund Rice School encourages the whole school community to work for social and ecological justice in the school and in society generally.“[8]

Human Rights Education

The importance of education in promoting good global citizenship is recognized by the governments of all the member states of the United Nations:

” Education shall be directed to the full development of the human personality and to the strengthening of respect for human rights and fundamental freedoms. It shall promote understanding, tolerance and friendship among all nations, racial or religious groups, and shall further the activities of the United Nations for the maintenance of peace. ”[9]

What is Advocacy?

“Speak up for those who cannot speak for themselves, for the rights of all who are destitute. Speak up and judge fairly, defend the rights of the poor and the needy.” – Proverbs 31:8-9

Engaging in advocacy is a way of acting on behalf of justice and of participating in the transformation of the world. Espousing the cause of the most vulnerable in society, being a prophetic voice speaking out against injustice and promoting more just social structures lies at the heart of the Christian moral and ethical tradition.

Advocacy actions in relation to social issues seeks to address the causes of injustice, oppression and abuse – by challenging the
underlying issues. It can be defined as ‘speaking out about issues of public policy that cause injustice, oppression and abuse’.

Guidelines for the Involvement of Students

The encouragement of students to engage in advocacy actions could be potentially controversial for schools and therefore should
be undertaken with prudence.

The following guidelines are suggested for the engagement in advocacy by Edmund Rice Schools:
– the fundamental educational rationale for encouraging students to engage in advocacy is the education of the students in their responsibilities as global citizens and members of the church.
– the issue selected and the specific advocacy position adopted which students are encouraged to support should, as far as possible, be consistent with the official Catholic positions as articulated by Vatican Congregations, Diocesan Justice Commissions and organizations such as Caritas, Trocaire, CAFOD, etc.
– the promotion of a specific advocacy campaign in the schools should seek and receive the endorsement of the relevant legal education authority with responsibility for the relevant school network (EREA, ERST, etc).
– any encouragement for students to engage in advocacy should be accompanied and supported by curricular and extra-curricular education on the issue, and where appropriate, permission obtained from parents for students to participate.
– the individual freedom of the student to participate or not in any advocacy action must always be respected.
– any action involving advocacy ought be appropriate, relevant and adapted to the student’s age and level of understanding.

Role of Edmund Rice International

Through the appropriate legal education authority responsible for the schools, Edmund Rice International will continue to draw the attention of Edmund Rice Schools to international campaigns it has endorsed.

In order to encourage participation in such campaigns, Edmund Rice International will endeavour, as far as possible, to make educational resources available to teachers to assist them in promoting student involvement in advocacy. This will normally take place in collaboration with the relevant education support service of the specific education trust involved. Edmund Rice about advocacy to members of the Edmund Rice Network through its publications, websites and online courses of study.

ERI has also encouraged schools to appoint an ERI Youth Ambassador whose role is to share information about what initiatives each school is undertaking in regard to justice and advocacy via a Facebook group.

[1] ‘Justice in the World’, Synod of Bishops, Rome, #19
[2] Congregation for Catholic Education “The Catholic School on the Threshold of the Third Millennium”
(1997)
[3] Congregation for Catholic Education “The Catholic School” #58. (1977);
[4] Congregation for Catholic Education “The Religious Dimension of Education in a Catholic School” #45
(1988)
[5] Congregation for Catholic Education “Consecrated Persons and their Mission in Schools. Reflections
and Guidelines” #74 (2002)
[6] Edmund Rice Education Australia “The Charter. A Proclamation of an authentic expression of Edmund
Rice Education as applied to Catholic Schools in the Edmund Rice Tradition” (2008)
[7] Edmund Rice Education Australia ”Foundations for Schools Ministry as Church Mission” (2008)
[8] Charter of Edmund Rice Schools Trust, Ireland
[9] Article 26.2 of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights