If the Education System had a stand outside a Shopping Centre

Simon Lewis
4 min readMar 31, 2024
Generated in Canva

I was walking into Carlow Town centre on a Bank Holiday with my son after parking in a local shopping centre. As we turned the corner, a very friendly woman stopped us. She was holding two books — one was for me and the other was for my son. She asked me whether I was ready to accept God’s love.

The book was already in my hand as I assessed what I’d walked into and it was a very happy scene indeed. There were approximately thirty people from a Christian church there. There was happy music coming from an amplifier with lively Christian music and there were children and adults dancing to it. There were two tables — one filled with Christian books and one with crayons, colouring pages and jugs of cordial. Some children were sitting at the table, chatting and colouring. Some of the adults were there to give out the books. It was a happy place to be. I imagined if I was part of that church, I would have been having a nice time.

However, I don’t believe in the god that they worship so I thanked the women but told her that we weren’t a religious family. I’m sure most people have experienced the same scenario if they’ve ever tried to walk through an “evangelisation station.” The woman looked disappointedly at me and told me that I will feel the love of god if I took her book. I tried again to explain that I don’t believe in god but I was very happy for her to have her beliefs. This wasn’t good enough for her and she begged me to just take the book. I didn’t want to be rude so I took the book, which seemed to be enough to please her.

As I walked into town with my son, I asked him what he thought of what had transpired. He wondered why she wouldn’t accept that we aren’t religious and why she made us take the book, even though she must have known we were probably going to throw it away. (We put it in the first recycling bin we walked by.) I tried to explain that I didn’t want to cause any fuss because the woman and all of her community really believe in their message, and I didn’t want to upset them. After all, they weren’t doing any harm and we could easily walk away.

It got me thinking of a non-Catholic family in a Catholic school and how the scene we experienced was a mirror. Most non-Catholic families are given a “book” in the form of their Admission’s Policy. Every denominational school’s policy states:

[SCHOOL NAME] is a school whose objective is to provide education in an environment which promotes certain religious values and does not discriminate where it refuses to admit as a student a person who is not [RELIGION] and it is proved that the refusal is essential to maintain the ethos of the school.

In other words, you are welcome in our school as long as you don’t try to undermine our religious ethos. There is no definition as to how one can fulfil this undermining. This leaves it loose enough to be open to any form of interpretation, leaving a Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell system where nobody knows where they stand so those who are not part of the system take no risks and those within the system hold enough cards to remain part of it.

Once in the school, the child is left with little choice but to essentially experience the equivalent of the evangelisation station. They sit at the back of the classroom while the rest of the community sing, dance, pray and learn how wonderful God’s love is. Like me, their family don’t want to upset the teacher who is teaching the children these messages, they don’t want to cause a fuss, and they certainly don’t want to undermine the ethos. However, while my son and I were able to walk away and throw the book into a bin, that’s not the case for children in denominational schools. They have to go into the evangelisation station every school day of their lives for eight years.

Many parents will remain polite for the entire time and try and unteach the lessons being taught in schools. Many who may have been raised themselves in the faith of the school will shrug and feel it caused no harm to them so, on balance, their child will be fine. Many will be absolutely fine with their child sitting at the back of the class doing something else. Some will complain and suffer the indignation of being told they signed up to the school’s ethos. However, most often, even the most atheistic will join the community. After all, they reason, it is better not to be left out. Like me, they take the book. Unlike me, they don’t throw it into the nearest bin. They seem happy enough to hold on to it until their child finishes 6th class.



Simon Lewis

Primary school principal, podcaster and poet. 👨🏼‍🏫 Writes about the Irish primary education system. Tweets from @simonmlewis