Friday 23 February 2018

Diary of a schoolteacher: What do they know of Ireland who only Ireland know?

E Grade

Transition Year in our school isn't just all about windsurfing on the west coast and meeting people who used to own an Austin Cambridge while doing work experience in old folks' homes.

We teachers are still meant to teach the kids something akin to, but not too like, the usual stuff on the curriculum.

When you look at it, the Junior Cert and Leaving Cert curriculum is a pretty sharp tool that tends to cut out a lot of material that has been deemed extraneous to Irish culture, and traditionally education has been a handy means for generations of politicians to shape and define 'Irishness'.

This has resulted in schools being used as a petri-dish to artificially keep alive the Irish language when, let's face it, it's hardly used outside.

Still, it's our language and even though it's full of irony, if we don't teach it and learn it, then we stand to lose something unique.

What bothers me is that some of the kids in my school don't value what is unfamiliar or foreign to them.

This reductionist tendency ensures that our curriculum is ever more Irish, meaning that in my opinion, Irish people are becoming ever more insular.

Even in my school we have a geography teacher who thinks the Urals are an STD, a history teacher who thinks Hindenburg is a German beer, and then there is meathead former rugger bugger Mr Kurt Moobs who on hearing The Smiths in a café last week asked me if they were Planxty or Horslips.

All this leads to kids who go on a week's holiday to a Mediterranean resort and don't know or even care which country they were in when I ask them.

Most importantly let's not forget the non-plussed Eastern European and Asian kids who, along with the locals, are supposed to be given a break from this Ireland-centric curriculum in Transition Year only to find themselves studying parish records as part of a local history module, reading Maeve Binchy and doing a module on currach construction.

That's not to say that there aren't schools out there looking beyond the Muglins or the Skelligs and offering TY pupils Chinese, origami or the polka.

That is the kind of syllabus that we should be offering; something that not only can bind the various ethnic groups together and offer them a common ground in its unfamiliarity but also a chance to expand their horizons.

Otherwise, before we know it, kids are going to end up studying the last remaining copy of the 1973 P & T 01 Telephone Directory (brown and buff cover that year).

Oh yes, I can do the reductionist thing too -- in my best tweed jacket I'd set up my TY class for an adventure that would be the Irish Da Vinci Code as we uncover the forgotten green pages at the front with the postal codes for Dublin City.

Just imagine all the excitement as we map out how phone numbers have evolved since then.

Irish Independent

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