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Learning at its Best

Lessons From Ireland: Rebel with an Educational Cause

Evelyn O’Connor, Ireland’s recently honored 2012 Secondary Teacher of the Year, says one of her own high school teachers once told her that it’s okay to be a rebel.

Now, Ms. O’Connor, rebel with an educational cause, speaks out against the tyranny of a system designed to strip schools of dedicated teachers in the name of its austerity program. It’s a program that  replaces “non-permanent” teachers who often choose to teach in specific areas of the country with “permanent” teachers who are transferred willy-nilly around the countryside as their own teaching positions are eliminated by the government’s Department of Education . Evelyn O’Connor is one such extraordinary, dedicated “non-permanent” teacher who is about to lose her career as a County Mayo educator despite the fact that she teaches in what she calls home because she thinks she can make a difference there.

It’s a different chapter in the story of devaluing educators among government officials who don’t understand, as President Michael D. Higgins writes, that the economic space of a nation is an essential element defined within its greater and more important cultural space. The cultural space of a nation, grounded in a democratic citizenry, is sustained by the work of its educators to educate young people to embrace values for and of learning: creativity, critical thought, community collaboration, and an ethic for contributing the best we each have to offer at work and in the home.

“We are told again and again in Ireland and by the OECD, at our own request, that our future demands that we be functional cogs within what is termed the ‘knowledge economy’. This, it is suggested, is to make us ‘competitive’- to ensure we have a capacity- a facility to compete with other zones of economic power.  This may be true in the short-term but the risk it carries in terms of skills and capacity is that it is a recipe for obsolescence.

More fundamentally, the problem with this view is that it is reductionist. It limits us all to some degree, because it reduces citizens as social beings to an existence as alienated individual consumers, citizens with personal stories to tell, and narratives to share, and roles to fulfill, are turned into a succession of square pegs. It lessens the possibility we have to be persons in the fullest sense, to be citizens in a creative society with a diverse past and future.

The way in which our world is structured places the economy in first place, to the detriment of all else. We need a re-evaluation. Other aspects of human solidarity and creativity must also be brought to prominence. Part of that, surely, is the need to emphasise our cultural and creative natures.

Culture, it must be repeated and repeated again, is central, not residual.”

Michael D. Higgins (2007)

This teacher, like President Higgins and a host of other Irish rebels who have come before her, speaks from her soul, a soul filled with thumos. Ms. O’Connor represents the spirit of an educational rebel with a great cause. She’s a model for Irish educators everywhere who help children such as Mira discover their futures in the cultural space of Ireland. That’s a lesson worth learning by all of us, regardless of where we live.

Mira’s Poem

About pamelamoran

Executive Director of the Virginia School Consortium for Learning: We create paths to contemporary learning by supporting participants from member divisions to engage in critical inquiry to develop curriculum, assessment, and Instruction consistent with a focus on supporting learners to acquire competencies of critical thinking, communication, citizenship, collaboration, and creativity.


5 thoughts on “Lessons From Ireland: Rebel with an Educational Cause

  1. I absolutely loved this video….amazing how we share the same issues around the world!

    Posted by Francesca Blueher | July 1, 2012, 11:17 pm
    • @evelynoconnor is an amazing Irish educator – an English teacher who is choosing to take on the economy-driven changes that are affecting the educational workforce in Ireland. She participates routinely in #edchatie and blogs at I appreciate her taking a stand and believe she’s a model for educators wherever they are under attack. Thanks for noticing!

      Posted by pam | July 2, 2012, 4:47 pm
  2. A huge hank you to Evelyn O’Connor, Ireland Teacher of the Year, for this absolute Wowser! of a speech. She speaks out with intelligence, with dignity, with passion, with anger.

    Quite a contrast to the US Teacher of the Year corporatized pablum. Of course the U. S. Teacher of the Year program is sponsored by the Council of Chief State School Officers. Go here to see how much they’ve collected from the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation:

    Posted by Susan Ohanian | July 2, 2012, 8:03 am
    • Susan, I appreciate your taking time to comment on the statement made by @evelynoconnor – She is an amazing Irish educator who is choosing to take on the economy-driven changes that are affecting the educational workforce in Ireland. She participates routinely in #edchatie and blogs at When in Ireland recently visiting educators and working with them at a conference, it’s evident that the same forces at work in the US are attempting to shift Ireland towards a similar focus on extending the reach of standardized testing, devaluing educators, and bringing more of a corporate structure into public education. Thank you for your comments here.

      Posted by pam | July 2, 2012, 4:52 pm
  3. Thanks for the lovely comments, I’ve never been very good at keeping quiet in the face of mindless stupidity 🙂 I think we have a chance in Ireland to go the route Finland took so successfully in the 1990’s. Teaching is still a popular career choice here but as the status of the profession erodes so too will the quality of our education. Right now we have a retention rate of 92% who complete high school, one of the highest in the world. It would be so sad to see this compromised.

    Posted by Evelyn | July 2, 2012, 5:38 pm

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