Sunday, May 23, 2010

Ethnic Studies 212: Superiority of the Irish

My friend Sean Seamus O'Casey Yeats Swift Cuchulain Beckett Guinness Doyle teaches high school in Tucson. His most popular course is Ethnic Studies 212: "The Irish are Superior to All of You F**kin' Gobshites." Tucson kids of all ethnicities clamor to get into the class so they can learn the meaning and proper use of "gobshite." Once in the class, they are flummoxed to learn from Mr. Doyle that there will be a fair amount of reading of fine Irish literature, performance of Irish drama and singing of Irish songs with just an occasional mention of gobshite, mostly in reference to the Arizona governor, legislature and assorted teabaggers.

Sean is upset with Arizona's new law banning ethnic studies classes. Gov. Jan Brewer just signed the law that bans classes that "promote the overthrow of the U.S. government, promote resentment toward a race or class of people, are designed primarily for pupils of a particular ethnic group, advocate ethnic solidarity instead of the treatment of pupils as individuals."

"It's not fair," bemoaned Sean during a recent phone call. "Only once have I called for the overthrow of the U.S. Government, and that when that gobshite Reagan was president. And his people are Irish, so I can call him what I want."

I asked Sean if he promoted resentment toward a race or a class of people.

"Guilty," he said. "Once my students read The Great Hunger, they resent the Brits. After we watch Gangs of New York, they resent the American Nativists who advocated sending the Papists back to Ireland or killing them, whichever was easiest. They also hate Leonardo DiCaprio for his pathetic Irish accent. After seeing a performance of Synge's Playboy of the Western World, they resent me because they thought there would be lots of nudes in it. After reading Year of the French, they resent the French for being so inept on the Irish battefields against the Brits. After reading How the Irish Saved Civilization, they resent the Roman Catholic Church and all the popes. After hearing about Cuchulain's magnificent warp-spasms in Cattle Raid of Cooley (Táin Bó Cúailnge), they resent all of the wimpy comic-book heroes from their mis-spent youth. After reading An Béal Bocht(The Poor Mouth) by Flann O'Brien, they don't think much of the Irish.

"So you are teaching resentment."

He laughed. "I'm not teaching resentment. I'm teaching literature and drama and media arts and history."

"What about solidarity? Gov. Brewer says that teachers must teach about individualism and personal freedom."

"So maybe I should teach only Ayn Rand?," said Sean. "Look, the Irish are all about personal freedom and individualism. They could teach Ayn Rand a thing or two. You ever try to organize the Irish to do anything? Why do you think the Brits had such a free hand in Ireland for 500 years?

I asked him if he designed ES 212 for pupils of a particular ethnic group, such as Irish-Catholic Americans?

"That may be the class's saving grace. Irish-Americans don't want to hear the real story. They like leprechauns and St. Patrick's Day and Notre Dame's "Fighting Irish." They want to talk about great-grandpa leaving the old sod and coming to America with no shoes and not a penny to his name. They want to talk about finding their colorful relatives in Roscommon or Cork.

"They mostly avoid my class like the plague. Kids that want myths can take history classes that use Texas-sanctioned texts. Or Lynne Cheney's books. My best students tend to be recent immigrants from Mexico, Vietnam, the Sudan, Iraq, Sri Lanka, El Salvador. They know that life is messy. They came to the U.S. so they wouldn't be murdered or starved to death in their native lands. When they read Seamus Heaney and Jonathan Swift, or some Irish-American writers like Flannery O'Connor and James T. Farrell, they can relate to it."

"I'll take a kid from Darfur with a name like Mabior Dau over a Yuppified Republican Phoenix suburbanite named Maureen O'Sullivan any day."

"So Gov. Brewer's law may not apply to you?" I asked.

"That gobshite can kiss my arse. I don't care what she thinks. I'm going to keep teaching kids that life is wonderful and cruel and complicated and ridiculous and funny as hell. Especially if you're an immigrant in Arizona."


Frank S Lechuga said...

Enjoyed the piece. Illuminating and uplifting. Indeed, the Irish are an ancient and noble race. The Irish gave us great poets.

Surely more than ever, those mired in primal nationalism need to remember James Joyce when he said, "History is a nightmare from which I am trying to awake."

America's diversity, when it synchs, is truly a glorious thing.

Anonymous said...

Incredibly well said.

I have a good friend who is a cop in the Phoenix area and he thinks it's gobshite to. And sadly, he's Republican, but I have hope

Tim said...

Fantastic piece, Mr. Shay. I alternated between laughing uproariously and nodding furiously.

You might also enjoy reading some of the appreciative comments on your piece here: