Reflections On . . . The Need for Traveller Characters in Children’s Stories

By Nora Corocran

Updated / Monday, 12 December 2022 10:07

Photo by Unknown Author – Licensed Under CC BY-NC-ND

As a member of the Irish Traveller community and an academic, I am saddened that most of our children have no real concept of Traveller traditions in contemporary society. Our community is losing its traditions. To address this, I have started writing a series of children’s fictional literature based on Traveller culture and traditions. I have written two in a series of five books, with each one focused on a different Traveller tradition. They are about a little boy called Tadgh and his sister, Maranda, who live in a house with their parents, and mainly feature their Nanna, who lives in a trailer in a Halting Site (you can listen to me read one for Culture Night 2022 here). These books are for primary school children, from first class to third class, but can also be read to children in an early year’s setting. In addition to being gender balanced, the core message is, no matter where you live, or who you are, you are just as special and as equal as your fellow students. These books are not just for Traveller children – they are for all to share.

These books are about celebrating Irish Traveller heritage and culture in this diverse world. Reading about Tadgh and Miranda’s adventures will encourage Mincéir Gawhyers/children to be proud of their heritage and culture, to celebrate, embrace and share the rich, beautiful traditions bestowed on them by their ancestors, and to want to continue their education and follow their dreams, knowing that they are equal in society. Reading these stories will also give them the strength to stand strong in the face of discrimination and ignorance and the confidence to negotiate their educational journey to adulthood. But these stories will also inspire children from outside the Traveller community and offer them a wonderful opportunity to learn about new cultural values and traditions.

In his article on The Development of Children, Ages 6 to 14, J. S. Eccles shows how the years of middle childhood and early adolescence are a time of important developmental advances that establish children’s sense of identity. During these years, children develop a sense of self-esteem and individuality, comparing themselves with their peers. They come to expect they will succeed or fail at different tasks. They may develop an orientation toward achievement that will colour their response to school and other challenges for many years. For most Traveller children, these years are marred by discrimination and exclusion. The emotional damage done here to a Traveller child’s social and emotional development will have a disproportionate effect on their future life.

The best gifts we can give to the next generation are the tools needed to overcome prejudice and discrimination. And one of the best ways to go about this is by using Jerome Bruner’s theory of scaffolding. This theory recommends helpful, structured interaction between an adult and a child with the aim of helping the child achieve a specific goal. The purpose of the support is to allow the child to achieve higher levels of development by simplifying the task or idea, while motivating and encouraging the child. All children need this type of scaffolding as they commence their educational journey, and all children need to know who they are and where they come from, and to have a sense of pride of their own identity. A lot of Traveller children have the added trauma of being negatively seen and judged by their ethnicity, which can make them want to hide who they are. Stories that celebrate Traveller culture can provide important scaffolding for Traveller children and for children who are not familiar with Traveller culture and traditions.

“Othering” is a term that not only encompasses the many expressions of prejudice on the basis of group identities; it provides a clarifying frame that reveals a set of common processes and conditions that propagate group-based inequality and marginality.” (Powell & Mendian, The Problem of Othering, 2018)

As someone who has been a victim of “othering,” in school as a child, the need to protect our young Traveller students was a strong motivation for creating the “Tadgh and Maranda Series.” In his most famous book, Pedagogy of the Oppressed, Paulo Freire talks about education as an act of depositing. He calls this the “banking concept of education,” which is his — admittedly bleak — way of saying that learners are not actively participating in their learning, in problem-posing or interacting, but are expected to receive, memorise, and repeat information. This approach has a disempowering effect on learners and can create misuses of power. In this scenario, the teacher is all-knowing, “kindly” bestowing their knowledge on to those considered ignorant.

Expecting a Traveller child to positively learn from a curriculum, while in many cases, excluding, and/or demeaning their heritage, through conscious bias, micro aggression, and open discrimination, causes a ripple that follows the student in to second level. This has, for most, a great chance of becoming a wave that will knock them over and push them out of education the first chance they get. Education needs to include more diversity. Traveller children need to feel part of the curriculum. The fight to include Traveller History and culture in The Irish Educational system is ongoing. The “Tadgh and Maranda Series” looks only to support the learning of our culture and traditions by both students and parents in a fun, colourful way. Traveller children have no one to aspire to, no heroes in story books to compare to. Traveller Children deserve to see their faces in the pages of a storybook.

The views expressed here are those of the author and do not represent or reflect the views of the Museum of Childhood Ireland.

Nora Corcoran is a member of the Irish Traveller Community and a Community Development Worker with The Galway Traveller Movement. A Keynote Speaker on Diversity and Inclusion, Nora has a degree in Business, Social Enterprise, Leadership and Management. Because Travellers are underrepresented in education, and their ethnicity and cultural backgrounds not usually displayed in classroom settings, Nora has written a series of children’s storybooks based on Traveller culture and traditions, which she hopes will be published and distributed to schools, libraries, and commercial settings.

You can read the 2019 report compiled by the National Council for Curriculum and Assessment (NCCA) on Traveller Culture and History in the Irish Curriculum here.

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