Oh man, you've hit a nerve. Having taught 30 years, mostly at middle and high school levels, it's painfully clear to me how disconnected kids - and their parents- are from current events because they don't seem to have much context for events.
On September 12, 2001 I had my usual first hour class (very small) of eighth grade students. They were in my class for intensive reading intervention. They were quite upset, understandably, with the events of the previous day. I told them that their reactions were probably about the same as their great grandparents' had been on December 8, 1941, the day after Pearl Harbor.
They didn't know about the attack on Pearl Harbor. I knew it wouldn't be in their curriculum until 10th grade. Still, I thought the nation's observance of Veteran's Day, Memorial Day and mentions of Pearl Harbor Day might have provided some information. No. Memorial Day is a picnic and vacation holiday, lost to its true significance. We did have a big program in our school about Veteran's Day, but one day can't do the job.
School curricula can't do it all when cultural literacy is concerned. That is the responsibility of an entire nation. However, in the past 20-25 years, Americans have been told to look out primarily for themselves, their own pocketbooks, their own prosperity, their own conditions. Individualism has overshadowed values we used to identify with: self-sacrifice for the good of all (as in WWII paper drives, victory gardens, war bonds, etc.), looking out for each other (volunteerism) and shared identity as Americans rather than as primarily part of a smaller splinter group.
As Americans have lost the sense of belonging to a "national people", the importance of teaching kids to feel part of that people takes a back seat to insulating onesself within one's own splinter group.
End of rant. :o
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