Thursday, March 12, 2009

Beyond Leprechauns and Shamrocks

It's almost St. Patrick's Day. Why am I bracing myself?

It's those nightmarish memories of being forced to color in acres of shamrock outlines in elementary school. Those hideous-looking leprechaun images. What kind of celebration was this, anyway?

Because my family was Irish, I knew just how far off the usual class activities were from real Irish culture. Where was the music? The dancing? The poetry? Irish language, besides "Erin Go Bragh"? How about "hello"? (It's "Dia duit," pronounced "dee-a-gwith.")

We can lose an important opportunity for cultural learning when we grab the first thing available for a holiday. Instead of getting out the leprechauns and shamrocks, play some authentic Irish music for your class. Have them listen to a recording of William Butler Yeats reading his poetry. Imagine how much deeper a discussion of "The Lake Isle of Innisfree" would be if everyone's just heard the poet speak the words himself.

And here's a great story for St. Patrick's Day. Caroline Duggan teaches art in an elementary school in the Bronx, very far from her native Ireland. When she shared her culture, it opened the world for her students.

Think about coloring shamrocks. Now think about learning to do something so well you get to travel to Ireland and appear on television.

Happy St. Patrick's Day to all!

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