My daughter was startled by my reaction.
Her tentative response prompted my wide-eyed look. I had been caught off guard. My composed demeanor pierced, there was no hiding my astonishment. I was aghast.
Okay, I may be overselling it a bit, but it was a surprising moment.
I was watching a documentary on Hiroshima when she walked into the room. Pressing pause, I shook my head and said:
“I still don’t think we should have done it.”
“Dropped the bomb on Hiroshima.”
She looked confused, so I asked, “You covered this is school, right?”
“I’m sure that we did, but I didn’t recognize that name when you said it.”
“Yeah, I don’t know,” she shrugged.
This wasn’t some obscure historical fact, so I didn’t feel that I was being picky. For my daughter to be in her third year of college and not recognize this significant event left me feeling like a failure. Think back to the first time that you learned of the harm and scale of the Holocaust or the Rwandan genocide. How about the Inquisition? If you’re old enough, recall how you felt when you watched the premiere broadcast of Roots. What were your thoughts when you first learned of our history with slavery, the truth about Columbus, or the horrors of Third Reich?
These things leave an impression.
Young minds process information differently than adults, and schools offer sanitized versions of history, so it’s not surprising that a lot is missed during the formal education of our children. As parents, there is little that we can do to alter curriculum, but I have made it a practice to give age-appropriate insight into what my daughters learn in school since they were little.
And it’s not just the bad stuff…
When teachers glossed over the space race, I sat with my daughter and paged through a Time Life book on the moon missions, as I shared my remembrances of Apollo from when I was a child. When the final flights of the Space Shuttle went largely unnoticed in my daughter’s school, I told her that I remember reading about this new thing, a reusable spacecraft, called a space shuttle in my weekly reader. (Remember those?) We browsed YouTube and Nasa.gov, so that I could show her video of Sputnik, Gemini, Apollo, and the Shuttle while highlighting the marvels of those technological achievements and talking about what was going on in the world during those times.
Elections are big in my home. We talk about the candidates, their platforms, hot-button issues, and the real world implications of proposed policy. These are not one-way conversations, as I always ask, “What do you think?” My daughters have no problem with voicing their disagreement if we differ. I like it when they do.
All that I ask is that they are able to tell me why.
I try to ensure that my daughters are aware of the political landscape and current events. More importantly, I encourage them to read, as expressed in this tweet exchange with my friend BJ:
When I was young, it was much easier to accept what we were taught. We had the option of going to the library to quench curiosity and enhance knowledge, but we rarely did. Television and AM radio told us everything that we thought we needed to know about the world. We counted on Charles Kuralt to tell us the news of the week on CBS News Sunday Morning, we listened to Paul Harvey’s distinctive voice as he related The Rest of The Story on the radio, and we tuned in to watch the crew of 60 Minutes as they exposed the evildoers.
At the time, I didn’t realize just how narrow this view of the world was.
Today, we enjoy unprecedented access to both breaking news and historical information. We have the ability to watch live coverage of an event while simultaneously researching other sources to add context to what we are seeing.
The only barrier to learning that cannot be overcome by technology is a lack of interest.
As I write this post, I’m listening to Secretary Clinton’s testimony on Benghazi, before the Senate Foreign Relations Committee – knowing that my children have no interest in such things.
It’s not that I want my daughters to focus all of their attention on the news of the day or on things past. They’re young so they understandably are mostly concerned with the preoccupations of youth. But they will be grown before too long. They will vote, make buying decisions, and navigate their way in the world like all adults. Being aware of where we have been advances the determination of where they will go.
The most flagrant example of the perils of being ill-informed that I can think of is the vice presidential candidacy of Sarah Palin. Her grasp of even basic knowledge of history, U.S. Policy, economics, and a host of other subjects was lacking at best. She was running for high office, and our children may not be, but they will be making decisions about those who are.
We’ve all had conversations with people who didn’t seem to have a clue. How does that tint your opinion of them? I’m not talking about agreeing or disagreeing with a position, I’m talking about the instances where a lack of knowledge, of magnitude, or of context renders their opinions moot. Can ignorance ever be viewed in a good light?
There’s always more to know. My search for truth and consumption of knowledge continues daily. Saying, “I don’t know” is not foreign to me, because it’s often true. But I never leave it at that. The Google Machine – as Rachel Maddow calls it – may not turn me into an expert, but it is a doorway to learning that is always open.
Not knowing should be a temporary condition.
We owe it to our children to instill an appreciation of history, of current events, and of knowing, in general – even if we have to make pests of ourselves to do it.
The least informed of us are the most easily swayed. The less that we know; the more easily we can be lied to. The absence of an awareness of history means that everything seems new, so a future of repeated mistakes becomes as likely as one of repeated successes.
We can help our children to improve those odds.
How much of the real world do you share with your children?