The Real Irish American Story

Saint Patrick’s Day is approaching, so it’s time for the all-too-brief attention that media and schools pay to Irish American history. Rethinking Schools editor Bill Bigelow has a new article posted at the Huffington Post, “The Real Irish American Story Not Taught in Schools.” Bigelow writes:

“Wear green on St. Patrick’s Day or get pinched.” That pretty much sums up the Irish-American “curriculum” that I learned when I was in school. Yes, I recall a nod to the so-called Potato Famine, but it was mentioned only in passing.

Sadly, today’s high school textbooks continue to largely ignore the famine, despite the fact that it was responsible for unimaginable suffering and the deaths of more than a million Irish peasants, and that it triggered the greatest wave of Irish immigration in U.S. history. Nor do textbooks make any attempt to help students link famines past and present.

Bigelow analyzes several of these corporate-produced textbooks and offers some thoughts on what should be taught about the Great Irish Famine, including a role play, “Hunger on Trial,” that he has used with his own students, and that is posted at our Zinn Education Project site.

In this role play, as Bigelow describes in his Huffington Post article, “students investigate who or what was responsible for the famine. The British landlords, who demanded rent from the starving poor and exported other food crops? The British government, which allowed these food exports and offered scant aid to Irish peasants? The Anglican Church, which failed to denounce selfish landlords or to act on behalf of the poor? A system of distribution, which sacrificed Irish peasants to the logic of colonialism and the capitalist market?”

This is the Zinn Education Project’s first “If We Knew Our History…” column for the Huffington Post. The more people immediately read, comment, and share the article, the more likely Huffington Post is to give us prominent placement for future posts.

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