Teaching is never neutral. Every educator brings his or her perspective to the material. A “lack of viewpoint” is, in itself, a viewpoint.
And when we’re teaching material that should provoke our students to mourn or at least wrestle with difficult truths about our broken world—like the causes of the Irish Potato Famine and ensuing suffering—we might be failing our students if we don’t bring them face to face with these questions.
This article outlines the problem. The tone of the piece may be a little harsh, but the point is well made: mainstream textbooks tend to skip some of the most important material students should be learning.
“Uniformly, social studies textbooks fail to allow the Irish to speak for themselves, to narrate their own horror.”
The school curriculum could and should ask students to reflect on the contradiction of starvation amidst plenty, on the ethics of food exports amidst famine. And it should ask why these patterns persist into our own time.
More than a century and a half after the “Great Famine,” we live with similar, perhaps even more glaring contradictions. Raj Patel opens his book, Stuffed and Starved: Markets, Power and the Hidden Battle for the World’s Food System: “Today, when we produce more food than ever before, more than one in ten people on Earth are hungry. The hunger of 800 million happens at the same time as another historical first: that they are outnumbered by the one billion people on this planet who are overweight.”