St. Patrick’s Day is a good time to rethink what we’ve learned for years about the Irish Potato Famine and likewise about the politics of food today.

Learn the hidden history in the Zinn Education Project “If We Knew Our History” column that Rethinking Schools editor Bill Bigelow wrote a couple years ago: “The Real Irish American Story Not Taught in Schools,” about the so-called potato famine on CommonDreams.org:http://bit.ly/1qExnWv 

Image Above: Eviction from Views of the Famine

 

The Real Irish American Story Not Taught in Schools

 

“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.

 

What is not often taught in schools or known by the many who routinely celebrate St. Patrick’s Day, is that throughout the Irish ‘Potato famine’ there was an abundance of food produced in Ireland, yet the landlords exported it to markets abroad.

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.

Yet there is no shortage of material that can bring these dramatic events to life in the classroom. In my own high school social studies classes, I begin with Sinead O’Connor’s haunting rendition of “Skibbereen,” which includes the verse:

… Oh it’s well I do remember, that bleak
December day,
The landlord and the sheriff came, to drive
Us all away
They set my roof on fire, with their cursed
English spleen
And that’s another reason why I left old
Skibbereen.

 

By contrast, Holt McDougal’s U.S. history textbook The Americans, devotes a flat two sentences to “The Great Potato Famine.” Prentice Hall’s America: Pathways to the Presentfails to offer a single quote from the time. The text calls the famine a “horrible disaster,” as if it were a natural calamity like an earthquake. And in an awful single paragraph, Houghton Mifflin’s The Enduring Vision: A History of the American People blames the “ravages of famine” simply on “a blight,” and the only contemporaneous quote comes, inappropriately, from a landlord, who describes the surviving tenants as “famished and ghastly skeletons.” Uniformly, social studies textbooks fail to allow the Irish to speak for themselves, to narrate their own horror.

These timid slivers of knowledge not only deprive students of rich lessons in Irish-American history — they exemplify much of what is wrong with today’s curricular reliance on corporate-produced textbooks.

Continued at …  commondreams.org/view/2012/03/15-4

 

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