Thursday, April 09, 2009

A longer post today.

I was in a training all day today. Part of our training session included observation of a sophomore, American history class. The teacher was fantastic. Not only was the lesson great, but his methods, lesson plans and general classroom management was methodical, controlled, thoughtful, humane and interesting (and sometimes funny & snarky).

The class was learning about the Cold War. They were in the middle of the section and had discussed McCarthyism, the arms race, the space race, communism, the Soviet view of capitalism and more.

As part of the discussion they watched the following clip.

Today's focus was on how the Cold War affected the national consciousness, or the mental & emotional impact of the Cold War on American citizens. They read articles discussing how a culture of fear had been produced among children and teens, and discussed how these kids grew up to be in positions of power in the waning years of the Cold War. They discussed how a lot of what happened with McCarthyism wasn't constitutional, but that fact was overlooked and why. (Is any of this starting to sound eerily familiar?)

His parting thought for the kids (Tomorrow he's having them do some written responses.), was a comparison between this clip encouraging kids to protect themselves against nuclear fallout with newspapers, and people today being forced to remove their shoes at the airport to protect against terrorists. "So when your grandkids see films of you at the airport with no shoes and they ask, 'Gramps, why were you standing in the airport in your socks?' what will you tell them? You were protecting yourself against terrorists?"

It interesting to me to compare these type of film clips with the types of movies (Red Dawn is not instructional, admittedly) that I watched in high school on movie days, or with subs, or whatnot. Bert the Turtle tells the kids that everything will be ok, if you just follow directions and stay alert. The overall message is that you can do something to protect yourself against danger. Bert's trying to keep people from feeling hopeless (Even though the whole notion of newspapers against radiation is obviously ridiculous.).

The post-apocalyptic scifi books I was reading starting when I was 11 or 12, The Day After, the Mad Max movies, Red Dawn, War Games, etc.; all these things I put in my little tween brain... They left me with the distinct impression that it didn't really matter what I did, or what we did, since the whole world was going to 'asplode and disintegrate anyhow. It seems to me, and feel free to disagree, that there was a certain time period wherein children/teens were exposed to a lot of information about how dangerous the world was but weren't given any ideas on how to fix it. This is, of course, my view. I don't remember a lot of information or ideas on empowerment, or citizenship to change the world, or anything of that nature. I remember people telling us to be scared. I remember movies showing us how bad everything was and/or could be. Kids today seem to have the same kind of ridiculous, "don't panic" kind of messages being sent to them as Bert endorsed.

This leaves me wondering two things:

1) We are called Generation X, the slacker kids, the apathy generation. Where does this reputation for not doing anything come from? Does it have anything to do with growing up at the end of the Cold War? "There's nothing we can do (to stop the bomb/change the world), why bother?"

2) I've discussed with some of you in education, how many kids we see who are afraid to try anything. They prefer to sit in their room and watch tv or internet. Is this a new generation of fear? "There's nothing you can do (to be successful/keep from being hurt/find happiness), why bother?"

I don't know. Lots of thoughts today as I watch kids learning.

I'll leave you with an impressive list of post-nuclear apocalyptic fiction:
list of wikipedia post-apocalyptic fiction


theNerdPatrol said...

I tried to type a response to this, but it kept becoming paragraphs. We should discuss this over a meal, methinks :)

Secret Squirrel said...

My childhood was very censored. I didn't start watching the news until college. I became afraid of the world my senior year of high school when we had to read Newsweek in CWP. Before that I really lived in a very safe fantasy world, even though I read every Stephen King book I could get. I don't know if this experience has made me more or less hopeless and cynical about the future.

thetravellor said...

I don't know that I agree with you. I don't really remember feeling scared & hopeless. Perhaps its a difference in ages - I was still pretty young when the Berlin wall came down, and don't think I've ever seen Red Dawn. Also - our reading tastes were a bit different then, so may be I was cocooned in my own little world?