When Everything Seems New

by Ray Colon on January 23, 2013 · 22 comments

Hiroshima Aftermath | This work is in the public domain

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.”

“Done what?”

“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.”

“Hiroshima?”

“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.

Apollo 17 Moon Panorama | By NASA (Lunar and Planetary Institute) [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons

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:

 Tweeting with BJ McCoy

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.

Alaska Governor Sarah Palin in Dover, NH. 15 October 2008 | Creative Commons Attribution 2.0 Generic license.

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?

Author Bio:

Ray Colon has written 167 posts on Ray's Blog.

He works with numbers for a living, but don't judge - boring accountants need love too. His blog has no niche (unless writing about things that are important to him is a niche). Some folks cringe when he gets “all political” on them, but he does it anyway when he's in that kind of mood. Sometimes, he writes something nice about someone, but you shouldn't get used to that. His first book, the one he hasn't written yet, is not available on Amazon. Subscribe to Ray's Blog via RSS  or Email.

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{ 22 comments… read them below or add one }

Peter Faur
Twitter:
January 23, 2013 at 8:07 pm

Ray, for too long, I was in the Henry Ford “History is bunk” camp, so I’ve spent the past couple of decades filling in the holes that this idea left in my education. I’ve always had an interest in current events, however, and I’ve come to realize how much context a good knowledge of history provides for understanding my own age.

My wife was a history major, so she always got it. Our children are coming around as they get older. You’re on the right track. I think your children will understand, and it’s good that they have you to pull them along.
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Ray Colon January 23, 2013 at 9:18 pm

Hi Pete,

Is that a Ford quote? I’ll have to look that up.

Current events provides the easiest entry. The only trouble is getting beyond all of the noise. My interest in politics grew from that, and from there I become more interested in history. For years, the books I read were mostly biographies. Once I read Ellie Wiesel’s memoirs, I was hooked.

This weekend, I read an article that had to do with Dr. Kings speeches, after I Have A Dream. “A more progressive Dr. King, the rhetorically and politically more prickly, complicated, beyond “I Have a Dream” King.”

http://lareviewofbooks.org/article.php?id=1334

That article lead me to reacquaint myself with some of those later speeches. On and on it goes.

I think that my young adult daughter has becoming more open in this area, but I have a ways to go before convincing my 12-year old to take an interest. Step by step.

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Jean January 23, 2013 at 11:41 pm

Somehow my gut tells me that you have even gone as far to relate personal/family history to larger historical events for your children over the years.

But it never hurts to make history somehow come alive and still relevant to children. That’s great you invite political discussions with your daughters. Even when they might seem bored with politics, news…a connectiion can be made to their favourite passion: health care, language study, art, etc.

Yes, nowadays we have WAAAY more information on the ‘Net and lots of wrong, terrible misinformation. It amazed me the time that Obama’s citizenship was even questioned when clearly he was raised in U.S. for most of his life. Are people that..stupid? However if one has never had immigrant parents (like I have) or relatives than one does not understand intimately the important of naturalized citizenship.

Palin’s jaw-dropping stupidity goes to show you that gee-golly friendly faces cover up all sort of ignorance.

I think to grab children’s interest to these days about politics, news, historical events is how it relates to their passions, their family history.

My favourites: my father immigrated to Canada 4 yrs. after the Chinese-Canadians won the right to vote in Canadian Parliament. It was coincidental but a key point..after Chinese-Canadians served for Canada in WW II with some losing their lives but never having had the chance to vote. I’m not sure if my nieces and nephews know this but I will ask them: they range from age 26 to….2 yrs.old. :)

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Ray Colon January 24, 2013 at 7:36 am

HI Jean,

There aren’t many tie-ins of my stories to larger historical events. The stories that my Mom loves to relate are about family interactions with one another and rarely include what was going on at the time.

Yes, there is a lot of information on the Net that can’t be trusted, but there are also many serious sites that are helpful. I’m a NY Times subscriber, so their archive is available to me online. I was recently reading about the Tuskegee syphilis experiment on other sites and was horrified at what occurred. A reference was made to the story breaking in the Times in 1972. I was able to go to the archive to read how it was first reported. I also found an earlier Times story where the nurse who was a part of the study for its duration had received an award for her work. Good grief!

I’m still fascinated by the Palin story. There are other examples of popularity that elude me, of course, but most of those are entertainers who aren’t in a position to do much more than vent.

I had family members who served in the armed forces, uncles mostly, but they never talked about their experiences — at least not to us kids. They are gone now. I would have liked to know more.

You may be surprised by the answers you get from the older ones. Perhaps they are into genealogy. That’s one type of history that I haven’t explored.

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Grandma W January 24, 2013 at 2:30 am

Ray,
I believe where we fail in education is in not keeping curiosity alive. Children are naturally curious about the world around them and our schools have a tendency to put them in little rooms and teach them all the same thing at the same time in the same way.

One of the biggest mistakes schools are making right now is eliminating the staff member who knows her job is to keep that curiosity alive and teach the students how to research not just Google things. That would be the librarian.
I have a quote on my wall from the former U.S. Commissioner of Education, Harold Howe:
“What a school thinks about its library, is a measure of what it things about education.”
I too, can not leave, “I don’t know.” as the answer to a question. I have always said librarians don’t know everything but they know where to find it.
You are doing you girls, and thus society, a huge favor by connecting them to history and current events. Thank you.

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Ray Colon January 24, 2013 at 7:58 am

Hi Grandma W,

It’s nice to see you here.

While we all probably have suggestions for improvement, I wouldn’t go so far as to say that schools stifle curiosity. The reality is that there is only so much time available and teaching the required curriculum takes up most of it. Supplementing the things that they learn at school is the best way that we can round off their education.

My youngest participates in Odyssey of The Mind as an after school program. I had no idea how big a deal it was until I attended my first competition. The program is all about creative problem-solving and the children really get into it. It’s great to see the enthusiasm and teamwork of the students.

My eldest daughter now works in the library at her college. When she told me, I almost feel out of my chair at the irony of it. She’s always been a good student, but she has never liked research or the library.

“… librarians don’t know everything but they know where to find it.” So true. I remember asking for their help in finding things many times. Growing up, I often didn’t take advantage of the access that we had to libraries. For some reason, I found them to be intimidating.

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neal January 26, 2013 at 9:07 pm

I did Odyssey of the Mind when I was a kid in the ’90s, and it was a great experience for me.

I think you hit on the big Catch-22 in your response here, though. In your essay, you suggest that the only thing technology can’t overcome is a lack of interest. And I get that. But with how quickly the world expands to offer millions of interesting bits of information through the web and other media, it sure can get hard to head straight for the stuff that really matters. As a dad who collapses tiredly into the chair in front of my computer during my daughter’s quiet time or after she goes to bed, I gotta admit that I’m as likely to end up decompressing with pictures of cats (metaphorically) as I am to bone up on the conflict in Palestine. As a college student, it’s possible I was even busier. (Side note: all-nighters stole years of my life).

In comparison to the general population, I have a far-above average knowledge of political systems, current events, and most historical questions…and yet I feel constantly overwhelmed by the things I don’t know, and the time it would take to really understand them. The Fiscal Cliff. Social Security. Stem Cells. Google offers me a place to start, a few terms to throw around…but I’m always aware that I don’t have a very deep knowledge of many of the things I quickly search out to not feel stupid.

Hiroshima is probably one of the more important things to know about, so your point has gotten me thinking. It makes me realize that I need to start thinking early on about some of the things that I REALLY want my daughter to KNOW, and not just breezily skim. And I have no illusions that she’ll be able to ingest everything that will be good or useful for her; I’m going to have to let slide some things in order to focus on others.

And the other question, which I have few answers for, is how to help her be interested but stop short of overwhelming her. I don’t know. There’s a lot to think about with the future of my two-year old, though it seems important to have a game plan even this young.

Couldn’t go too far wrong with introducing her to Elie Wiesel, though.
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Ray Colon January 26, 2013 at 10:17 pm

Hi Neal,

My daughter loves it. Last year was her first year of Odyssey of the Mind. She took it pretty hard when her team didn’t move on to the regionals. It’s tough to make them feel that the effort was worth it at the moment of disappointment. Despite that, she was rarin’ to go when the tryouts occurred this year and is thrilled to have made the cut.

You’re right to flinch at that “only thing” assertion, because there are so few actual absolutes, but we sometimes use hyperbole to make a point — even an imperfect one. The amount of sifting that needs to be done is a legitimate concern, but we only encounter that problem once we have tried.

Oh no, not the cats! My wife and daughters love those furry creatures and even though we only own males, they keep multiplying. A knock at the door by some children with a little over the summer resulted in my agreeing to take in a fifth one. The only trouble is, I’m not a cat guy, which is why I’m rarely on Facebook. That place is lousy with them.

Yes, time is also an issue. The House and Senate hearings that I mentioned consumed several hours out of that day, and that’s not the kind of time that we are at liberty to invest on a routine basis. In this case, the build-up to the hearings had gone on for so long that I didn’t want to settle for the media interpretation or the sound bites, but often that’s all that we have time for.

It’ll be difficult for you to determine what will be “good and useful” for your daughter. I can’t make that call for myself. I guess that the goal for me is that my daughters end up with as broad a world view as possible. That alone should place them on good footing when they set out on their own adventures.

I was introduced to Elie Wiesel by accident. Being a book-of-the-month club member, I had to select a book each month, but if I didn’t they would decide for me. Since I often forgot to return the selection slip, I “discovered” Wiesel and other interesting authors by being absent-minded.

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Carter January 24, 2013 at 2:48 pm

Nicely expressed, Ray. You know who I think does a wonderful job of integrating history into everyday parenting (and then does an even better job, if possible, presenting it to the public)? Sweet Juniper. I wish I had that kind of energy, talent and imagination. They sure don’t need me to help with publicity, but I wanted to share this because as I read your piece, I found myself thinking about the fun history and life lessons those “Juniper” kids have been exposed to, and how one day, they’ll likely be so much more curious about the world because of it. My kids? Well, they sure like LEGOs and Nintendo DS games. And Phineas and Ferb.

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Ray Colon January 24, 2013 at 3:34 pm

Hi Carter,

Thanks! This post felt like it was going all over the place each time that I sat down to continue working on it. I had almost given up on getting it together for posting.

I wish that you had left a link to Sweet Juniper in your comment. Are you referring to the website by that name, the Juniper Berry children’s books that popped up when I searched for “Juniper kids” or something else?

LEGOs, Nintendo DS games, and Phineas and Ferb are all fun. You’re children are still too young, I think, to be concerned with all of this other stuff. But if incorporated into storytelling or “fun history and life lessons” as you’ve described, it’s a good way to introduce these topics.

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neal January 26, 2013 at 9:12 pm

I’ve not explored Sweet Juniper (http://www.sweet-juniper.com/) that much, but from what I have, he’s the man’s version of the “super-mom” who makes everyone else feel inferior and jealous. He’s also a blogging Juggernaut. I know him mostly for the crafts that he does with(for?) his kids, which are amazing.
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Ray Colon January 26, 2013 at 10:22 pm

Hi Neal,

Thanks for the link. Carter confirmed that I had found the right site via a Facebook chat after I responded to his comment here. I didn’t get the vibe you describe when I visited, but I wasn’t there long. I’ll check it out again.

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neal January 26, 2013 at 11:22 pm

Mostly, he intimidates me with his ability to construct authentic-looking and frankly beautiful play costumes for his kids. His have hand-crafted suits of armor, with metal and leather and rivets, oh my; mine has a fairy wand from Disneyland and a Burger King crown.
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Teresa Evangeline January 25, 2013 at 10:55 am

This is a great post! I really do fear for the ignorance of basic human events that seems to be rampant in our young people and the not so young. There is no excuse in this day of transparency and a wide variety of media. How wonderful that you are filling in the gaps as opportunity presents itself. I’m going to tweet this. It matters.

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Ray Colon January 25, 2013 at 11:34 am

Hi Teresa,

I’m glad that you included the “not so young” in your comment, because while I used the conversation with my daughter as an example in the beginning of the post, it’s not a young person’s only concern.

There are many gaps in my own knowledge — too many for me to ever be able to address completely, but they narrow a bit each day as I go along. It’s become expected by my daughters that I turn conversations into history lessons. Sometimes those stories are met with eye-rolls, but I try to make it a fun experience.

Thanks for the tweet!

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Janice
Twitter:
January 27, 2013 at 11:22 pm

Ray,

It is awesome to see that you take such a deep interest in your children’s learning and understanding with their studies. I have tried to keep my children interested or at the very least attempt to peak their interest. We talk about elections constantly (not just presidential). I always ask them why they choose a specific candidate over another and what that candidates main platform is to see if they have placed deep thought into their choices. A few times, sadly, it was simply because of the way the teacher was driving the class opinion, which happened to match the teacher’s opinions.

At any rate, it is a difficult thing to bring about interest. Life events always seem the easiest. My youngest is the one that watches the news and understands the impacts. She is 14. My 16 year old, on the other hand, seems to prefer to ignore the current events.

It is a one day at a time experience. The best that we can do is constantly bring the conversation up and provide the consistent exposure.
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Ray Colon January 28, 2013 at 7:19 am

Hi Janice,

It sometimes happens, with my youngest, that I’ll hear her parrot something about politics of current events that her teacher said as an aside that I disagree with. They’re humans who have opinions, so even if they try to refrain from that sort of thing, their views are bound to come as they teach. I’ve read where parents sometimes get upset in situations like that, but I don’t. Trying to control what our children hear is a futile exercise.

I recognize that some people are just more comfortable not engaging in politics at all. They don’t see any use for it, or have written-off all politicians as crooks and liars, so they have no interest. Inevitably, they will have a complaint, like everyone does, about a law, a tax, a surcharge, etc. Waiting until after the damage is done before becoming interested ensures that they will always have something to complain about.

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Beverly Diehl January 28, 2013 at 12:08 am

Kids do grow and change. My own offspring is showing interest in all kinds of things I despaired of him ever caring about, so keep hope alive!

For myself, interest in history has always been in people’s individual stories. The War of 1812 was a big yawn to me, but the story of Dolley Madison saving the portrait of George Washington as she fled Washington sparked my curiosity. Also, as we get older, time shrinks. I remember hearing about the Holocaust, but jeez, that was ancient history, DECADES before I was even born. Now – thirty or forty or even fifty years ago seems like just yesterday. ;-)
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Ray Colon January 28, 2013 at 7:32 am

Hi Beverly,

“Keep hope alive!” <== said in my best Jessie Jackson impression voice.

Yes, our children can surprise us. My daughter learns of some issues from the various student advocacy groups at college. Most leaflets and fliers end up littering the pavement, but sometimes they are picked up and read.

The personal story is a powerful draw for me as well. I suppose that’s why I enjoy biographies. As for time shrinking with age… oh boy, does it ever!

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Brenda January 28, 2013 at 12:10 am

I was surprised my children never learned about Wounded Knee in school. There are so many holes in education. I oft wonder if it’s because of time or is the teacher, or maybe because there is too much to cover? Then I think about today’s news (which is what I call low or non-fat). After living several years in the UK, I learned the US news is limited, which probably explains why I continue to read the BBC website for a global persecutive. Then there is the delta in what my husband learned in school (he is a Brit) and what I did – very different. But I digress. I am still surprised at the curriculum and what I learned and what my kids are learning. Did you ever see Freedom Writers? It is a movie based on a story, but what stuck with me is the movie version claimed the students hadn’t learned anything about the Holocaust. Scary, but I suspect it’s true in many cases. Another great post, Ray.
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Ray Colon January 28, 2013 at 7:55 am

Hi Brenda,

I think all three of the reasons that you mentioned contribute to “the hole”, but time and too much to cover are probably the main culprits.

The news in the US is limited and opinion based. It’s difficult to find an outlet that even tries to report the news without an agenda or a slant. I’ve never lived abroad like you, but I enjoy some of the international outlets like the BBC and Al Jazeera. I was amused by all of the fuss surrounding the recent purchase of Current TV. I’d wager that most of the people who were up-in-arms had never watched Al Jazeera English which is available on YouTube and elsewhere. They really do a good job of news reporting.

I haven’t seen Freedom Writers, but it’s available on Netflix Instant, so I’ve added it to my queue. Thanks.

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Brenda January 28, 2013 at 11:26 am

Ray – I hope you like it. It’s based on a true story about a teacher and her class in Long Beach. It’s moving, sad, frustrating, and of course, full of hope.
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