Potato famine measure shows we're starved for substance

February 05, 1998

Potato famine measure shows we're starved for substance

Now I realize why I turned out as unbalanced as I am; I didn't learn about potatoes when I was a kid.

Fortunately the Maryland Senate is taking steps to ensure that this never happens to a child again. The upper chamber signed off on a bill Monday that would, I'm serious, require state school districts to teach kids about the great Irish potato famine of 1845.

How about that for a curriculum? The three R's: Reading, 'riting and russets. Who are they going to get to teach the classes, Dan Quayle? "OK, kids, time to learn about ye olde Irishe potato famine."


"All the bill is saying is, if it's American history, teach it," said Sen. Clarence O'Blount, a member of the little-known African-Irish-American caucus.

OK, but didn't the Irish potato famine happen in Ireland, ergo making it Irish history? I know it sent a lot of Irish to America, seeking the right to worship the potato of their choice, but the main event still happened over in Leprechaun land.

Perhaps if we lived in Idaho I could understand this, but for Maryland I don't get the connection. Did all 1 million Irish immigrants come to Bowie? Or is it just the old Lord Calvert/Irish Catholic tie, and if so does that mean the legislature will be mandating a course on the 1315 invasion of Ireland by Edward Bruce?

Sen. Don O'Munson voted for the bill because he is inspired by Washington County civil rights champion Thomas Kennedy. The problem here is that Kennedy was Scottish - but then those islands all look alike to me, too.

Still, there's something about politicians poking their noses into the classroom that leaves me queasy. I can see them mandating a civics course that specifically teaches that senatorial scholarships are not a form of legalized vote-buying, campaign finance laws do not need to be reformed and gifts from tobacco lobbyists are pieces of Americana to be marveled over and treasured.

And what happens if, God forbid, descendants of the French take control of the State House? Do you really want your kids hearing "Hello children and welcome to day 32 of 'How the French single-handedly won World War II, keeping the world safe for the people of Britain and America...'"

I wouldn't have minded so much if the Senate had passed a law requiring schools to teach history in general. But, and I keep getting back to this central point, why potatoes? Why this preoccupation with starch? Is Mike Miller really being fair and open-minded, or has the Ore-Ida special interest council gotten to him, too?

Why not the Whiskey Rebellion, the battle of the Cornfield, the soup kitchens, the Grapes of Wrath, mad cow disease, the Boston Tea Party or the great Liver and Onions Revolt of 1735?

If history is the legislature's bag, let them teach this:

Let them teach the story of a man who thought HE had all the answers. The history of a man who came to power when no one else cared enough, or was paying attention enough to stop him. A man whose evil and tyranny became apparent only after he had become too entrenched for anyone to organize a challenge. A man who himself rewrote history daily and brainwashed people into believing as he believed.

And you know who that man was?

That's right, it was my old city editor Glenn Richards. I think he's a communications lawyer now, so don't say I didn't warn you.

No, I don't like this potato proposal one little bit - but as usual I am outvoted, for the eyes seem to have it.

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