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.