Wednesday, 17 June 2015
Junior Cycle Reform: Motion
I welcome the Minister of State to the House. The late Neil Postman, one of the most radical thinkers on education, believed that for education to be meaningful, young people, their parents and their teachers must have a common narrative. I ask if we have a common narrative. If we do, how can the Department of Education and Skills challenge the truthful, arms-length nature and objectivity of the external examination correction process, provide 25 more points for mathematics than for music, language or history, and undermine history teachers by weakening their subject, changing it from a core subject to an optional subject on the junior cycle? We need to have a conversation in this country about the types of knowledge that are fundamental to young people's education and quality of life. I refer to knowledge that can help us to contradict the accepted, more modern and tired ways of thinking about ourselves. We have a tendency in this country to have conversations about examinations only. If we had a real conversation, we would consider history to be as important as mathematics. We would possibly make music compulsory to age 18, the arts would be examinable forms and standardised and not a parallel of television, dance would be a core subject, and, most important of all and a matter that is very dear to me, orality would be an important independent subject, with human vocal communication and engagement at its foundation. Regarding orality, I am not talking about debating class. We are languaged human beings and our speech is our greatest and most wonderful method of communication.
That Seanad Éireann: notes that we are currently in the midst of a decade of commemoration of the historical events that led to the foundation of the State;
further notes that, while the State is articulating the value and premium it places on a younger generation being knowledgeable about that history, they are at the same time carving up history as a core/compulsory subject for the Junior Cycle; and
calls on the Minister for Education and Skills to outline what plans she has in place to maintain history as a core/compulsory subject for the Junior Cycle.
The National Council for Curriculum Assessment, or NCCA, has created the most outstanding statements of learning for the new junior cycle. The statements include words such as "communicates," "reaches," "creates," "appreciates," "critically interprets," "recognises," "uses," "describes," "illustrates," "predicts," "improves," "values," "learns," "understands," "makes," and "takes". There were 24 statements of learning, but the NCCA left out the following three main verbs: imagines, feels and thinks. Imagination is its own reward, and feeling, if it is good, is based on thinking. As such, I feel and I think they should have got an airing. Some subjects will lock into some of these aspirations while others will lock easily into others. However, great subjects lock into them all. The study of history does it all: not just one or two or three or four of the aspirations and verbs such as "values" and "recognises," but all of them, including "imagination," "feeling" and "thinking." The NCCA should have spent more time writing and arguing about the brilliance of subjects rather than listing formulaic verbs that it hoped everything and anything would fit into.
History is to become a non-core, possibility non-compulsory and discrete subject and short course choice. Short courses do not work with young minds. They are not the kind of joined-up education we should be engaged in with young minds. They only work at a mature and postgraduate level. Anyone who knows anything about education and teaching knows that. The only areas of study the students in DCU take away with them are the core elements on their courses, not the short courses. In university, short courses represent a kind of entertainment. Young minds need a broad sweep of history and a defined and lengthy foundation block to encourage the subject later on so that it does not become the preserve of the elite. Above all other subjects, history belongs to us all. According to Professor Diarmaid Ferriter, all children have a public ownership of history. He is correct. It can never become the right of the elite. At a meeting of the Joint Committee on Education and Social Protection two years ago, attended by the History Teachers' Association of Ireland, Dr. Catriona Crowe and Professor Diarmaid Ferriter argued that every child had an entitlement to history and that it could not be a dip-in-dip-out facility. The Department of Education and Skills cannot tell me that young people will get this entitlement from two or three short courses. History is more important than most subjects because it is our heritage and how we explain ourselves. It tells us who we are, what we are, how we are and why we are. As Deputy Aengus Ó Snodaigh said, it creates citizens, not consumers. I do not agree with everything he says, but I agree with that.
History creates citizens, not consumers, and that is all we need to know about it. It is all the justification we need, not 24 statements of learning. Why did the NCCA not argue that on curriculum assessment? History is a discipline, not entertainment, neither in education generally or elsewhere. Why has the Department become so afraid of the words "discipline," "rigour," "study," "work well done," "memory," "learning" and "hard work"? History is a skill, a crafted knowledge, a form, a way of learning, a thought process, a language, a memory, a fact, evidence, an interpretation, a culture, our lives - our complete lives, a life that is local, national and international - our place in our lives, and our place on the planet. It is the reason we live the way we do; it is beyond essential for all young adults beginning life in the junior, middle and secondary cycle and beyond, and it is taught by specialist teachers. What happens to history when it becomes a short course, module or choice rather than a core, elemental subject? It becomes less coherent. It becomes more represented in the middle classes and less represented in working-class areas, where more useful or easier subjects are taken. It will thereby become the preserve of the elite. History as a short course in the junior cycle will not be studied at leaving certificate level or third level, and the number of teachers in the system will fall. They fell considerably when the subject was removed from the core curriculum in the UK. Discussion is now taking place in the UK on how to reinstate it.
We are always busy copying something else, be it from New Zealand, Queensland or Finland. Why do we not lead the way? If we want to reform the junior cycle, let us get on with it. Have all the reform we want and lots of change. I am not against that, but this change has not been thought out. If we want to ignite change, let us make music compulsory for every child. Then we would have skill, love, passion, creative activity, maths, history, sound, score and melody all in one. Imagine that. That meets the 24 statements in one subject. The Irish Chamber Orchestra did it with Sing Out with Strings. Why, oh why, can we not copy the great rather than running around copying what we think works in other countries and might work here? We should not be applauding fragments of knowledge and a certain failure with some subjects, but we are doing so with maths. We are now saying that one may fail maths but one will really pass, because on the honours paper the marks will be given on the pass paper. It is ridiculous and a good example of the undermining of rigour, discipline and memory, fragmenting knowledge and a race to the bottom.
We do not need short courses; we need educational revolution and an educational rethink. If the history syllabus is over-laden with content and that is the greatest reason for the decline in the number of pupils taking history between junior and leaving certificate level, then throw it into fresh combinations, use imagination, thinking and feeling, which words are not used in the statements of learning, and do not relegate it to choice and short courses. Re-examine the subject and hold it as a core.Dr. Catriona Crowe called all of this for what it is when she spoke at the Joint Committee on Education and Social Protection. She asked why we bother having core subjects at all, which is a major question. She referred to this question as "the elephant in the room". Why do we bother regarding some subjects as essential and fundamental to the rights to knowledge for all young people? I suggest we do this because we do not really regard The Beanoas a subject. Some forms of knowledge, including maths, English, history, the arts and languages, are regarded as compulsory. They are not disposable and cannot be disposed of or shortened. Why is now considered that history can be treated in this manner? Is it, as I have suggested previously, because it is too difficult, takes up too much time and requires more reading, writing, studying and memory and we cannot have that? I suggest we should be striving towards these very things, rather than diluting them. History is not cut and paste. It is not Internet, 500 channels, Facebook, Twitter and all of that tired nonsense.
Technology may be the mechanics of the brain, but history is the mind. It is evidence and informed thought. It is away from the garbage of the information highway. It is the antithesis of the Internet, the tabloid press, the frenzied media and the glut and garbage of the saturated information highway. It is the counteraction against the torpor of ideas and immediacy. It involves evaluation, real resource, reasoning, primary sources, arduous debate, politics and democracy and lack of it. Unlike the Internet garbage information glut, it teaches that there are no easy answers. Dr. Crowe asked whether we really want to live in a country where children over the age of 12 know nothing of their history, and only know about de Valera and Michael Collins through a film. If we are arguing that history is not a core subject, then there is no educational argument. If we are arguing from the perspective of competition only, we are saying that no core knowledge is more significant than another, which is not true. This brings us back to why we do not teach The Beano.
I would like to beg the indulgence of the Chair while I make a final general point about the need to hold history in its rightful place. We are supposed to be making young people more intelligent and smarter. The big question for every educationalist is how the technologies which are defining us in an inhuman way - we are lonelier and more isolated - can be counteracted progressively. Technology may teach us how things work but history teaches us how to live. Technological progress does not mean human progress. We are not raising enough educational questions about this. Are we now to surrender our history to a culture of technology? The media has altered our social responsibility, our psychic habits and our political processes. We depend on schools and on subjects like history to counteract incoherent meaninglessness. We need history for perspective and to prepare young people for what is ahead and show them what has been. The world's history is the world's judgment; without history, young people will have no judgment. I ask the Department for Education and Skills and the Minister to come to an understanding. We know they came to an understanding about the externality of examinations. They have come to an understanding that there will not be thousands of courses. The number will be capped at ten.
We came to an understanding that civic, social and political education and physical education would be merged as a subject called well-being. I understand the Department intends to issue a circular to all schools advising them to limit young people's choice of short courses. Will it also use this great circular to suggest that the future of history be strengthened by having it specifically mentioned and encouraged that it be safeguarded as a core fundamental subject knowledge for the future for us all?
Cuirim fáilte roimh an Aire Stáit anseo. Ba mhaith liom a rá ar bhonn pearsanta gur iontach liom an bealach ina bhfuil a chuid Gaeilge ag feabhsú agus ag forbairt. Is iontach an dúshlán a thug sé, agus go maire sé é. However, I am disappointed that the Minister for Education and Skills is not here. I do not suggest that the Minister of State, Deputy McHugh, is not an able substitute. It shows his latitude that he can jump from the Department of Arts, Heritage and the Gaeltacht to the Department of Education and Skills. Maybe he knows something we do not.
I second the motion and I strongly support the arguments made by my colleague, Senator O'Donnell, on this issue. I commend her efforts to ensure this point of concern does not fade into the background among other questions as we reform the junior cycle of our State examinations. As I said in September 2013 when a similar motion was before the House, I broadly support the new framework being assembled for the junior cycle and believe the more "innovative and creative approach to learning" it aims to provide is to be welcomed. Having said that, I share Senator O'Donnell's concern for the future of a robust and effective history course as a core subject at junior certificate level. I do not see the position of history in schools as solely about learning lessons from our past. I think history is an essential tool in understanding who we are. Therefore, I do not believe it should be reduced to such an extent that it becomes a box-ticking exercise. The reforms that have been proposed with regard to history will make it possible for many students to bypass any comprehensive learning in this area. It will not be taught under the curriculum in a systematic way. I believe this will have implications for how well we can measure learning in this area across our students, as structure and content will vary depending on the decisions taken within individual schools.
In March 2013, Professor Diarmaid Ferriter referred to the downgrading and bunching together of subjects deemed to be of lesser importance under the proposed reform. While it is absolutely true that key skills such as literacy, numeracy and oracy are essential learning for young students, surely a detailed understanding of our collective past should also be a priority for our students to understand, know and value. When Mr. Gerard Hanlon, who is the president of the History Teachers' Association of Ireland, addressed an Oireachtas joint committee in June 2013, he spoke about "an entitlement to history" that would not be provided for under the proposed framework as it stood. I agree with this sentiment and have concerns that this decision could have serious implications further down the line in the areas of research and expertise. If we limit the exposure of our young students to learning in-depth history, what will happen to the number of people taking the subject to leaving certificate level and at third level? In 2013, approximately 53,000 students sat the junior certificate history examination and slightly more than 11,000 students sat the leaving certificate history examination. Is it possible that the syllabus is overladen with content? Just 50% of schools currently require students to take history as a junior certificate subject. It has already been downgraded and we are suggesting that it be downgraded further by being moved from being a core subject to a discrete subject. If students are not engaged in the study of history from the beginning of post-primary education, they will not have an opportunity to develop an affinity for it. What impact will this have on the numbers who move into this field in a professional capacity?
Dublin is already starting to come alive with preparations for the 1916 centenary next year. I am looking forward to those events and to seeing what the natural cultural institutions have planned. I anticipate a real coming together and an understanding of what we need to commemorate and celebrate in our Republic as we celebrate and acknowledge the part played in its foundation by an event that truly defines our nation. I would hate to think that 20 or 30 years from now, a generation of Irish citizens will not know who Michael Collins, Éamon de Valera or who were the seven signatories. Such a generation would have much less appreciation of the significance of this type of event. I would hate for future generations not to be given an opportunity to feel the pride, connectedness, understanding or disillusionment that we might all feel arising from our understanding of history. When Professor Ferriter spoke last April about the programme for the 1916 commemoration, he noted that a real opportunity to reverse the plan to drop history as a core junior certificate subject had been missed. He referred to this as "inexcusable".
The proposed new framework is a complex educational package and time needs to be afforded here for real scrutiny of it. As policy makers, we need to listen to our teachers if we want an education system that is fit for purpose. It is clear that the Minister, Deputy Jan O'Sullivan, listened to the teachers recently when she reconsidered how subjects should be marked and evaluated. There is a precedent. We can all agree that we want to equip our children with the key skills and learning they need to live full and rewarding lives. To this end, it is imperative that we do not actively and knowingly fail to provide them with the tools and opportunities they need to develop cognitive competencies beyond what we are categorising as "key skills". If history as a subject is posing difficulties in classrooms and for teachers, we should develop the curriculum and improve the resources. We should not brush it under the rug or lose sight of its true value. If history is no longer a core subject, over time there will be a diminution in its status and ultimately in its psychological relevance to students. It is an amazing coincidence that at a time which is a golden age for the study of Irish history, there is a dearth of new vision, new ideas and new ideology.The former Minister, Deputy Ruairí Quinn, took a positive step to encourage greater success in mathematics. We need a similar imaginative response to the teaching of history. We must sow the seeds of an enlightened citizenship based on understanding the present through a knowledge of history. This is what the poets of 1916 took from 1798, namely, history as a way of interpreting rather than knowing the past. I am proud to support this motion.
I move amendment No. 1:
I welcome this motion from Senators O'Donnell and Mac Conghail in that it provides us with a great opportunity to discuss history and the new junior cycle programme. Senator Mac Conghail said students in years to come will not be able to name the signatories of the Proclamation. That reminded me of one day when I was teaching the 1916 Rising in school. I asked the students what was the name of the railway station in Dublin. A hand went up and the student said, “Connolly Station”. I then asked what the name of the railway station in Dundalk was. Another hand went up, “Clarke Station”. Impressed, I asked what those two names had in common. A young fellow enthusiastically asked if he could answer, so I allowed him. He answered, “Shoes”. There was a Connolly shoe shop in Dundalk. It is neither today nor yesterday that not everybody is tuned in.
To delete all words after “Seanad Éireann:” and substitute:-notes that school autonomy is an important factor in the quality of student learning;
-notes that the new Junior Cycle gives flexibility and autonomy to schools, who are best placed to identify the needs of their students;
-notes that within the new Junior Cycle framework, the mandatory statements of learning which must be experienced by all students, include that each student ‘understands the importance of the relationship between past and current events and the forces that drive change’ and ‘understands the origins and impacts of social, economic, and environmental aspects of the world around her/him’;
-notes that history is not currently a compulsory subject for all students at Junior Cycle level: despite this, over 90 per cent of students continue to study history at this level;
-notes that there is a dedicated cohort of history teachers in our post-primary schools, who will be promoting the inclusion of their subject within programmes provided to students by their schools;
-is confident that the position of history as a subject is secure and that history will continue to be studied by the vast majority of students at Junior Cycle level;
-welcomes the emphasis on historical understanding which is being promoted through the programme of events for Ireland 2016; and
-further notes that a set of proposals was recently agreed between the Minister and the leadership of the two second-level teacher unions in relation to reform of the Junior Cycle, and that the executives of both unions have agreed to put these proposals to ballot in the autumn.
Under the current junior certificate, history is not a compulsory subject for all students. It is not even a discrete subject as it is linked to geography but a sort of a half subject on the junior certificate. I hope it is made a discrete subject quickly, a point I made on the Order of Business several weeks ago, so that as many students as possible get the chance to study history as a full subject.
The new junior cycle gives flexibility and autonomy to schools which are best placed to identify the needs of their students. One framework of learning is understanding the importance of the relationship between past and current events, as well as the forces that drive change. It is important a student understands the origin and impact of social, economic and environmental aspects of the world around her or him. In other words, the core of historical study, namely, the relationship between the necessary and the contingent, as well as the concatenation of events, will be available to all students. That is an entitlement.
Earlier, when speaking to a young person, who himself has a deep love of history, he expressed the view that it would be unfair to demand that students who did not wish to should be compelled to spend a full five hours a week studying history. I am reminded of the old phrase, “forced prayer is no devotion”.
What is history? History is the scientific study of the past based on primary and non-primary sources. In my teaching and study of history, I have always preferred primary sources, not the opinions or interpretation of others. Although the interpretations of others can be important, much of it can be propaganda. I thought the Big Fellow was the giant I saw in Fossett’s Circus when it came to Dundalk each year because there was very little mention of Michael Collins in Stair-Sheanchas Éireann. One would have got more out of The Beano. By the way, The Beanois now a historical primary source for the culture of the times it was produced. Everything becomes a primary source for history. The value of The Beanois in the unwitting testimony it gives as to the cultural mores of the 1960s and the 1970s, as well as the attitude of people then. The Victorran stories about war which reflected not the reality of war but the reality of people’s attitudes towards to it at the time. The Beanois not without its worth at all. In fact, it is far better than Stair-Sheanchas Éireann, a good bit of which was just full of lies.
It is with some trepidation that I argue with Senator Marie-Louise O’Donnell, who is an educator when I am a mere teacher. However, I am doing my best. Tá mé ag déanamh mo dhícheall.
Can we join forces to insist on a further debate on this in which the Minister could outline her plans and vision in greater detail for making history a discrete subject? As a member of the all-party consultative committee on 1916, I am pleased all the historical strands have got buy-in from all parties. A shared space is not a lost space.
I welcome this motion. I was waiting with a certain amount of expectation from my good friend and colleague, Senator Jim D’Arcy, for whom I have tremendous respect and admiration particularly when it comes to history, as he indicated early on that he would argue for the amendment to the motion. However, I heard nothing about it. Maybe it is because it is a little bit milk and water, quite frankly. In fairness, however, if I were sitting where Senator Jim D’Arcy is, I would have probably adopted the same tactic. That is not a reflection on or to deflect in any way from his contribution.
Senator Jim D’Arcy would be a good full-back or goalkeeper.
We in Fianna Fáil believe history must be a key component of the junior certificate education. We should all be deeply concerned at any syllabus changes that could result in a sharp reduction in the numbers studying history as a core subject in post-primary schools. History, it is clear from these proposals, is not going to be taught under this curriculum in a systematic, thorough or meaningful way and can be ignored if that is the choice of the school. We need to ensure history as a subject is not diluted and downgraded and that it continues to form part of the core curriculum.We believe the Minister should issue guidelines to schools instructing that history should continue to be prioritised as a core subject, but this is not in keeping with the proposed amendment to the motion, which speaks about acknowledging the dedicated cohort of history teachers, expresses confidence that the position of history as a subject is secure and states that despite its not being a compulsory subject for all students at junior cycle, more than 90% of students continue to study history at this level. Whoever wrote it did not have his or her heart in it. I cannot understand why we, particularly in this country, should downgrade history, because this is effectively what is happening.
Senator Marie-Louise O'Donnell brought her usual passion to the debate, but within the passion was a very strong argument. I could not help but reflect on the Jewish experience in the Holocaust, and why there is a Holocaust industry in terms of books and reminiscences, some of which came very late in life from people in their 70s and 80s who stored up their experiences and would not even reveal to their own families the horrors they had endured in concentration camps under the Nazi regime. The common thread running throughout all of the motivation behind their putting it down on paper was the desire to ensure that people would not forget and, in not forgetting, not repeat it. It brings us to the cliché that those who ignore history are condemned to repeat it.
There are many examples in international politics of history repeating itself. I am reading a book by a distinguished historian, Margaret MacMillan, called The War That Ended Peace: The Road to 1914, which gives the reasons as she puts them forward, very coherently and well argued, as to why the First World War happened. I was attracted to the book because of the period of commemoration we are in, but also because there has been a deep understanding, bordering on affection, for history in our family. My late uncle, Fr. Canice Mooney, was a distinguished Franciscan historian who wrote many books on Franciscan experiences in Europe and beyond. My cousin is the best-selling author of What Niall Saw, which sold very well when it was published approximately 20 years ago. There has always been an understanding and appreciation of history. My children all took history at second level and enjoyed it as a subject. This must be true of all the others who have taken part in the history curriculum. The subject is mandatory in more than half of schools, but in practice more than 90% of children study it at junior level. History teachers and historians state that changes will result in the downgrading of the subject, and I cannot but agree. They also maintain it will have serious repercussions for young people's understanding of the past and present. Senator D'Arcy made reference to Stair-Sheanchas Éireann, and he is right that it ended at 1921. The reason it did so, as I studied years later, was that the memories of the foundation of the State and the bitter Civil War that resulted had generated so much disagreement between the protagonists on the pro- and anti-treaty sides that the Department of Education at the time opted out and did not put forward an historical perspective. It stopped history at 1921. Thanks be to God we are living in a more enlightened age and we are able to look maturely not only at one side of the debate but at both sides.
I agree with Senator D'Arcy, but this will be lost. It will be destroyed, because the race for points has already resulted in an enormous drop in the number who, having studied history at junior certificate level, continue to study it at leaving certificate level. My main concern is not trying to score political points; it is that we, in this of all countries, should nurture, promote and enhance an historical perspective and not deny a present and future generation the historical perspective of how our State was formed, 800 years of colonialism, what has shaped us as a nation today and our sense of identity. This is what history brings. It brings a sense of identity and who one is in the world. I cannot for the life of me understand why we are downgrading it, and I am waiting for justification, because this is what will happen. Giving autonomy will not mean that people continue to study history. It is a shameful act by the Government. I would say the same if it was my party in government trying to do the same thing.
In England history was removed as a compulsory subject, but now people want to reintroduce it. Why? Society there is far more advanced multiculturally than we are, and many people who feel English or British or who have an awareness of identity want to assert this identity in an historical context. They want to be able to point to where they started and who they are in the world today. Irish people have a very proud sense of our identity. This has been nurtured by teachers such as Senator D'Arcy and by previous generations, notwithstanding the ending of Irish history in 1921. They brought their own perspective of living history at primary level, following through to secondary level, and nurtured an affection for history. That is why 90% of second-level students continue to take it even though it is not mandatory. I wish and hope that the Government can somehow reflect on this. Historians, not least Professor Diarmaid Ferriter, who spoke to the committee, said it was ironic that in the decade of commemorations the Government was downgrading history as a subject in our schools.
I welcome the Minister to the House and I thank Senators O'Donnell and Mac Conghail for tabling the motion. I am standing in for my colleague, Senator Mary Moran, the education spokesperson for the Labour Party group and a second level teacher herself, who is far more qualified than I, as a mere third level educator, to speak on this. Senator Moran has much greater knowledge of the way in which junior cycle curriculum subjects are taught and the changes involved.
As an educator, I have followed the debate, and I am very glad, as the amendment states, that we have seen very recently the proposals agreed between the Minister and the leadership of the second level teachers' unions on reform of the junior certificate cycle. As a parent of children who are still at primary level but who will participate in the new junior cycle, I am very supportive of the reforms, because it is hugely important to see a renewed emphasis on continuous assessment, more active learning, as we call it, and active engagement in the learning process, and less of the rote learning to which many of us were subject in secondary schools in our time. I am glad this is being done. It is important that the motion and amendment set the debate on history in the context of the junior cycle reforms, which is the appropriate context.
I speak as a passionate lover of history, who did history to honours level at leaving certificate. I had a wonderful teacher, Anne O'Connor. I studied it for the intermediate certificate, as it was called then, and continued it to leaving certificate. I was very familiar with the drop in the number of students who, having taken history at junior cycle, take it at senior cycle, to which Senator Mooney referred. It is due to a perception of curriculum overload. I recall from my own learning being conscious of the enormous scope and breadth of the curriculum, the huge task it was and the great deal of memory work required to get on top of it. We need to see reform in the way history is taught.
Having said this, what is right about it is that more than 90% of students study history to junior certificate level, so we are getting this level of history provision. That is notwithstanding the fact that it is not compulsory. It is an important point. There is a misperception and the bandying around of the phrase "downgrading". Most parents assume history is compulsory, but it is not. It is not compulsory from the State's perspective in education and training board schools or in community or comprehensive schools. It is made compulsory in the voluntary secondary sector, as others have said, which represents 52% of second-level schools. Despite the fact that it is not compulsory, as we all know, 90% of students present for junior cycle history. I do not think anyone really believes this will change under the new reforms and the regime to be introduced under junior cycle reform.What will change is that we will see history becoming a stand-alone or full subject.
There has been a problem, to which others have alluded, that, due to the historical requirement that history and geography were delivered together, there was a long linkage between them and it was long geography and short history. In fact, there is a 2006 report from the Department of Education and Skills which pointed out that many schools which make history compulsory - the voluntary secondary schools - find it challenging to provide the requisite time for history within the current junior cycle. The new junior cycle framework requires more time to be allotted to the particular subjects - I think it is 200 hours or three 40-minute periods per week over three years. This may lead to increased time provision for history as a subject and one would hope we will not see any drop off in the number of students studying history at junior cycle level. I know a good deal of work is still being done in terms of the preparation of the curriculum under the revised junior cycle model but there is again this emphasis on quality learning rather than on quantity, and on active engagement with subjects rather than rote learning. I believe that will be hugely important in the learning of history for all the reasons that Senators O'Donnell and Mac Conghail so eloquently put forward, for example, the importance of students gaining a sense of identity and an understanding of the past, all of which is hugely important.
We should bear all of this in mind when we are considering and debating junior cycle reform and also reform of the teaching of history. I am glad the Government amendment states it is confident the position of history as a subject is secure and that history will be continued to be studied by the vast majority of students at junior cycle level. Nothing will change in terms of our history teachers, and, as many have acknowledged, that is one of the most important reasons so many students are so keen to study history, even in schools where it is not compulsory, namely, the quality of the teaching. That certainly will not change and I pay tribute to the teachers.
Both the motion and the amendment refer to the fact we will be entering the centenary year next year and there is a programme of events for Ireland 2016. Of course, the education sector in general and history teaching in particular will play an important role in that. There is an extensive programme of events to celebrate the decade of centenaries and many competitions are being run, including a schools history competition and, of course, poetry, drama and art competitions through the schools to commemorate the centenary. I think that most appropriate and look forward to all of those events. I again thank Senators O'Donnell and Mac Conghail, and their colleagues, for putting forward this motion.
Cuirim céad fáilte roimh an Aire Stáit. Táimse thar a bheith sásta an rún seo a fheiceáil os comhair an Tí anocht agus táim thar a bheith sásta go bhfuil mé in ann a rá go bhfuil Sinn Féin ag tacú go hiomlán leis. Dhá bhliain ó shin, tháinig Niamh Crowley agus cuid mhaith eile ón ngrúpa atá ag plé le múinteoirí staire anseo agus rinneadar cur i láthair don chomhchoiste oideachais. Dúirt siad gur cheart go mbeadh an phribléid ag chuile dhuine óg an stair a bheith acu mar ábhar agus iad ar scoil. Labhair sí faoin moladh a bhí déanta ag an gComhthionól Eorpach in 1996, uimhir 1283, ar an ról a bhaineann le foghlaim na staire san Eoraip, ina ndúradh go bhfuil sé fíor-thábhachtach go mbeadh eolas ag an duine óg ar an stair agus go mbeadh sé sin mar chuid lárnach den oideachas a fhaigheann siad.
Two years ago, Niamh Crowley and many others from the History Teachers Association of Ireland gave presentations to the education committee. Niamh Crowley spoke about what the association saw as the entitlement of every young person to an historical education and she referenced the 1996 European Assembly recommendation 1283 on the learning of history in Europe, which stated that historical awareness should be an essential part of the education of all young people. I too believe that historical awareness should be an essential part of the education of all of our young people.
If the commemoration period teaches us anything, it is the importance of history and nationhood. Not to have history as a core subject from the junior cycle would be a great disservice to the study of the subject and to our young people, who stand to gain a great amount of knowledge from the subject. From the ancient world towards pre-Christian Ireland, from the medieval world to the reformation, from the plantation of Ireland towards the Second World War, history at junior cycle level provides students with a basis for understanding how the world has come to function as it currently does.
History is one of the most important subjects for creating well-rounded and educated individuals. The study of history and all involved helps equip students with a wide variety of skills which are applicable to other subjects and life itself, such as analytical skills, comprehension, understanding and many more. History is far more than the study of times gone by; it is an analysis of the blueprint of how our world has evolved and come to this point. The subject is a great advantage to young students and it provides immense skills that later come into play in a person's life. It ensures that students acquire knowledge of and understanding about human activity in the past. It ensures they understand the contemporary world through the study of the past. History helps students to develop conceptual understanding and the ability to think independently. It also helps students to develop a commitment to objectivity and fairness, and an acceptance that people and events must be judged in the context of their values and time.
At a time when the education system is being criticised for rote learning and a lack of critical thinking, I believe it would be a mistake not to have history as a core subject on the junior cycle curriculum. I do not see another subject which encourages the level of critical thinking that history does. History must be taught and learned as a full subject and not relegated to a short course or a learning experience. If we do not have history as a core junior cycle subject, I am sure it will be the thin end of the wedge, and, before long, there will be moves to remove even more humanities subjects from all areas of the education system. What will be lost with the devaluation of the humanities is unquantifiable.
Undoubtedly, what employers say they really need is the kind of education that teaches students how to think, innovate, communicate, work in teams and solve problems. This is what the study of history and the other humanities subjects do. The liberal education has always sought to provide students with more than mere professional qualifications. We need to move away from dividing the education system into the binaries of either teaching people general knowledge or training them for specific jobs. There can be a symbiotic relationship between the two, and there should be, throughout the education system.
Nonetheless, I would make the following points. For some time now, there has been a continued and sustained assault against the humanities and the arts. This has happened throughout the education system, from primary through to third level. It is a new wave of philistinism across the whole of society, and a fixation on the marketisation of education and the education system. I believe not making history a core junior cycle subject is further evidence of this.
To conclude, in June of 2012 the Taoiseach stated: "As we move into the decade of commemorations that stretch before us, from the 100th anniversary of the Third Home Rule Bill, the Ulster League and Covenant, the foundation of the Ulster and Irish Volunteers, the Dublin Lockout, 1916, the Somme, and beyond, it is imperative that the social, cultural, economic, administrative and political environments that shaped these events be understood." It would be a shameful state of affairs if, during the decade of commemorations and on the eve of the 100th anniversary of the 1916 Rising, the study of history was not the universal entitlement of all of our young people. Sinn Féin supports the Private Members' motion that is before the House.
I would also like to make the point that ceann de na príomhrudaí atá tábhachtach ná na hachmhainní tacaíochta múinteoireachta atá ar fáil, go háirithe trí mheán na Gaeilge. Ós rud é gurb an tAire Stáit é féin atá anseo, tuigim gurb é seo ceann de na clocha atá ar a pháidrín féin. Molaim an obair an-mhaith ar fad atá déanta ag an gComhairle um Oideachas Gaeltachta agus Gaelscoilaíochta ó thaobh áiseanna as Gaeilge a chur ar fáil ach tá gá le tuilleadh, go háirithe i réimse na staire. Tá sé oiriúnach sna scoileanna beaga agus Gaeltachta ach go háirithe. Maidir leis an scoil ar a ndeachaigh mé féin i gCarna, ní hé nach raibh an scoil ag iarraidh go mbeadh an stair ar an gcuraclam ach ní riabh dóthain múinteoirí sa scoil go bhféadfaí é a chur ar fáil. Ba mhór an laigeacht é sin ar an scoil. Tá dúshlán faoi láthair ann ó thaobh scoileanna Gaeltachta agus scoileanna beaga tuaithe. Cé go mbeidís ag iarraidh é a chur ar an gcuraclam, ní bheidh dóthain múinteoirí in san scoil de bharr na huimhireacha beaga atá sa scoil, b'fhédir, é sin a chur ar fáil. Is ceist í sin. Ní leor é a bheith sa churaclam. Is leor na hacmhainní agus na múinteoirí a bheith ar fáil chuige sin chomh maith mar aon le múinteoirí atá oilte i nGaeilge. Tuigeann an tAire Stáit cad tá i gceist agam agus an plé atá ar siúl leis an bpolasaí oideachais Gaeltachta. Molaim an rún atá curtha ós comhair an Tí agus tacaím go hiomlán leis.
I thank Senators O'Donnell and Mac Conghail for tabling the motion and for the debate that has ensued. This is clearly an emotive topic for Senator O'Donnell and for many others - lovers of history, those involved in the teaching of history and, indeed, those who have studied history in the past. It would be fair to say that the majority of us, if not all of us, sat history for our junior certificate, and a great many of us would have continued this into the leaving certificate.
When I first heard that history would no longer be a compulsory subject for the junior certificate, I was a little taken aback. However, upon further analysis, it is clear that history is already not truly compulsory, as other Senators have noted, given ETB schools, community schools and comprehensive schools are not obliged to teach it. All the same, we are a nation rich with history, and many of us are citizens who love learning, and sharing, our history with others. There is a fear that this will somehow die out with this reform. Hence, it is an emotive topic, and I can understand the concern and the tabling of this motion.However, the Minister has been clear regarding her plans for history as a subject for the junior cycle. History is currently only compulsory in 52% of the total schools in the State, including, for example, voluntary secondary schools, while it is not compulsory in the remaining 48% of schools. What does it tell us that 90% of students sit the junior certificate history examination? It means in effect that approximately 80% of students in schools in which history at junior certificate level is not compulsory still opted to take the examination. This is a healthy proportion by any measurement and supports my core belief that students will continue to consistently choose history at junior cycle level. Nevertheless, I share Senator O'Donnell's concerns and support Senator Jim D'Arcy's sensible request to have the Minister come before the House to set out her plans in detail because it is important that the House debate them.
We need to consider the institutional knowledge at each school. Schools with a tradition of compulsory history at junior certificate level will clearly have the teachers, know-how and experience of teaching history. Will the change in the status of history in the curriculum make any substantive difference to the numbers taking history in such schools? My gut instinct is that it will not make any difference and I expect this will become clear in the fullness of time. Nevertheless, I share and understand Senator O'Donnell's concerns in this regard.
We must remember that a dedicated cohort of history teachers, including Senator Jim D'Arcy in his day, is doing a tremendous job instilling a love of history in students year after year. I am sure teaching about The Beano caught the attention of the Senator's students, although unless I have lost touch completely with what is being taught in school, I doubt that comic is on the syllabus. History is still taught to the overwhelming majority of junior certificate students in schools where the subject is not compulsory.
I will return to the reference in the motion to the decade of commemorations. As the Minister noted, a wide range of events is planned to mark the decade of commemorations from an education perspective. Above and beyond the programme of school specific events to which the Minister referred, there will also be a variety of competitions for schools across the fields of history, art, song, poetry, drama and film. These competitions will be held in partnership with a number institutions, including the Abbey Theatre, the National Concert Hall, the National Gallery and RTE. In addition, a new transition year module will be introduced, as will a new optional "politics and society" module in the leaving certificate curriculum from September 2016. This topic will, I hope, complement the teaching of history in a large number of schools. A number of community history events will also take place nationwide. Grants have been provided to each county and city council to disburse throughout local communities. Across Dublin, a number festivals and competitions will be held in 2016, thereby reinforcing the importance of history to society.
While I understand the concern behind the motion, I hope and believe that it makes sense to ensure consistency in the way in which junior cycle history is treated between different categories of school. Similarly, it is sensible that only English, Irish and mathematics are treated as compulsory core subjects. As the Minister has consistently stated, there is no intention to downgrade history or any other subject outside of the compulsory core subjects. Her proposals are aimed simply to allow flexibility in schools.
As I stated, this is an emotive topic and one on which I welcome a debate. A love of history is embedded in the genes of many of us. While I understand the concern and emotion that lie behind the motion, I hope and believe the proposed changes will not in any way diminish the teaching of history in the junior cycle. As I indicated, I support Senator Jim D'Arcy's request that the Minister come to the House and ask that it be relayed to the Leader.
I make this contribution as a student of history, a subject in which I have been interested since I was knee-high to a grasshopper. Young people should be interested in history. If we do not understand or have knowledge of our past and the mistakes we made, we will not be in a position to create the brighter future to which we aspire. Irish people are surrounded by history, whether in the fields, moats and ditches or in the ruins of the castles one finds in every town and village. It is difficult to fathom the reasons for downgrading history at junior cycle. Why deny people the opportunity to learn about the past? Why keep them in the dark? The country has been held back for some time. We need only consider the various industrial schools that operated around the country. The Government appears to be engaged in an effort to brush these types of issues under the carpet, which is not a way to promote any form of progress.
We are moving into a historical decade of commemorations for which terrific events are planned. Last week, for example, the Seanad discussed the legacy of William Butler Yeats. A fantastic exhibition in Collins Barracks on events in Gallipoli has brought history to life. If we do not educate people impartially and present them with the facts of history - what happened, the reasons it happened and where it has led us - we will, as Senator Jim D'Arcy stated, deny people a sense of enlightenment. Everyone should strive to seek enlightenment and to enlighten others at all times.
History is subjective and can be hijacked by different interest groups to suit particular agendas. I have seen so-called socialist republicans commemorate Sean South who could not have more right-wing than Franco. I am wary of the practice of hijacking history in pursuit of certain aims. History is about facts that we know about and events that took place. We should not try to deprive young minds of factual commentary.
My grandparents and great uncles were fantastic in teaching history to me and I had a great teacher, Tommy Moore, of leaving certificate history and great history teachers in the University of Limerick. Ireland has many fantastic historians, including Professor Diarmaid Ferriter, for whom I have the utmost regard.
I wholeheartedly support the well-intentioned motion introduced by Senators O'Donnell and Mac Conghail who are clearly passionate about our past. We should all be passionate about our past and future. As I stated, without knowing about and learning from the mistakes of the past, we are destined to repeat the same cycle. We are often told that history is cyclical but that need not be the case. Learning from and understanding the past helps us to create a better future. This has always been my philosophy. History should be a compulsory subject at junior certificate level as it will be good for future generations.
I, too, support the motion and echo the words of the previous speakers. I listened to the contribution of the proposer and seconder of the motion in my office and their passionate comments show how committed they are to this proposal. It is politically depressing - this is not a partisan point - that such a sensible, reasonable, non-political and non-judgmental motion could not be approved without a Government amendment being tabled. We are speaking about history and learning from the past. Surely one of the lessons of the politics of these Houses over the past 40 to 50 years is that both sides, Government and Opposition, can come up with good ideas and suggestions and the font of wisdom is not always on the Government side. I thought we had moved on a little and, as a House, we could be willing to accept a completely non-judgmental, informative and interesting motion. I hope the Minister of State is embarrassed about the amendment and that if the numbers stake up, it will be rejected. It is the sort of washed-out faded politics which, if the Minister of State will excuse the pun, we should try to confine to history.
Returning to the subject before us, I completely agree with the motion presented by Senators O'Donnell and Mac Conghail. It is something which I have spoken about previously because so many of the tragedies on this island and in our county have occurred because of the warped misunderstanding and presentation of Irish history. Much of the carnage and mayhem which we saw on the streets of Northern Ireland and, unfortunately, on the streets of this Republic over the past 40 or 50 years would not have occurred were it not for the one-sided presentation of fact, turning fiction into reality and the uneven presentation of our history. For better or worse, we all are part of the product of history, good and bad. If we can try to ensure that every student at the earliest possible opportunity is given a balanced view of history and is educated that no one is all right and no one is all wrong and that there are two sides to every part of our history, that would be a major step forward.
The Minister of State represents a Border constituency. People in his county, as he will be aware, on many occasions, took different views on the conflict in his county and on the other side of the Border. People held firmly to views, which we may not have agreed with, but at least we should be able to examine, understand and try to explain what happened. It is great to see so many television documentaries now - some documentaries, like the "Collision" programme last night, are uncomfortable - forcing us to recognise what happened, some of which we pretend we did not know was happening. We all require a greater knowledge of history but it must start in the classroom.
We could have, and perhaps should be having, much more philosophical discussions about education, its purpose and value. Half of the country gets excited every June about the so-called leaving certificate examination as if it somehow is a yardstick to a person's future, value and worth. We are dumbing down education with the concept of points, qualifications and courses. Local history and matters such as one's knowledge of one's community, parish and county, as enunciated by Senator Heffernan, are merely cast aside as being irrelevant. We proudly proclaim about this marvellously educated country we have and having the best educated young people in the world. When one asks some of these people what is the meaning of the name of their parish, what happened in their parish during the Civil War or who from their parish fought for the British Army in the World War I, they have no knowledge of the history of the people in their parish and yet these are the supposed best educated young people in Europe, if not the world.
We have a considerable amount to learn about our educational system, but I am adamant that the lack of balanced history teaching and the lack of willingness to accept that there is another side to our history has been a cause of much misery on this island. It was probably only when I went to secondary school that I realised the tragedy of the Civil War was not as black and white as it seemed and that, in a general election, the people actually supported the treaty and Michael Collins's view of settlement. For 40 or 50 years, that view was deliberately written out of Irish history, and this is not a bash Fianna Fáil moment on my part. There was the famous occasion in 1966 when the then Department of External Affairs annual official directory of Ireland, in the chapter of significant Irish persons, did not even mention Michael Collins. There are also two sides to the story in the history of Michael Collins but the necessity, from our perspective, is to try to ensure that the two sides or sometimes the three or four sides are very much on the public agenda for debate. Nobody is right or wrong in history because we cannot judge the deeds, actions or thinking of persons 50 or 100 years ago, but we must at least try to force ourselves to try to examine matters from their perspective.
This motion, while short, is crucial. The Minister of State and his colleagues should allow it. I am not calling it an innocuous motion but it is innocuous from a party-political perspective. It is important from an educational perspective. Surely, as an equal House of the Oireachtas, we should be able to support such a concept.
I thank the Cathaoirleach for the bit of leeway. I will conclude by saying that when I first served in the Seanad some years ago, it was a privilege to sit alongside the former Senator, Professor John A. Murphy, from Cork. His so-called revisionism of history was not revisionism; it was simply forcing us to recognise and respect the fact that there was a second side to the story. It was an education being in the Chamber with that gentlemen, who is still hale and hearty and writing letters to The Irish Times, including one today. He forced us, in an uncomfortable fashion, to see another side to the so-called glorious deeds of previous generations. If one adds that to the contribution of others, such as the late former Senator, Gordon Wilson, and others, we have all learned so much. We must ensure that everybody learns and it must start in the classroom. Long after the 1,000 points, the 500 points and the fancy courses have passed, people will need to have a knowledge of place and history. That is why this motion is so important and why I am so pleased to support it.
I really enjoy coming into this House for two reasons. First, it works ones imagination, feeling and thinking, and I thank Senator O'Donnell for that. Second, this subject is close to my heart. Anything to do with education and the wider elements of education are important. Therefore, I thank the Senators for putting down this motion. It has turned into something of a tennis match or a debate on how some pronounce "tomato". That is okay because any opportunity to discuss anything to do with the future of this country or the education system is a good opportunity. I note Senator Noone and a few of her colleagues in this House have asked for a further debate with the Minister for Education and Skills and I will certainly be reflecting that demand.Historical skills will continue to be core. I say that with confidence, and not just from a curriculum or Government point of view, because in the past year I have had the enormous privilege of visiting many small and large communities where there is a major appetite for learning local history. Senator Bradford referred to opportunities missed in the past. Parishes in my county have links to the First World War and men from them and neighbouring parishes died on the battlefields. This morning I was in a wonderful place in Clondalkin and saw the mix between community bunscoileanna and meánscoileanna in terms of community development. Part of the mix involved the Irish language. It is major project.
I have visited places such as Ennis and secondary schools all over the county. I have been to Limerick and Gaeltacht areas of the Sean Phobal and Rinn Gaeltacht, the Múcraí Gaeltacht of west Cork, Kerry, Mayo, Galway and Connemara. There is a major yearning to learn history. We as legislators have to respond to that community demand. That is what we are trying to do in the changes we are making. Any type of change involves consistencies and inconsistencies. It is about showing leadership in responding to a community-led appetite.
I have confidence not only in our current history teachers but in the new teachers coming through the system, as well as potential history teachers in primary and secondary schools who are in university. I have confidence in giving them the responsibility to articulate local history. Senator Mooney used the term "trepidation," and I will never forget the trepidation I felt on my first day of going from a small rural primary school to secondary school. It is different now, and that was a long time ago, 1983. I still remember that trepidation and disconnect from the local, and even though the school was only 12 miles away I never had an opportunity to learn about the rebel priest Father McFadden, or Cardinal Logue, who was born in my parish, because there was no curriculum that gave the opportunity to be creative about learning local history and geography.
It is not a black-and-white issue, but we have an opportunity to continue the debate, work on the creative mind and return to imagination. As a maths teacher in Letterkenny in 1993, I remember the change that took place when first year students moved to second year. I could make Pythagoras' theorem exciting to a first year student, and we discussed the Greeks at length. It is a long time ago, but between first and second year I found the mind became elongated around streamlining, subjects and exams. As legislators, we have to continue to challenge ourselves as to how we can work the creative mind of the people of this country.
People do think differently now. There is a sociological term for young people who were born with the Internet: "digital natives." They think, see and do things differently, but they still have an appetite for the local and for history. When I was born my house did not have a landline, and I am sure it was the same for Senators Mooney and Wilson. Some people were born with dial-up broadband, but there are new digital natives in this country. As legislators we have to respond to the changing dynamic.
One of the reasons we have to keep history at our core is that we need to know how our ancestors overcame challenges and adversity in the past. Senator Heffernan is one of the lucky ones who had a appetite for history in primary and secondary school. I only developed it in the past ten years. However, as someone from a Border region, my history was pretty black-and-white and shrouded in anger and a "them-and-us" approach. I went to university across the Border and met young 18-year-old boys - I did not think they were boys at the time - from Manchester and Liverpool with guns. That is a type of history, and I was trying to learn it amidst a shroud of negativity.
As a Leitrim and Cavan man, I have space because of the peace process. When everybody was talking about the peace process in 1998, I did not know we would create a new space and I did not know what it meant. It means that we can now learn our history in a protected environment. That can involve people from south Armagh going to Glencolmcille to learn Irish. Linda Irvine, who is from east Belfast, told former UDA paramilitaries that the name "Ibrox," the home of Glasgow Rangers, comes from an Irish word.
I was in St. Patrick's Cathedral in Armagh a number of years ago when Robin Eames said that education is what it is left when everything else has been forgotten. That is where our responsibility lies. We have to consider being creative about our history, which is our job as legislators.
I mentioned the First World War. Senator Jim D'Arcy never taught me history, but from knowing him I know that he probably made it real, connected people to their past and gave them objectivity. We have to ensure the objectivity that did not exist when I did my intermediate certificate is present now.
I could go on all day. I feel passionate about the education process. I want to express to Members, as legislators, that the mood out there is positive in terms of the appetite for learning our history. We cannot set aside our language as an independent correlation or parallel to history. I learned Donegal history, probably in the right way, for the first time over the past year. I am learning Donegal Irish for the first time, words such as "millteanach," where I was taught "uafásach," both of which are wonderful words. I am learning more about my place. I was taught the word "freisin" in school, but "fosta" is the Ulster version. There is also "An seachtain seo a chuaigh thart," the week that went by, instead of "an seachtain seo chaite", and "gasúr dalba" for "buachaill dána." I am learning this wonderful richness. I am learning about places like Cuan na Beirtrí Buí in west Connemara and finding out a lot about our history. I heard about An Teach Dóite, in Galway, whose name in English is not a direct translation. We have to be open to change, because people constantly change and evolve. We are in a new space. Next year, 2016, is the year in which we will see change and communities responding to ways of reflecting on where we were 100 years ago, how we can learn from the past 100 years and how we can imagine the future, of which the next generation will be a part.
Go raibh míle maith agaibh arís. Níl an díospóireacht críochnaithe. Tá a lán oibre le déanamh amach anseo agus ba mhaith liom mo bhuíochas a ghabháil le gach Seanadóir a ghlac páirt sa díospóireacht anocht. Go raibh míle maith acu agus chífidh mé iad amach anseo.
Is the Minister of State sure he is in the right Department? It is probably the best answer to any amendment from a Minister. I thank him, because I am on the edge of a precipice of conviction. I would like to point out a few things to Senators. People tell me they know something is an emotive argument.It is like another downgrading. Senator Catherine Noone is gone, but I note that my argument was a cognitive one even though there is nothing wrong with an emotive argument. If something is based on a profound feeling, it is, therefore, a profound thought process. I sometimes feel there is a disingenuous way of getting back at somebody.
As a life-long educator, I sometimes go to the philosophers who are great thinkers on how we should educate and the kinds of knowledge we should impart to young people. I have a great fear about a capitulation to a banking system of education and to economics. I watched my last university, DCU, roll over to the bankers and economists and come to believe that mathematics was the only way forward and that the only way to really educate our young people was to give maths extra points and to make it relevant. It was completely incorrect because it creates a hierarchical structure of subjects, which I am completely against. It creates an apartheid of subjects in which one subject is considered better or worse than another. That is not the case and all subjects are of equal weight. While it is not to say they are more important than others, there are subjects such as language and those relating to who and what we are in which one needs a core facility. I was disingenuous in drafting the motion when I wrote "core/compulsory". My aim was to get the argument going because what we have done is take to take history from core to discrete with "discretus" meaning "to separate". My argument is that if we do that, we will lose the core value. I was interested in the Minister of State's use of the core value and that it does not become a discrete subject out there, like a kind of pick and mix of nuts on the way into the cinema. The world's history is the world's judgment and without it, young people will have none.
History and the arts, which are so below par in the curriculum that they are hardly spoken about, constitute a counteraction against the saturation of the information highway. We are told technology will save us, but it will not. Plugging something in will not save us. There is a view that history has moment as a counterweight to the fact that is immediate. As my colleagues said, it is about fact because so much of our psyche, social responsibility, habits and processes have been undermined and dwindled away by a way of thinking that is coming at people every time they turn around, from advertising to marketing, from media to tablets, in the way we live our lives. We rely on great history teachers, schools and education to be the counter-terrorist to that terrorism. It is a kind of terrorism of young minds and that is why I put it in there as a core subject.
We are very bad in Ireland at having major discussions about knowledge whereas we discuss constantly whether young people are bored. Sometimes they are and sometimes I am. Learning is difficult and we need memory, reading, rereading and counter-reading. We also must acknowledge that the kinds of knowledge we impart cannot be a parallel of the great, saturated information highway. We will end up teaching "The X Factor". We must counteract what goes on out in the saturated world. History is one of the subjects that does so brilliantly. Hopefully, as the Minister of State suggests in words that are not used a great deal, that can be done imaginatively and creatively. I have argued here at all times that it is not bankers and economists we should be trying to educate; it is creative thinkers. I acknowledge the Minister of State's belief that will happen. As a non-digital native and an auld doll, I thank the Minister of State, who is such a native.
I also thank Senator Jim D'Arcy, who is a great colleague and a most well-read historian. We have wonderful conversations. I take on board much of what he said, including what he said about The Beano. He was right. It is about Whitehead's choices and why we teach literature. Funnily enough, if one looks at literature, law, music, poetry and drama, one sees that they get their spine from history. They integrate it and take their spine and trajectory from it. I take the Senator's point about The Beanoand its capacity to encapsulate its times, social history and the way people live. It is a great point.
To be fair to the Minister, she rang me yesterday to say that while she would have liked to be here, she was unable to attend as she had business in the lower House. I acknowledge that. She had a wonderful person take her place. While I will not press a division, I would like the Minister to come to the House to set out her plans and the core nature of history for history teachers, the subject generally and knowledge for the future. I do not want to see it become a matter of short courses.
I thank the Minister of State for his time and his reaction. I thank my colleagues also. This is a topic that is not going away. The teachers are very interesting and truthful people who work very hard. They have taken on the Department, which has had to capitulate, reverse, change and come to an agreement. Something will have to be done about this as well and I would like to give the Minister the opportunity. I thank the History Teachers Association of Ireland and those people who work in the area who are in the Visitors Gallery this afternoon.
- Ivana Bacik
- Terry Brennan
- Colm Burke
- Paul Coghlan
- Maurice Cummins
- Jim D'Arcy
- John Gilroy
- Aideen Hayden
- Denis Landy
- Marie Moloney
- Tony Mulcahy
- Michael Mullins
- Hildegarde Naughton
- Catherine Noone
- Pat O'Neill
- John Whelan