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Episode 034 Grandfathers, Granddaughters, and History

Grandfathers should never argue with granddaughters. That is a basic truism. It just doesn’t seem right. Last summer my 11 year old granddaughter and I had a little, “discussion” or disagreement concerning history, - maybe it was more of a clarification. I hate to think it was an argument. My granddaughter and I – we get along.  But on the value of history – we had a little disagreement.

 
This is Retirement Talk. I’m Del Lowery.

 
Zoe, my granddaughter, and I were talking about her school. She said she liked math, language, science and most everything else in school. The only subject she didn’t really care for was history. Well, this was impossible for this grandfather to accept. After all, I had spent most of my life teaching history in one form or another.

She said she was more interested in the future. What was going to happen? Not what happened way back then to other people.

Her attitude reflected the trend in education that is all to pervasive today. The focus on reading, writing and arithmetic - the “No Child Left Behind” fiasco that is stalking our schools today. The testing craze that has infected if not destroyed the real essence of education was being revealed in the thought process of my own granddaughter. This was upsetting.

I pleaded the case for history. I argued that only by studying the successes and failures of the past can we hope to rise above the past and avoid the pitfalls that have entrapped our ancestors. I used the old map analogy. If we could compare life to a quest for treasure, and if other’s had searched for it for hundreds or thousand of years and some had found it and some had not, wouldn’t we want to know which way they turned: which road they traveled down, which rivers they had crossed, deserts they had wandered, quicksand they had fallen into? History tells us their tale. History is like a map of their travels. Wouldn’t we want to know all of the hazards are? Wouldn’t we want to know what has worked and what hasn’t.

She didn’t buy it. I can’t blame her. She is 11. She goes to school in this century. Little value is placed on history in our schools today. Schools seem to be a extensions of business and industry. The goal is to buy and sell products. Students need to know how to read labels and advertising, they need to be able to make change. Students need to follow rules – just like law: without question and without thought. 

Loren Eiseley  said, ““Men should discover their past… Only so can we learn our limitations and come in time to suffer life with compassion.”  The Patriot Act and all of its implications come to mind when I think about that. The acceptance of torture in America seems like such a reversal of all logic and historical experience. But – there it is. The abandonment of civil liberties is shameful. Even a cursory glance at history at history illustrates the insanity of such action. Eiseley’s thoughts haunt me. How do we learn to suffer life with compassion? How can we learn our limitations?

This is where history comes in. That is why we study it. That is why we retired folks like to sit back on occasion and reminisce on lessons learned. This is why we tend to be a bit more tolerant than we were as youth. We have made mistakes. We’ve seen mistakes. We know that there is no such thing as too much compassion.  

I recall a conversation with my father-in-law when he was in his eighties. He was a very religious man. He and the American Lutheran Church had been lifelong companions on a daily basis: definitely a possessor of family values. He was a product of the depression. He was a Roosevelt Democrat. We got a long politically.

One night, as we sat in his overheated living room and watched the evening news, a comment was made about the poor quality of news. As an example the Janet Jackson baring of the breast was mentioned. He turned in his chair and said, “What was that all about anyway? All that talk about a bare bosom? Men have been going without their shirts forever. Why can’t women? I mean I can understand it when they use those old wringer washing machines, but now-a-days. No one uses those anymore. Why can’t women go without their shirts if they want to?” And then almost as an after-thought added, “Who made that rule anyway?”

We grandparents need to talk more to our grandchildren. We have experience in knowing limitations and we certainly have learned to suffer life with compassion. I’m still a fan of history. Hopefully my granddaughter will get that way in the future. After all her education is just getting underway. We older folks don't have that excuse.