Joe Crowley and Governor Kathy Hochul in a 2021 photo.

EDITORIAL: A Timely Follow Up

Just because a piece of legislation is signed, sealed and delivered its provisions might not necessarily be fully implemented.

This would appear to be the case in the matter of the Great Hunger curriculum in New York State's high school system.

The appearance is presented in the lines of a broadside from the New York Ancient Order of Hibernians with regard to the teaching or non-teaching about the Irish Famine/Great Hunger in that system

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Readers with good memories will recall the widespread feeling of a goal accomplished some years back when Albany accepted that the Great Hunger should be available for study in the high school curriculum.

It would have been felt at the time that the efforts of so many - State Assemblyman Joe Crowley being in the front rank - had succeeded in setting a pedagogical process in motion.

Motion, however, seems to have been lacking.

Here's the Hibernians on the matter: "Despite being part of the New York State required curriculum, there has been a lack of enforcement in teaching about the Great Hunger. Repeated Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) requests have failed to produce any New York State Education Department records showing that they are monitoring or assessing instruction on this vital topic. The AOH's resolution demands a thorough review and increased transparency in the enforcement of these educational standards."

The AOH Resolution calls for New York Governor Kathy Hochul to conduct a "thorough review" of the New York State Education Department's compliance with Section 801 of the New York State Education Law concerning the instruction of the Great Hunger."

By way of a refresher course here's what the New York Times had to say in a report all the way back in December, 1996.

"One of the most heated debates in the New York State Legislature this year had nothing to do with the state's ballooning budget gap, its welfare and crime policies or any of the other day-to-day affairs of state government. Instead, it involved an event that took place more than a century ago and 3,000 miles away:The Irish potato famine.

"The debate began when Joseph Crowley, an Assemblyman from a largely Irish section of Queens, proposed a bill that would require every public and private school in the state to teach about the famine's horrors.

"But the unusual bill -- which was eventually passed by both houses of the Legislature and signed into law by the Governor -- wound up creating a rift in relations between Britain and New York (the British Embassy has registered a protest), and it drew the scorn of some historians and even a few state lawmakers, who see it as a brazen example of ethnic pandering that sets a troubling legislative precedent."

"This is not the first time the Legislature has mandated what students should learn in the classroom -- from physical education (1910) to humane treatment of birds and animals (1917) to highway safety (1937) with a bicycle safety amendment (1973). The last change was in 1994, when lawmakers required schools to teach about human rights violations ''with particular attention to the study of the inhumanity of genocide, slavery and the Holocaust.''

"The Crowley bill amended that law, adding the words ''and the mass starvation of Ireland from 1845 to 1850.'' But supporters of Mr. Crowley's bill went beyond simply requiring that the Great Hunger be added to the curriculum. Likening the famine to the Holocaust, they argued that England's policies during the 19th century had been intended to spread the famine and starve the Irish people.

"As Gov. George E. Pataki said when he signed the bill into law, 'History teaches us the Great Irish Hunger was not the result of a massive failure of the Irish potato crop but rather was the result of a deliberate campaign by the British to deny the Irish people the food they needed to survive.'"

Comparison with acts that fall under the title of genocide was always going to cause argument. But better argument than silence.

So the Hibernians are asking Governor Kathy Hochul to investigate.

Hochul is Irish American and very conscious of her Irish heritage. She was recently in Ireland where she attended the inaugural Global Economic Summit in Killarney. Her Irish ancestors came from Kerry and she frequently alludes to her Irish roots.

As such, it would be expected that she will take seriously the Hibernian position on a subject that, regardless how you think it is presented in a classroom, focuses on an historical tragedy that saw the ending of an old Ireland, but which also gave birth to the phenomenon that is modern Irish America.