Removing history from the Junior Cert core curriculum will turn us into Brits and Americans
It's the end of history as we know it.
Before September, students across Ireland will make the most terrifying leap of all — transitioning from the relative comfort of primary school to the harsh, unforgiving hellscape that is secondary school.
No longer the sixth class top dogs, kids smaller than their schoolbags will find themselves bottom of a food chain that's topped by scary 18-year-olds with beards, eyebrow-piercings, cars... some of them even smoke. It's a pretty messed up escalation, but that's an issue for another day.
2018 is a landmark year for Irish secondary education. This will be the first year that the core curriculum for the Junior Cert cycle won't feature history as a mandatory course. Indeed, from now on, the only mandatory courses will be Irish, English and Maths.
Admittedly, not all of the history course is essential information for making one's way through life. Wattle and daub, for example, the process by which huts were made back in the day, might not exactly have much value anymore.
But the overwhelming majority of it is invaluable, and we shouldn't tolerate any attempt to reduce its importance.
What excuse can we offer for forcing kids to learn Irish for six years if we can't be bothered to teach them why none of us speak it as a first language? What use is there for the modh coinníollach if we can't coherently speak about why Ireland was colonised, and how? And by whom? And why the Grattan Parliament failed?
Why Home Rule stalled time and again? Why the 20th century in Ireland began in bloodshed, first in a war with the British, then between ourselves — in a conflict that gave us the only two parties to have governed our country, even now, over 100 years later.
50 years from now, could we have old men sitting in pubs wondering which side of the treaty debate Michael Collins was on? What else will we forget?
Why was poverty so rampant for so long? Why was the influence of the church so pervasive? Why does Catholicism have a special place in the Irish constitution?
"1916... Why does that year ring a bell?"
There is no way the world around us can be meaningfully understood without a comprehensive picture of the causes-and-effects that have brought us to where we are now.
There can be no way to correctly process modern-day Ireland unless the Ireland of 1200, and 1556, and 1798, and 1845, and 1916, and 1921, and 1960 have all been thoroughly analysed. 2018 has not emerged out of nowhere.
The study of history is the study of human rights and their violations. It is the study of equality, and the vicious imbalances that have led to death and destruction — races and peoples persecuted for no reason other than prejudice. It is the study of power, and of how power unchecked, inevitably leads to oppression, and violence, and misery. It's the study of people, and why they matter.
Especially, with the re-emergence of fascism as an apparently valid ideology, it is more important than ever to instil values of human rights in impressionable minds.
On day one of Junior Cert history, you learn about three key concepts that skew our view of the past — bias, prejudice and propaganda. Could anything be more relevant in today's heavily polarised, fake news climate?
Quadratic equations are important. So too is being able to spell. Long-shore drift less so, but it probably matters to somebody out there, so whatever, it's not like I'm trying to get rid of geography. But an understanding of the chain of causality that has brought the world we know into being is nothing short of imperative.
Without a fluent understanding of the behaviours, the traditions, the decisions and the people that have led us to where we are, our understanding of the world at large will be poor at best. Dangerously deficient at worst. To forego an understanding of the world as it really is should be unthinkable.
So this is it. This is the moment that we could lose our sense of self and end up like the Brits and the Americans. The kind of people who'll build statues to their leaders without any understanding of the missteps they took, or the crimes they committed. The kind of people who can look at Oliver Cromwell and Winston Churchill without the understanding of their impact on our own shores. The kind of people who can't understand the world's many nuances, since they never learned about the nuances of history.
Ireland has long been a country, for better or worse, infatuated with its own history and its own mythology. As we seek to replace Cú Chulainn with computer science, we risk losing the very base level of knowledge required for a functioning, healthy society.
We've all seen the footage. Some popular talk show host sends his minions out onto an American street and gets them to name a country. Any country. They can't do it. They have no sense of where America fits in the global mosaic.
Ireland, more than most countries, needs to understand its place in the world. We need to know that for centuries, the United Kingdom colonised and oppressed us. We need to know that our greatest upturn in fortunes coincided directly with our membership of the European Union. We need to know who we are, and why.
Those who forget history are doomed to repeat it, as the old saying goes.
God only knows what happens to people who never even learn history in the first place.