|(From Church & State Magazine, No. 74, Autumn 2003)|
|The Story Of An Educational Document|
Notes for Teachers — History is an important educational document published by the Irish Department of Education sometime between 1932 and 1934. In it guidelines are set down as to how Irish history should be taught in National Schools. It is important not just because of its enunciation of sound educational principles and practice and because of the influence it brought to bear on Irish history teaching over the next thirty-five years, but because it includes a first-class summary of Irish history from a national perspective. As a pupil in a National School (Belgrove National School, Clontarf, Dublin), who enjoyed learning about history, I can verify that these guidelines were still being closely adhered to by a National Teacher (Mr. Jordan) in the mid 1960s. I was taught Irish history in a way that was inspirational, proudly national, but also balanced and generous spirited by a teacher who passionately believed in what he was expounding. I believe that teacher was typical of National Teachers of the time.
While the importance of Notes for Teachers – History is self evident, I have never come across references to it in educational or academic literature. I came across it by chance in the National Library and it was filed with Government publications published by the Stationary Office for the year 1959. This may have been because the guidelines were republished in that year.
When I discovered it I had just finished reading History And The Irish Question, Roy Foster’s influential critique of the misuse of history by Irish nationalists (published in Transactions of the Royal Historical Society, 1983, Paddy And Mr. Punch, 1993 and Interpreting Irish History – The Debate On Historical Revisionism, 1994). The gist of the essay was that past history had been made to serve a legitimizing function by nationalist activists and propagandists throughout the period of modern history, that this phenomenon was uniquely Irish, and that it could be traced both to a school of romantic antiquarians writing in the late eighteenth century and to the influence of the hedge schools at around the same time.
In ferreting out the many culprits responsible for what he sees as the falsification of Irish history (the list includes most British historians who wrote about Ireland), Foster eventually turns his attention to the Department of Education. He castigates the Department’s function as "the institutional debasement of popular history". He also counterposes the emergence in the early forties of a school of Irish academic historians with the ‘bureaucratic philistinism’ of Education officials of that time.
In the following extract Foster provides what we must take as the evidence behind his assertions, complete with a footnote reference.
"What followed was the institutionalization of a certain view of history in the Free State, as instructed by the Department of Education from 1922, and memorialized in textbooks that did duty for the next forty years. Teachers were informed that ‘the continuity of the separtist idea from Tone to Pearse should be stressed’; pupils should be ‘imbued with the ideals and aspirations of such men as Thomas Davis and Patrick Pearse" 78
Footnote 78 reads: "Ruth Dudley Edwards, Patrick Pearse: The Triumph of Failure, p. 341."
It is worth pausing at this point to note that the notion postulated here by Roy Foster that the influence exerted by the Department of Education on history teaching was malign, is now widely accepted. I have seen essays in which other academics make the same point, also citing Ruth Dudley Edwards as the source. Conventional wisdom now dictates that prior to the 1970s we lived in a Dark Age of historical distortion, and now thanks to revisionism we are enlightened. Since the history syllabus at primary and secondary level has been transformed along lines acceptable to revisionist historians it is fair to assume that the political establishment and the Department of Education itself have now accepted the revisionist view that their past policies in relation to the teaching of Irish history were wicked transgressions!
That the accusation of bureaucratic philistinism directed by Foster and Dudley Edwards against the Department of Education should be so widely believed on such flimsy evidence is astounding. Ruth Dudley Edwards’s biography of Patrick Pearse is about Patrick Pearse. It contains only a passing reference to the attitude of the civil service to the teaching of Irish history. Here is the relevant passage:
Clearly Roy Foster relied entirely on this passage for his claim concerning the Department of Education. Ruth Dudley Edwards herself is so unequal to her subject that it is difficult to know where to begin by way of criticism. She cannot grasp that there was a real enthusiasm among National Teachers to imbue the minds of their pupils with a sense of national pride; she cannot fathom that a revolution must continually consolidate itself by imparting the revolutionary worldview to the population; she is apparently unaware that Fianna Fail’s coming to power in the thirties represented a popular intensification and deepening of the national revolution.
But none of this is directly relevant to the point under discussion. Ruth Dudley Edwards has taken a few references to nationalist historical figures from a lengthy educational document which can fairly be described as seminal, comprehensive, balanced, inspirational and measured, a document that ultimately impacted positively on Irish society as a whole. She has presented these references without mentioning the length and breadth of the document they are taken from. She has quoted them out of context. She has given no indication where readers might check the source of her research, nor has she named the civil servants she has accused. She has distorted a piece of historical evidence as a subterfuge so as to give credence to her untenable belief that a partisan clique in the Department of Education imposed their political prejudice on a defenceless education system.
And this shoddy piece of distortion is accepted as gospel by the ultra fastidious academics who have been prating about the need for impartiality in historical scholarship! By their own petard they are hoisted! A reference to the official attitude to Irish history-teaching in a biography of Patrick Pearse has become, solely because it was picked up by Roy Foster, the authoritative statement on the matter.
for Teachers – History deserves to be published
in full for many reasons, not least of which is as a reminder of a time
when a sense of purpose imbued the Irish State. From the thirties onwards
the Department of Education oversaw the teaching of Irish history on sound
national principles in schools throughout the country. That great endeavour
bore rich fruit and is still doing so despite the triumph of the revisionists
in academia. This forgotten document exposes the shoddiness and shallowness
of revisionism; it also testifies to the sound thinking that went on in
the upper echelons of the Irish civil service in the decades following
|Notes For Teachers—History can be read here|
If you wish to subscribe to the Irish Political Review, Labour & Trade Union Review, Church & State or Problems Of Capitalism & Socialism please go to our secure sales area.
|Articles And Editorials From Athol Books Magazines||ATHOL BOOKS HOMEPAGE|
|Free Downloads Of Athol Books Magazines||Aubane Historical Society|
|Free Downloads Of Athol Books Pamphlets, etc||The Heresiarch|
|Archive Of Articles From Church & State||Archive Of Editorials From Church & State|
|Archive Of Articles From Irish Political Review||Archive Of Editorials From Irish Political Review|
|Athol Books Secure Online Sales||Belfast Historical & Educational Society|