Across Ireland and Northern Ireland gather relevant materials, awareness and knowledge to help students contextualize the Irish situation (both before and after partition) and demonstrate how people behave in groups.
As a teacher of the Northern Ireland Troubles, it was essential to get a sense of the culture of the country. In order to understand that culture we had to start in the lower 26 counties of the Republic, to get a sense of what Irish national consciousness is. We came to understand Ireland through the concept of "craic," the idea that life should be full of music and dancing and chatting with friends. This notion is more muted in the cities of the North, where sectarianism is a constant stress.
We have many new ripples to explore. The poet Padraig O Tuama opened up the concept of the role of the subjugation of Irish language and the persistence of that language underneath everything in the Troubles. Kate Turner gave us an entire curriculum based on collected artifacts (bullet-proof clipboards; CS canisters made into household objects; milk bottles intended to be homemade bombs, stained by sugar and petrol) that signify the conflict. Alan McBride gave us books on Belfast by children.
For me personally, that may be the play I am co-writing with Donal O'Hagan, a teacher and writer from Downpatrick, that compares the trauma of the Troubles to the trauma of police brutality in America. But the materials from Alan at WAVE and Kate at Healing Through Remembering will be immediately used in our classrooms. I also feel our immersion in Irish culture--the music, the sports (we attended the hurling semifinal at Croke Park in Dublin), the pubs, the food and drink--will never leave us.
Previously, our teaching of Northern Ireland was narrowly focused on the Troubles period (1968-1998) with very limited background. This experience has helped us to understand the long history of British Imperialism/Unionism and Irish Nationalism that includes the wars of the 1600's; the Great Hunger in the 1840's/'50's; the memory of the 1916 Easter Rising for Nationalists; the memory of the First World War for Unionists; and the influence of the 1920's Partition and Civil War on everyone.
Our entire Humanities department (four teachers) is involved in teaching the Troubles in Northern Ireland. Although only Dave and I actually went to Ireland, all four of us and our Program Director will collaboratively plan the changes in curriculum that will come from this. Already, my colleague Kirk has helped me to brainstorm uses of the books of children talking about their own photographs around their homes in Belfast. A central focus will be the improvement of this unit's core assessment.
I want our students to take pride in their deep knowledge of this foreign conflict, and to be able to apply what they learn about these "Troubles" to their own troubles. Ultimately, I want to connect our students in New Haven to Donal's students in Belfast through social media or Google Hangouts. Sometimes in Ireland, an Irish person would say, "I think you guys know more about Ireland than we do." But that knowledge comes from an outsider's desire to understand; I want our students to feel that
Every student in our school completes a Social Action Project in their Senior year. Students choose a social problem in their community or the world that they wish to address. The projects involve research, presentations and implementation that ultimately brings them beyond the walls of the school. It is my hope that our teaching of the Irish Conflict, which occurs in Sophomore year, will create ripples in our student's thought that will inform their ideas about justice, memory and social action
It was hard to leave Ireland and return to our divided country with its fear of ideas and its moral vacuum in the halls of leadership. However violent the thirty year conflict, however disturbing the lingering sectarianism, the Irish are not afraid to engage in open communication, and to abandon partisanship when it no longer serves the truth. This fellowship has restored my faith in intellectual engagement and reminded me to take joy ("the craic") in everyday life.