‘O Captain, My Captain’ is a book about one teacher’s hope for change in the Irish education system. It is written in an engaging style that draws on personal experience as well as research. It aims to reach anyone interested in education, from teachers and academics to parents and young people.
The book imagines what our education system might look like without the Leaving Cert and the CAO system. It considers the type of learning that might happen in our classrooms without the demands of a single set of high-stakes exams. It suggests that our students and our broader society might be more fulfilled and safer as a result.
In the opening chapters the author considers attitudes towards teachers in Ireland. The author suggests a breakdown in this respect, linked to the classrooms of the past and a growing pressure on students to perform well in a market-run system. Our competitive drive in education is presented as yet another form of oppression in our country – following on from the abuses of the Church and colonialism. The book makes the claim that removing the stress and the singularity of the Leaving Cert could liberate Irish students. There is a deep concern for social justice throughout.
In the later chapters the author places much focus on the importance of objective sex education in Irish schools, referring to rising rates of harassment and violence in our universities. The writer believes that a removal of a rigid, academic approach to education would allow more time to discuss the physical and social realities of young people’s lives and bodies.
The book closes where it began, in considering the role of the teacher – what the parameters of that role should be in a classroom devoted to helping children find their own individual paths and encouraging them to tell their own stories.
Jennifer Horgan is a teacher and journalist who has spent the last fifteen years in classrooms in Ireland and abroad. As a journalist, she has written for the Evening Echo and writes a weekly column on education in Ireland for the Irish Examiner entitled ‘The Secret Diary of an Irish Teacher’. She teaches English and has had creative work published in The Honest Ulsterman, The Blue Nib and Crossways. She lives in Cork with her husband and three school-going children.