No parchment exists of the pact

No parchment exists of the pact;
Just cinders of once-vibrant towns;
Verdant undulating hills turned dunes of;
The old ways;
Kept alive through hot-forged steel;
Fed with blood- grown dark- marked with;
Whispering spirits left as;
Bards for any traveler;

No parchment exists of the pact;
Though under a pebbled mound lies;
Bones of an acolyte to a pantheon;
Kept alive through hot-forged steel;
Beside a hoard of coins;
Etched with every script in the world;
Laid upon a ship that once carried;
Men to glory;
Now gone to conquer whatever;
Lays after the end;

No parchment exists of the pact;
Though perhaps-
at the end of a long trail;
Where winter knows no foes;
A great spear of granite lies;
Whose runes talk of a long-dead age;
No longer kept alive
through hot-forged steel;

As the sand falls

If I came upon an hourglass;
Where time flowed from what could;
To what is, then to what was once;
And held in my open palm the sand;
Of joy, sadness, loss, and redemption;
Would I want to know what story the grains;
Yet to fall would tell?;
Or would I wait for time to etch;
The story of my life, where each chapter;
Held but mere foreshadowing of the next;
And was the author, the emperor of recluses, preparing for an;
Eleventh-hour twist?

Teaching for the present

Today I’m here to echo another blogger- Ed from Gin and Tacos. He teaches American politics, mostly to college freshman. Thus, he is an eyewitness to all the flaws of secondary education. Students often have issues following detailed directions, doing systematic research, and avoiding plagiarism. But besides those shortcomings, which we could call a lack of “study hygiene”, there are also the gaps in general knowledge. Ed’s point isn’t that American students don’t understand the past- they don’t understand the present.

In his April column “Out of Time” he asks a question that every history teacher must deal with at some level: why are most primary and secondary history classes taught in chronological order? As he writes

K-12 classes still overwhelmingly choose to teach history chronologically. This, in my experience and what I commonly hear from students, results in a seriously detrimental lack of emphasis on modern history. The academic year begins with ancient Greeks and Romans and ends sometime in May, usually having gotten no further than the Industrial Revolution or perhaps World War I.

In 9th grade world history, we started with the basic ancient civilizations- Rome, China, Egypt, Persia. 10th grade European history didn’t go all that far beyond the Five-Year Plan and vintage Stalin. 11th grade US history spent a couple months going from Columbus to Jamestown to the many reasons for the Revolutionary War.

These aspects of history are immensely important, but the world of 2013 is far more closely related to World War II than World War I, and both of those compared to the Civil War or the Revolutionary War. And what about even more recent history? Ed states that

I found a class of 25 honors students – excellent students – totally ignorant of the basic aspects of the 9/11 attacks and the subsequent propaganda surge leading to the Iraq War. And why should they know? They were 8 when it happened, and it has never been taught to them.

I was born the year after the Berlin Wall fell. Incoming college freshmen now have no memory of 9/11. Unlike the high school history teachers I had, I was not around for the Cold War. Though for millions of Americans it is memory, everything from the Clinton Administration back is history for my generation.

Why is Barack Obama the president? Why is there a war in Afghanistan? Why did the world economy collapse? I know teaching history chronologically is very tidy and comprehensive for what it covers, but it also cuts out some of the most crucial parts if the class schedule falls behind. The Industrial Revolution is a world-defining process, but the deregulation of the late 1990s and early 2000s is one of the biggest reasons a student’s dad can’t find a job. The Civil War may have been the culmination of over a century of conflict and sectionalism, but modern politics also owes a lot to what happened in Vietnam.

Sitting in my college sociology class, I’m now five years older than the youngest student there. What do I remember that they don’t? And what does my professor remember that I don’t? Education is a continuum of memory, from the most senior teachers to the most junior students. The present needs to be tied to those important events in the past- going back centuries or millennia. But the focus has to be, in 2013, what is required to understand the world?

Eleven years

The events of September 11th, 2001 weren’t life-altering to me. I simply was too young- I had just turned eleven when it happened, and the odd circumstances of where I was (away from news, television for several days) means I don’t have the sense of solidarity that many other people had during that eventful Tuesday. The main feeling I felt was embarrassment- I had been so jubilant from the trip and finally being home; once home, I realized my enthusiasm was sharply at odds with the state of the country.

It is odd to believe that there are millions of Americans who have no memory of the attacks. Incoming college freshmen have only vague memories, in a few years they will have no memory at all. It seems strange that in a few years people will enter the military, perhaps serving in Afghanistan, and have nothing more than family and textbooks to tell them how we came to be there.

What September 11th did, quite starkly, is mark the end of my childhood, and was the initiation to the rest of my life. As the War on Terror began, I found that my sentiments were that of adults. I no longer had history wash over me, instead I interacted with it. I shared the same confusion in the run-up to the Iraq War. Some aspects of it I listened to, such as the dire world painted by the State of the Union in January, the inspectors finding nothing, and over the radio hearing Sec. Powell’s address to the United Nations. Rather than learning about these events at a later date, and forming a worldview from scratch, my opinions about the War on Terror are traced back to the very beginning, and are an evolution rather than a history lecture.

As each year passes, and the events fade little by little, it becomes a question of what September 11th will influence, and what it means. It cannot eternally be tears and three thousand candles. Neither can we move on entirely- partly because of its terrible scale, but because it has a deep impact on present day America. What has arisen is a national day of service, which I was involved in last year. I helped paint a fence for an American Legion post, with people my age and people fifty years my senior. It feels natural that a day of destruction move to become a day of rebuilding. Of making a better future while respecting the past. Of using our feelings about September 11th to make good in a world that needs it.

Continue reading “Eleven years”