Archive for the ‘ Education ’ Category

Last orders.

Human beings love order. In fact our brain actively seeks order in chaos, for example it is one of the reasons your mind sees a face in inanimate objects or on patterned wallpaper and it is more than likely why we are always looking for a superfood to destroy cancer (I eat this therefore, I won’t get that). It sounds reasonable to look for that order but it can have a negative effect. Here is one that annoys me: be positive and that will help you survive cancer! Great isn’t it? Except when you do that, and it doesn’t matter whether you mean it, it means that you are saying that the person who dies of cancer wasn’t positive enough and ergo it is their fault that they died. Order like that isn’t so friendly anymore is it? Which brings me to history. We love order in history. The example that springs to mind is Hitler. We have all asked: ‘Why did he hate the Jews?’ Off we pop looking for order and we look for the pattern. Hitler was a failed artist, he was probably picked on by a Jew, he had one testicle and a micropenis and hypospadias.So, that solves that (Jesus must have been a fantastic artist, been hung like a horse and had polyorchadism though cause he was so good) of course, this lets humanity off the hook. Everyone knows it was all religions fault (because there was never a political ideology that was atheistic and sent people off to, oh a gulag or had show trials or ran over people with tanks and had a one child policy…ever because if there was well you know there would be memes about it wouldn’t there?) Realistically, the reason that Shoah occurred was due to religious, economic, social, political and cultural issues and prejudices that had existed in Europe for centuries. Making a snappy YouTube video explaining that is difficult, looking at the genital deformities of Hitler isn’t apparently. Human beings like the answer to be in the recent past as it is more ordered.

So, why am I writing this? Let’s be frank this is the Internet and I lost about 60% of the five to six people that read my posts already. Well you know why I’m writing it, you’ve seen the news. I also want those that are more moral than I to see that I care, I swear I do, I know stuff too I didn’t mean to change my picture to add a French tri-colour there a while back I’m like you too. I watched that YouTube video I promise I did, I know it was Rothstein or Rothschild or whatever Berg that started it all I know Israel is the real bad one, damn it lads and ladies I swear I knew it was them. They took land that didn’t belong to them, of course their people were gassed, starved, left to rot in their own vomit, shit, piss, castrated, mutilated, shot, buried alive etc etc shush now though dear reader I won’t point out that most Europeans didn’t want them, we mustn’t look too far back or our sense of order gets eroded.

Troubling the waters.

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Within Irish historical discourse the term revisionism is a swear word. It is bandied about at will but most often when anyone disrupts the narrative thrust of the nations historiography. I find it all very odd, particularly since revisionism is essentially just a reassessment of the sources, which surely should be at the heart of historical study? In Ireland we stand in the middle and at the beginning of marking important anniversaries. The Home Rule crisis, the creation of the Ulster Volunteer Force, the Irish Volunteer Force, the 1913 Lockout, World War One and the 1916 Rising to name but a few. These were the events that would shape my nation for ill or good. Around these events hagiography and shibboleths abound and as a result it becomes very difficult to critically examine the various merits and demerits of events. In such an atmosphere revisionists become reviled. A former Taoiseach (Prime Minister) questioned whether those involved in the 1916 Rising (an armed resurrection which occurred largely in Dublin against British rule) had done more harm than good especially since Ireland was to be granted a parliament of its own as soon as the war had finished.

To some this was the equivalent of desecrating the graves of the executed leaders. In my mind though it is a worthwhile question as the events of 1916 ultimately dictated not only the course of Irish history but also Irish historical discourse. To paraphrase Standish O’Grady Irish freedom was to have three components the first was cultural which he said was minor, the second political which was also minor and then finally the most important one: the military. For freedom to be won bloodshed and death was the most important component.  In the Ireland of today we create a narrative that we are on the side of the oppressed of the world, that we have some special understanding of what it means to be oppressed, we have open disdain for American gun culture and we hold our neutrality to be sacrosanct. Yet, we gladly forget that in Ireland we had at one point in the early twentieth century three armed organisations running about namely The Irish Volunteers, The Ulster Volunteers, the IRB and this was also on top of the crown forces.

Because of this O’ Grady was right: militarianism became the most important facet of our revolution and indeed the gun would remain in Irish politics for a long time after (with one organisation purporting to represent the Irish people buying guns off a regime that brutally suppressed its people, but you know, we are on the side of the oppressed and all). This era needs to be revised and done so constantly and especially when new sources come to light. Patriotism can be a noble virtue but it can also be the place were rabid bloodlust is unleashed. I am a citizen of the Irish republic and we are quick to point out the deficiencies of our Northern Irish neighbours. However, let us revise that old Unionist adage: Home Rule is Rome Rule. Can any of my fellow countrymen and women, with hand on heart say that Unionist fears weren’t well founded? In light of the revisionism that has shined a light on the history of the institute of the Catholic Church can we not, in some degree, see the validity of Unionist fears. All reasonable I am sure you will agree? However, there are those in Ireland that will accuse you of forgetting about the wrongs of the ‘other’ side.

You see in espousing the military over all our founding fathers (and fathers they were because once Britain was gone women had to return to the home. Check it out in our constitution) set up a dichotomy and one that has grown ever since. Our culture became secondary and one that was largely confined to us rediscovering our soul by the transmogrification of the dreaded Bearla (English) into Irish. How this was to be done was never fully explained. Our politics descended into corruption and gombeenism that haunts us to this day. The dreary middle class men that took over from the dreary middle class British were one and the same (yes there were minor differences but these were largely superficial). The post boxes went from red to green and the job was all but done…except the ‘troubles’ but that is another story altogether and one that is long overdue a bit of revision.

They flutter behind you, your possible pasts

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History is a strange discipline. Is it the study of the narrative of humanity or is it the study of the motivation of the individual and how said individual collides with the colossal events that press against him or her? In ways it is both (and at another level it is neither, since the past no longer exists it means history is conducted in an ever occurring present, a present in which we impose our standards and mores onto the past in an attempt to make sense of our present, but then I digress). Some people believe that history is the study of facts. Facts such as Napoleon had a height complex, Marie Antoinette said ‘ let them eat cake’ and the Duke of Wellington, embarrassed about his Irishness, claimed ‘Being born in a barn does not make one a horse’. Incontrovertible facts! Of course the three facts I have mentioned are absolute rubbish as Napoleon was of average height for a European male at the time, Marie (known affectionately by her subjects as The Austrian Whore) never said anything of the sort and it was Daniel O’ Connell that made the whole barn and horse claim. As Mr Gradgrind explained in Hard Times ‘You can only form the minds of reasoning animals upon Facts: nothing else will ever be of any service to them’.

Ah the Victorians, they looked for certitude in a world and universe where they felt displaced and history became about facts and facts and more facts. They were wrong mind you and the reason is simple: human beings have feelings and each and every one of us experiences this world differently. Even if two people watch the same event they do so from a different angle both in a physical and emotional sense. We can establish the fact that an event occurred on a certain date etc these things are not up for debate (or are they? Of course they are! We are forgetful creatures) but emotions and feelings get in the way. Thank God they do. What are we without them? We are a glorious mess of all we have learned. Flawed and beautiful, biased and blessed. In many ways history is a giant gossip session about the way people, as groups and individuals, behave. If we remove human agency what are we? There can be no certainty. We cannot discern the future from the past and we cannot remove our emotions from that past. Everything we have done right, everything we have done wrong remains part of us. The trick, I suppose, is not to be bound by it and not to be controlled by our story/stories. When we read about an event in history we should, I would argue, remember the very real people behind the event. There is a great moment in Oliver Stone’s biopic of Richard Nixon and it occurs just after Nixon decides he will have to stand down as president of the United States. Nixon looks up at a portrait of JFK and he says: ‘When they look at you they see what they want to be. When they look at me they see what they are.’ It isn’t a fact but when I watched that film and heard that line I was never able to look at Richard Nixon the same way again. It encapsulates history for me: humanity is one big flawed mess looking to better itself even if we often fall short of that aim. The history book on the shelf isn’t always repeating itself but we are.

Roads.

A man learns a lot about himself by sitting on a train or a bus. If you have ever been on a train or bus in Ireland and put up with the assorted nutters that congregate on roads of tar or iron well, you have my sympathies. For me this year has been about those physical journeys but like any journey there is also the mental roads that we must traverse. I embarked on a diploma, yes I am a lunatic because I promised myself I would avoid academia for at least ten years (I managed four). However, the subject matter of said diploma was one close to my heart namely: autism. Look what can I say about autism that you cannot find by visiting a website and reading up on the condition? Well I suppose I could tell you to see the person and not the condition. As they say to us teachers: when you have taught one child with autism you have taught one child with autism. All of this is true but at the heart of it, for me at least, I enjoy teaching, working and interacting with autistic folk. They really do teach me as much as I teach them. People on the spectrum often have a wonderful sense of humour and a way of seeing the truth, which often catches the ‘neurotypical’ off guard. We have so many social rules and niceties that we find it difficult to cope with those that cannot read our secret language and of we are being honest the vast majority of us struggle with accepting difference. We are so set in our routines, so bound to our little rituals that when we come face to face with the ‘other’ we retreat back to those norms and cling to them for dear life.

The diploma was both heavy and interesting in equal measure. I looked at topics such as working with non-verbal children, relationships and sexuality, methodologies for accessing the curriculum, co-occurring needs, transitions, self-advocacy, applied behaviour analysis and many more beside. I bounced off Cork, Carlow, Dublin, Kildare, Mayo, Laois, Waterford, Donegal and Westmeath all the while staying in rooms of varying quality (some with walls as thin as tissue and bed linen to match). I travelled by rail, tram, car, bus and foot in rain,hail and snow but I got there in the end. My favourite course was one run out of North Carolina called TEACCH (if you have even a passing interest in the area check them out). As with most things in life it was the friends I made along the way that made it all the worthwhile. I met people like me, ones that worried whether or not they were teaching the right things, saying the right words or passing on the necessary skills to the students under their care. We stressed over essays, laughed over school stories and pulled our hair out with the frustration of it all. It is this that defines our education, it is this lived experience that matters not the pieces of paper with grades.

In the end education must be about people and the sharing of ideas and knowledge. My final thoughts go to the students especially those that I have had the honour to teach. They have shown me that we cannot define, contain and restrain personalities under umbrella terms. They remind me of my humanity. My country has a dark past and an abysmal record with the manner in which it treats (and I stress treats for this is a not just a thing of the past) children. Maybe one day this little old sod will take responsibility for those mistakes and break the hard, rock like edifice of routine thar binds it so, until that day all we can do is educate ourselves in that hardest of disciplines, namely, compassion. The journey, whilst at times difficult, is the greatest teacher of all.