FRIDAY, JULY 2, 2021
The current eighth-grader's tale: It isn't easy—it isn't easy at all—to teach our nation's history to kids. We'd analyze the situation as follows:
Reciting tribal dogma is easy. Teaching our history is hard.
This morning, we linked to the current eighth-grader's tale—to his account of some of the teaching he says he encountered in his English class this past year.
We think such stories are well worth considering. (For further context, click here.) Such stories align with the best parts of Michelle Goldberg's recent column—the parts of her column in which she acknowledged that even in this, The Best of All Possible Towns, we're sometimes inclined to do and say things which are ridiculous, risible, even harmful, sometimes based on our own narcissism.
According to experts, we're going to generate bad ideas. That's even true in Our Town, experts say!
At present, the teaching of history has become the focus of our tribal forever war. The Others recite one set of dogmas. In Our Town, we recite ours.
In Goldberg's column, she seemed to acknowledge the fact that Our Town will often go wrong in such matters. But by the time her column was done, she'd reverted to tribal belief:
The way we're doing this is good! The dumbness is all Over There!
Initially, Goldberg seemed to say that we can go haywire too. But, by the end of her column, she had reverted to tribal affirmation, based on some cherry-picked blather.
To us, the full sweep of her column seemed to suggest that we should try to address overwrought behavior wherever it may appear. We should try to address "unbalanced curricula." We should also try to address objections which don't make much sense.
We should try to look for error wherever the error is found! But according to experts, that isn't the way we're wired to think and react during times of high partisan stress.
As we thought about Goldberg's column, we thought of the late Rodney King. "Can't we all get along?" he famously asked at one point. Plainly, he was implying that we could and we should.
We think his viewpoint made sense. We also thought of the late Gene Brabender, star of Jim Bouton's celebrated baseball book, Ball Four.
Brabender was a big raw-boned right-hander with little tolerance for nuanced discussion. He was just a big farm kid from Wisconsin. Apparently, his nickname was "Lurch."
When Bouton would try to engage in nuanced debate, Brabender had a short fuse. In recent years, anthropologists have said that he captured the essence of our shared human nature at one point in Bouton's famed book:
"Where I come from, we just talk for a little while," the big right-hander angrily says. "After that, we start to hit."
Unmistakably, that's the way Our Town's big stars tend to play the tribal game. It isn't attractive and it isn't smart, and it doesn't solve the question at hand:
How do you teach a nation's brutal history to roomfuls of good, decent kids? How much do you tell them, and in what grade? How do you explain the (fairly recent) inexplicable behavior of people a great deal like us?
How do you answer questions like those? Despite the damn-fool dumbness pervading Our Town, those questions aren't easy to answer.
It's painful to watch Our Town in action as these episodes unfold. Truth be told, though it isn't our fault, we tend to be dumb and quite self-assured, and no, this doesn't help.