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AU Scholars | Education about Contentious Topics:  Teaching about the Civil Rights Movement in Northern Ireland

Spring 2015

This course would examine how educational curricula can be used to promote cross-community understanding about contentious periods in history in divided societies. Our subject matter will be high school curricula in Northern Ireland (NI).

The NI civil rights movements borrowed heavily from the rhetoric and tactics of our movement, though with very different effect, leading to more than 30 years of violence that claimed 3,600 lives. While many of the civil rights issues of the 1960s (i.e., the prohibition of discrimination in access to jobs, housing, public services, one-person, one vote, reform of the police and legal system, access to political representation, etc.) have been addressed in both contexts, in Northern Ireland, 95% of schools remain segregated (Catholics attend Catholic schools subsidized by the state, Protestants attend state run/controlled schools and a tiny percent attend integrated schools). There is considerable scholarship that establishes the importance of educational curricula in the development of communal identity. Different versions of history are conveyed and distinct identities are reinforced by this system in NI.

Our research project for the spring semester will be to examine how the civil rights movement in NI is taught in high school curricula in different schools. The goal as a class will be to develop an exercise or lesson plan that could be used in multiple contexts to inform students about the past and sensitize them to multiple viewpoints about historical events/experiences. The project will give AU Scholars an opportunity to examine the history of the movement, reflect upon how one’s understanding of history is both shaped by and creative of one’s identity, consider a variety of educational approaches, and practice their written and oral communications skills as we attempt to develop a lesson plan. This course will include a Spring Break research trip to NI to meet with students, faculty and administrators in different types of schools and develop a better picture of how this history is handled in these different contexts.