Since I had just read an article about the attempted assassination of Ronald Reagan, in 1981, I felt that I had the perfect example to show the importance of infrastructure. When Ronald Reagan was shot, the country was able to continue its business because of the plans and people in place. When the Philadelphia garbage collectors went on strike, however, the city descended into chaos as piles of rotting refuse built up everywhere. Who is more important, then, a world leader or a garbage collector? I was going to tell them that the same thing could happen at an airport. The air traffic controllers and pilots could be in place, but things could grind to a halt if the baggage handlers or ticket sellers went on strike. I never got to give that great example of the importance of infrastructure, though, because of an aside comment that I made. When beginning the story of Reagan being shot, I said, “Thank Heaven he wasn't killed; we had already gone through the horror of the Kennedys' and Martin Luther King's deaths right before our eyes.” At that point, my wonderful Kaitlin said, “HOW old are you?”
The look on her face and her wonderful, direct way of communicating often teach me; this time I had a Wow moment, a realization, I think, that will change my way of communicating with those younger than I. When we talk about the past to young people, if it was before their birth, it all gets jumbled!! I understand that and know that I've never had a timeline in my head (a proper filing system) to place historical events and people in correct order. I totally understood her alarm; it was the same as if I had said, “I had lunch with Abraham Lincoln.”
We forget to stress to our children how young our country is and how fast things have happened, so, as I said, I dropped the subject of infrastructure and decided to really freak them out by telling them that air travel, the transporting of people and cargo, was only about 35 years older than I. I laughed and said, “I AM old, but some things that you think of as ancient are sort of new; think about how much life has changed in your lifetime; your children will hardly be able to believe that you lived before small cell phones, the internet, and high definition were used daily by kids.” I then decided that I would tell about air transportation from my life perspective. (A teachable moment, I hope). I started with my dad; I explained that he as a child and young adult only had horseback, horse and wagon and his feet on which to travel. (the railroad did not affect his farming village). He remembered the first car to enter his small town, an amazing noisy spectacle that frightened people and horses. Before his death, he experienced, not only airplanes, but watched a man land on the moon in a spaceship. It would be almost impossible for these middle school students to understand the rapid growth from the unreliable first cars to the manned spaceship in my dad's lifetime.
I think that it is amazing that today's young people can handle the overload of information handed to them as well as they do; I think that a wonderful way of helping them get a feel of time is people's stories. There are only a few World War II veterans still alive; has your child ever spoken to one of them or heard him speak? There are a few Holocaust victims still alive; do they realize that? Once the people die, they get thrown into the pool of history: George Washington, George Wallace, George Bernard Shaw….the only REAL George to them is likely to be Clooney!
The tragedy of simple-minded TV and wasted time on the computer is that these things rob our children of real people's stories. The old lady in your church has a story to tell that can help cement history in your child's mind. The old man next door may have fought at Normandy. Their own grandparents have important information about life as they have experienced it. These available family members and neighbors have stories to tell, and your children have a need to hear.
If Kaitlin hadn't asked her question, I might have asked something foolish like, “Where were you when air transport was used to destroy the World Trade Center?” Instead, I asked, ”How old were you in September, 2001? The answers were 2, 3, and 4 years old? Since emotion did not accompany a memory, the 9/11 story needed to be told in a different way.
I get so impressed with the knowledge and intelligence of today's youth sometimes that I forget that there are great gaps of knowledge due to the dropping of most real history from textbooks and so much less communication between parents and children these days. It's sort of a paradox. Today's mothers hover, but they seem to watch their kids rather than really communicate. The mothers in my childhood had much more physical work to do but found time, usually at the kitchen table, to talk with the children. Being in the same house, gym or car is not the same as communicating. I grieve as I see people at the same table or in the same car each using electronics to listen to individual music selections or to talk to someone in another place. If you are calling that “quality time”, think again.Someone has said, “If we don't learn from history, we will make the same mistakes over again.” We each have a personal and family history to tell. Let's start talking to each other. (You can reach Pat Bryson @ firstname.lastname@example.org).