Thursday, January 3, 2008
Teaching history to ten year olds can be a challenge. They've only got ten years under their belts. Taking them back to the 1400s pins them in a time warp so outside their ability to conceptualize that they lose the sense that the ancient cultures were once as alive and vital as ours is today.
I spend a lot of time trying to get my students to see the Mound Builders, lets say, or merchants who traveled the Silk Road, as living breathing people: people who loved, feared, cried, and had needs just like ours. They were people who had a rich culture that was as modern and technologically advanced to them as ours is to us is not something my students understand easily.
Ferdinand Magellan didn't go on his voyage bemoaning the limitations of his compass and astrolabe any more than we wake up and say, "Darn it would be so much easier if I had something better than this iPhone."
Someday, I tell them, school children will read about us, the Ancient Americans, and wonder why we didn't just travel in worm holes when we wanted to go to Mars. Our iPhones will look as dated as the rotary phone already does.
They sort of get it. They laugh at my examples. But still, who is Vasco da Gama really? Nothing like the space explorers of today, they think. Just some boring old guy in a boat, and they miss the sense of courage his journey required. They miss the sense that his life involved more than his celebrated journey around the Cape of Good Hope.
All this made me wonder what future anthropologists will say about our civilization in a thousand years. What will they say about our celebrations and holidays? About New Years Eve?
"People lived in the realm of time," they will say.
Will "time" be a vocabulary word? An unfamiliar concept to students living in the eleventh dimension apart from space and time?
"Ancient Americans gathered in public places called "cities." With the aid of potent beverages and a collective scream they birthed the "new year." To symbolize the birth, they lowered a glowing sphere lit from within by "electricity," an ancient source of heat and light. Wars were fought over the resources used in generating that light."
What will they say about the confetti, the resolutions, and the other cultural customs we follow without thinking-- the kiss at the stroke of midnight, the champagne and streamers? It will be seen as superstition, although we don't see it that way.
Perhaps if string theory proves true, if parallel universes exist, there are children studying us at this moment, wondering why we are so old fashioned.
Weird to speculate, but fun. Who knows?
May the coming year be one of growth and blessing for you as individuals, and collectively as a part of mankind. Perhaps this will provide some perspective. It's not new, but it's always a beautiful reminder of life's purpose. Happy New Year!