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Forum Post: For St. Patrick's Day, "Hunger ; The Real Irish American Story Not Taught in Schools", by Bill Bigelow.

Posted 5 years ago on March 16, 2012, 11:07 p.m. EST by shadz66 (19985)
This content is user submitted and not an official statement

March 15, 2012 "Huffington Post' --

"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.

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


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 Present fails 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.

First, does anyone really think that students will remember anything from the books' dull and lifeless paragraphs? Today's textbooks contain no stories of actual people. We meet no one, learn nothing of anyone's life, encounter no injustice, no resistance. This is a curriculum bound for boredom. As someone who spent almost 30 years teaching high school social studies, I can testify that students will be unlikely to seek to learn more about events so emptied of drama, emotion, and humanity.

Nor do these texts raise any critical questions for students to consider. For example, it's important for students to learn that the crop failure in Ireland affected only the potato -- during the worst famine years, other food production was robust. Michael Pollan notes in The Botany of Desire, "Ireland's was surely the biggest experiment in monoculture ever attempted and surely the most convincing proof of its folly." But if only this one variety of potato, the Lumper, failed, and other crops thrived, why did people starve?

Thomas Gallagher points out in Paddy's Lament, that during the first winter of famine, 1846-47, as perhaps 400,000 Irish peasants starved, landlords exported 17 million pounds sterling worth of grain, cattle, pigs, flour, eggs, and poultry -- food that could have prevented those deaths. Throughout the famine, as Gallagher notes, there was an abundance of food produced in Ireland, yet the landlords exported it to markets abroad.

The school curriculum could and should ask students to reflect on the contradiction of starvation amidst plenty, on the ethics of food exports amidst famine. And it should ask why these patterns persist into our own time.

More than a century and a half after the "Great Famine," we live with similar, perhaps even more glaring contradictions. Raj Patel opens his book, Stuffed and Starved: Markets, Power and the Hidden Battle for the World's Food System: "Today, when we produce more food than ever before, more than one in ten people on Earth are hungry. The hunger of 800 million happens at the same time as another historical first: that they are outnumbered by the one billion people on this planet who are overweight."

Patel's book sets out to account for "the rot at the core of the modern food system." This is a curricular journey that our students should also be on -- reflecting on patterns of poverty, power, and inequality that stretch from 19th-century Ireland to 21st-century Africa, India, Appalachia, and Oakland -- that explore what happens when food and land are regarded purely as commodities in a global system of profit.

But today's corporate textbook-producers are no more interested in feeding student curiosity about this inequality than were British landlords interested in feeding Irish peasants. Take Pearson, the global publishing giant. At its website, the corporation announces (redundantly) that "we measure our progress against three key measures: earnings, cash and return on invested capital." The Pearson empire had 2011 worldwide sales of more than $9 billion -- that's nine thousand million dollars, as I might tell my students. Multinationals like Pearson have no interest in promoting critical thinking about an economic system whose profit-first premises they embrace with gusto.

As mentioned, there is no absence of teaching materials on the Irish famine that can touch head and heart. In a role play, "Hunger on Trial," ( http://zinnedproject.org/posts/1422 ) that I wrote and taught to my own students in Portland, Ore. -- included at the Zinn Education Project ( http://zinnedproject.org/ ) website -- 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?

These are rich and troubling ethical questions. They are exactly the kind of issues that fire students to life and allow them to see that history is not simply a chronology of dead facts stretching through time.

So go ahead: Have a Guinness, wear a bit of green, and put on the Chieftains. But let's honor the Irish with our curiosity. Let's make sure that our schools show some respect, by studying the social forces that starved and uprooted over a million Irish -- and that are starving and uprooting people today.


e tenebris, lux ...


Bill Bigelow - Co-director, Zinn Education Project; Curriculum editor, Rethinking Schools

[This article is copied verbatim under 'Fair Use' from : http://www.informationclearinghouse.info/article30825.htm / http://www.huffingtonpost.com/bill-bigelow/the-real-irish-american-s_1_b_1345521.html ]



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[-] 5 points by shadz66 (19985) 4 years ago

Slàinte & "When Irish Eyes Are Crying", by Michael Lewis :

A long, intricate and historic article but very relevant as all the salient facts behind the present Irish bankster induced penury are right there for anyone interested.

"Lá Fhéile Pádraig Shona" @ OWS !!

et respice, adspice, prospice ...

[-] 4 points by beautifulworld (22714) 3 years ago

Today, "The Irish are mobilising and they are awakening. They hold the DNA memory of vastly ancient times, when all men and women obeyed the Golden rule of honouring themselves, one another and the planet. They recognize the value of this harmony as it relates to banking. They instantly intuit that public banking free from the soiled hands of usurious debt tyranny is part of the natural order."

From, "The Bank Guarantee that Bankrupted Ireland" by Ellen Hodgson Brown.


Surely, the Irish understand austerity more than most....And, Happy St. Patrick's Day!

[-] 4 points by shadz66 (19985) 3 years ago

''Ireland, Europe, The U.S. And The Financial Crooks With Prof. Michael Hudson'' - (Audio and Transcript) : http://www.informationclearinghouse.info/article37675.htm .

Thanx for the excellent excerpt and link by the ever insightful Ellen Brown & cross link to this forum-post from : https://occupywallst.org/forum/the-contrast-between-iceland-and-ireland-some-thou/

Happy St. Patrick's Day & Solidarity.

pax ...

[-] 2 points by JGriff99mph (507) 3 years ago

I'll be serving up a strong does of austerity on myself after the amount of money I spent on Saturday night at the St Pats parade in Ybor :)

[-] 1 points by ImNotMe (1488) 1 year ago

''Bernie Sanders ... 'We Are Doing Something Very Radical in American Politics'''

per ardua ad astra ...

[-] 3 points by nazihunter (215) 3 years ago

Hey, we're friends with England. We can't talk about their ugly Empire past which is responsible for worldwide hatred of the white man. India, China, Africa, etc. Where was that in the textbooks? Oh, and the Middle East. Yes, the English enslave you on your own land and then blame those they take advantage of for their lot. When you're not in control of your lot, how can you be blamed? There were no English bright enough to ask that question back then. Did you mention that also the result of a "free trade" experiment in Europe. Worked out well, didn't it? Maybe we should have Irish History month? Nope, can't do it. People might get along. The powers can't have that.

[-] 1 points by shadz66 (19985) 3 years ago

Chalmers Johnson (RiP) on 'Empire' :

As you allude to, the British (& The English in particular) wrote the modern play book re. 'Empire' and we are still lining with the consequences thereof.

respice, adspice, prospice ...

[-] 3 points by chell6 (1) from Vienna, Wien 5 years ago

Great post..thanks:)

[-] 3 points by beautifulworld (22714) 5 years ago

Thanks for this great post, shadz66. There are some good children's books out their on the Irish famine, one off the top of my head is "Maggie's Door" by Patricia Reilly Giff.

[-] 4 points by shadz66 (19985) 5 years ago

You're welcome 'bw' and again from below, I link (with the lyrics this time) to a rather 'beautiful' paen to Irish emigration : http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=27iJsZpQn3A&feature=related :-)

Happy "Paddy's Day" to you and yours.

Slàinte !

[-] 4 points by beautifulworld (22714) 5 years ago

Nice. Thanks!

[-] 1 points by ImNotMe (1488) 2 months ago

Lá Fhéile Pádraig Shona

Happy St. Patrick's Day

[-] 2 points by GirlFriday (17435) 4 years ago

That's interesting. We studied in school when I was a kid.

[-] 3 points by shadz66 (19985) 4 years ago

Aye, to be sure there's many a history half told or not told at all. Here's another one for you :

respice, adspice, prospice ...


[-] 2 points by shadz66 (19985) 4 years ago

"Democracy, Disillusion and The Political Process", by Caoimhghin Ó Croidheáin :

"A new nationwide opinion poll in Ireland has shown that people are becoming more and more disillusioned with the political process leading one to wonder if democracy (people rule) has simply become demopsefia (people vote). This type of disillusionment is becoming widespread across Europe in general. While no one is naive enough to believe all the promises of politicians, in recent years the desires of the electorate seem to be ever more blatantly subsumed to the financial interests/problems of recent governments." & ...

"Lá Fhéile Pádraig Shona"

[-] 3 points by gnomunny (6819) from St Louis, MO 4 years ago

Lá sona Naomh Pádraig a thabhairt duit chomh maith le!

[-] 3 points by shadz66 (19985) 4 years ago

Thanx for the thought & hope you had a good one 'g'. Here's one for you :

Solidarity @ you and yours.

pax, amor et lux ...

[-] 3 points by gnomunny (6819) from St Louis, MO 4 years ago

Thanks, my friend. Solidarity.

Edit: a tax on bank deposits? Un-f'king real!!

[+] -5 points by DKAtoday (33064) from Coon Rapids, MN 4 years ago

people are becoming more and more disillusioned with the political process

Hell - and here all this time - I thought it was just me.

[-] 2 points by Neuwurldodr (744) 5 years ago

Very interesting post...and here's something else I learned and just wanted to share....FYI


[-] 2 points by shadz66 (19985) 5 years ago

Thanx 'Nwurldo' ! Interesting link, tho' The Irish in the UK don't seem as touchy on this matter (from my perception) ... maybe cos they're closer to home. Anyway and despite my faux pas (apparently) to 'bw' below and 'Odin' above, here's a tune : "The Pogues - Lullaby Of London" ; http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=cPtw8Pl_fn0&feature=related ;-)

And I'll play it safe with my salutation with ...

Lá Fhéile Pádraig Shona !

[-] 2 points by flip (7101) 5 years ago


[-] 3 points by shadz66 (19985) 5 years ago

'flip' : Thanx mate and re. The BS at the bottom of the thread, 'ahh forget about it' ; he doesn't know his - ass (..x..) from his elbow |_ .

On a happier note : "The Pogues - If I Should Fall from Grace with God" ; http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=DrBLqp-s__o&feature=results_video&playnext=1&list=PL50052CA5E76E3831 !!

Happy Paddy's Day dude ;-)

Lá Fhéile Pádraig Shona !

[-] 3 points by flip (7101) 5 years ago

the pogues - nice - my daughters wedding song!

[-] 2 points by Odin (583) 5 years ago

Thanks Shadz for that bit of history...and how it relates to today. I have been a critic of the way history has been taught in our schools for a long time. I can understand in the lower grades..the possible need to have a sanitized version of history, but I believe it should be about truth..no matter where the marbles land...well as near as possible, and it seldom is. I wish I had you as a social studies teacher in school. My heirtage on my mom's side...Comiskey..goes back to the county of Mayo, then of course on my dad's Viking side, we did drop in to say hello...sorry.

[-] 3 points by shadz66 (19985) 5 years ago

'Odin' : LoL ! I'm glad you liked it mate and again recommend (from the article) http://zinnedproject.org/ .

Happy "St.Paddy's Day" & re. your back story and on a cheery note : http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=SZCFVXwELtM&feature=related !!

Lá Fhéile Pádraig Shona !

[-] 3 points by Odin (583) 5 years ago

I listened to the song which was cute, and also looked up your parting shot...just to make sure you weren't calling me a "muppet." :-) Happy St. Paddy's Day to you too....albeit a day late. I checked out that web site. It looks interesting and will dive into it tomorrow.

Just got back (0130hrs.) from celebrating St. Paddy's Day at O'Zuccotti Park in NYC...a full eleven hours with those crazy people who think that they can change the world..imagine that! I somehow got recruited into filling up bowls of food in this Indian restaurant for the OWS people in the park...no corn beef and cabbage in sight. This is a vege revolution...as far as I can figure!? That should make the wing-nuts even more skeptical of us.

I had a lot of good conversations, and one in particular with a real nice Muslim couple, and told them my story which you know. They told me that it meant a lot to them to hear that, as they have been going through some rough times. They both hugged me...it was really cool. I avoided getting arrested.... this time, but expect to sooner or later. All in all...a great day. I really enjoy being with those courageous and determined people.

[-] 2 points by shadz66 (19985) 5 years ago

'O' : Thanx. Nice read. + http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=vdB-8eLEW8g&feature=related , 1<3 ~;-)

[-] 2 points by Odin (583) 5 years ago

Yes..One Love by Marley is a good song for the movement. Someone was playing Irish tunes on a sax at the park yesterday which was cool. Early this morning I wanted to figure out, in my mind anyway who did Danny boy the best. My favorites were Deanna Durbin, Mario Lanza,... and Eric Clapton for just intrumental...none of whom are Irish...

[-] 2 points by GypsyKing (8719) 5 years ago

Had to post this one more for a really happy St. Partric's day. You know what they say about the Irish, "All their songs are sad, and their wars are merry!"


[-] 2 points by shadz66 (19985) 5 years ago

How about : The Pogues - "Sunny Side Of The Street" : http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=DBaKWLoFYmQ&feature=related ? :-)

[-] 2 points by GypsyKing (8719) 5 years ago

That was great, I've never heard of them - have to check out more of their stuff.

[-] 2 points by BradB (2693) from Washington, DC 5 years ago

during the first winter of famine, 1846-47, as perhaps 400,000 Irish peasants starved, landlords exported 17 million pounds sterling worth of grain, cattle, pigs, flour, eggs, and poultry -- food that could have prevented those deaths. Throughout the famine, as Gallagher notes, there was an abundance of food produced in Ireland, yet the landlords exported it to markets abroad.

not much different from today... huh ?

[-] 4 points by Pujete (160) from New York, NY 5 years ago

"Free trade" is how Western imperialism does genocide.

[-] 2 points by BradB (2693) from Washington, DC 5 years ago

Great post shadz66 ... ;) THANKS

[-] 3 points by shadz66 (19985) 5 years ago

Cheers 'BB' & "The Pogues - "Danny Boy" : http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=XnfmagQoYrA&feature=related - gorra be done once at least today !!

Lá Fhéile Pádraig Shona !

[-] 2 points by Builder (4202) 5 years ago

I read that during the peak of the "famine", when produce was being shipped out of Ireland, tonnes of African maize was shipped in to feed the starving Irish "tenants". Thing is, maize was unknown to the Irish people, and requires grinding for flour, or extensive cooking to be eaten whole.

Thousands died from ingesting the indigestible grain. The English landlords were never held accountable.

[-] 1 points by Pujete (160) from New York, NY 5 years ago

Add a few thousand for the Africans who starved because their maize was sold out from under them.

[-] 4 points by shadz66 (19985) 5 years ago

'G' : Your comment got me thinking. Shane McGowan is (despite appearances some times, lol !) a very highly literate, intelligent and knowledgeable songwriter and I've always wondered about this song (and check the lyrics) :

Slàinte !

[-] 3 points by shadz66 (19985) 5 years ago

'Gild@sSapiens' : Thanx for these very nice links to hidden / lost history ;-)

On a similar historical theme, a tune to Irish Emigration - past, present (alas) and future : The Pogues - "Thousands Are Sailing" : http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=O-OnS3LPt0w&feature=results_video&playnext=1&list=PL122794008C397583 .

Lá Fhéile Pádraig Shona !!

[-] 1 points by GypsyKing (8719) 5 years ago

Great Post, and thank you. My English - Irish background gives an interesting perspective on all this, and was one reason that when I was young I was sort of constantly at at war with myself! My Irish ancestry came right out of Skibbereen, and the psychic damage very much persists to this day.

Such horrors resound through the centuries, breeding further horrors, and that is partly why it is our duty to see that they end. Although it is set later than the truely horrible years of the great famine, don't forget "Angela's Ashes," a memior by the recently deceased Frank McCourt. Essential reading for those interested in, or part of the Irish Legacy. Also:


[-] 2 points by shadz66 (19985) 5 years ago

Top o' the morning and you're more than welcome mate. I was rather moved by your post and I know that book. Thanx for the haunting 'Wolfe Tones' track and I reciprocate with the somewhat more raucous but endearing two trax by one of my favourite Irish bands, 'A House', now alas no longer but also not yet knocked down ;-)

"All dead but still Alive" :

Lá Fhéile Pádraig Shona !!

[-] 2 points by GypsyKing (8719) 5 years ago

Thanks, Shadz.

[-] 0 points by GumbyDamnit (36) 5 years ago

What happened to the Chinese and Irish in America, AFTER THE HEINOUS CIVIL WAR, was far worse than any slavery. Ditto for Native Americans.

[-] 4 points by shadz66 (19985) 5 years ago

"G" : Fine question, "Damnit" ! Perhaps some answers can be found herein :

fiat lux ...

[+] -5 points by DKAtoday (33064) from Coon Rapids, MN 5 years ago

It should also see - Slavery by a Another name - PBS special.

Nice link BTW.

[+] -4 points by DKAtoday (33064) from Coon Rapids, MN 5 years ago

You are so very helpful. Now it won't get lost in Looking.

You are GOOD.

[+] -4 points by DKAtoday (33064) from Coon Rapids, MN 5 years ago

Very very nice post. Remembering the sins/abuse of past societies and tying it to today's repeats of historic abuse.

Those who do not learn from the lessons of the past are likely to repeat them.

The haven that so many of the worlds oppressed people came to, to find hope and a healthy prosperous life.

Is now in danger of becoming another oppressive Land.

This is the time to stand-up and be counted. Do not let this haven die.

[-] 4 points by shadz66 (19985) 5 years ago

Slàinte 'DKAt' ;-) & "The Pogues - Streets of Sorrow / Birmingham Six"* : http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=dS6AzLphimM&feature=related & as someone who clearly remembers 'The Troubles', I give thanx for The Peace.

fiat pax et ... "Lá Fhéile Pádraig Shona" !

[+] -4 points by DKAtoday (33064) from Coon Rapids, MN 5 years ago

Nice to have included the lyrics.

People learn from others experience - Please.

Oppression of a people is never a good thing.

Look at the years of hate killing corruption - and say - NO MORE.

Do not let this happen to America, stop this from continuing Elsewhere in the world.

Unite in common cause. Health and Prosperity for all.

[+] -5 points by DKAtoday (33064) from Coon Rapids, MN 5 years ago

Thank you for providing good meaning in celebrating a St. Paddy's Day.

This is such a good Post for the Day as well as for the times.

Never say Die.

We live and work together in common cause.

End oppression. All Oppression.

[+] -6 points by BlackSun (275) from Agua León, BC 5 years ago

Okay. Here is your answer: The Irish are white. The white liberal doesn't care about the white past. It isn't important.

[-] 8 points by shoozTroll (17632) 5 years ago

You speak for yourself.

I've known this for years, only because I'm curious about all people, and read about them.

You're just a sad dark star, that hasn't the curiosity to wonder.

[-] -3 points by DKAtoday (33064) from Coon Rapids, MN 5 years ago

BlackHole would be more appropriate.

[-] 4 points by shadz66 (19985) 5 years ago

@ 'BS' : WTF are you on about ?!!! Answer to what ?!! Where did I even ask a question of you, of all people ?!

No damn wonder that the 'Sun' is 'Black' to you IF you keep wearing your (x) as a hat !!!

Get of your horse and drink your milk 'Cowboy' cos you're 'all hat 'n' no cattle' !! Dolt !

e tenebris ... lux ?

[-] 2 points by Neuwurldodr (744) 5 years ago

Sorry to disagree, but your comment sounds just like another racist regarding the indigenous peoples of the world, including those of Moroccan, African, India, Chinese, Japanese, South American, Pacific Islanders, etc. descent..... It is important for everyone, and I do mean Everyone...to understand where they come from, their ancestry and their history... Why do you think the majority of the people here in America still call themselves black, or African American, or Negro, etc.?? Could it be from the fact that "it wasn't important" for them to know about their true origin, history and ancestry here on these shores and still don't??? Your comment is very inappropriate!

[-] 2 points by flip (7101) 5 years ago

the irish white? do you know what nina means??