The Three Best Inventions

I went to the Sounds game tonight with Dr. J, Dr. Lover, the Queen and her consort, and Plimco was my date. I love those women; I really do. Spending time with them is just awesome and terrible at the same time. It’s always a great time and yet you’re always aware that it’s just too short.

Drs. J and Lover are about to head across the continent to take jobs at the foot of mountains. And it seems like it will be much too long before I get to see them again.

We were sitting with a bunch of boys in some kind of boot camp program, who were out, as a reward, watching baseball. They were debating what the best invention ever was and they were arguing between fireworks, cars, and girls. Girls, finally, won.

And then I pulled them aside, explained the patriarchy to them, and told them that any creation myth that framed men as the inventors and women as the invention was inherently oppressive and damaging to women. They nodded in agreement and asked me to explain more about how gender is constructed.

No, just kidding.

I have to throw stuff in there like that every once in a while just to keep Exador and Lee on their toes.

Really, I was sitting there listening to them talk about stuff, rapping Eminem songs, and trying to talk baseball. All of them seemed to me to be roughly Supermousey’s age, which, when I was their age, was just the time when boys were neck-deep in baseball. These kids didn’t even know what “R, H, E” across the top of the scoreboard meant and were convinced, for a while, that the Sounds were winning because they had more hits than the other team, even though the other team had more runs.

They also were talking major league baseball and they got around to talking about the Yankees, which was a team some of them liked, but none of them really knew what a Yankee was–aside from a baseball team. One kid had a vague idea that it had to do with a war, but he thought that the British called us “Yanks” during that World War.

So, they asked the guy they were with, “What’s a Yankee?” and he explained that it was a Northerner, that during the Civil War, the North was the Yankees. And I swear, they started asking him about the Civil War. None of them seemed to have ever heard of it.

There we are, sitting not a hundred yards from Fort Negley, a fort some of their ancestors helped build, and these kids didn’t know we had a Civil War.

I was, and am, dumbfounded.

I mean, I wanted to grab a school board member and kick them.

What is a person without his history?

That’s a birthright–the history of this nation you’re born into. That knowledge is yours. And that we’re not giving it to our youngsters? Shame on us. A kid has a right to know his own history.

I don’t know. It shook me pretty bad. Here are all these boys who are someday soon, very soon, going to be men. And what kinds of men will they be if they don’t somehow acquire this foundational knowledge that will help them understand how the world works and what’s at stake in it?

I mean, we talk a great game as a country about how families need men. But, if we’re not raising men with basic understandings of stuff, like history, like baseball, like what to do with yourself other than get into trouble, then what benefit are they to a family, really?

It makes me suspicious that that’s how the game is rigged, that we fuck over these little boys as hard as we can–we try to keep them ignorant so they don’t know other possibilities and in the “justice” system so that we can monitor them–so that we can then turn around when they get older and complain about what shitty dads they are and what shitty men they make, as if they just magically turned out that way, instead of being shaped to fail from the jump.

I just hope that curiosity leads some of them someplace, to open a book they’ve not been assigned, or to open their ears to some old KRS-1, or Public Enemy, or someone who will say to them “It’s not fair, but it’s on you to learn this shit, because, otherwise, it’s being kept from you.”

Edited to Add: I decided to edit this to add that it appears, upon rereading the comments, that my reference to Fort Negley was not enough to make clear to you why I was especially appalled that this group of kids would not know what the Civil War was.

26 thoughts on “The Three Best Inventions

  1. I just hope that curiosity leads some of them . . . to open their ears to some old KRS-1, or Public Enemy . . .

    Cause those guys are always rapping about the Civil War and baseball!

  2. I weep for you, anonymous, that you’ve apparently never heard of that legendary tape of KRS-1 and Chuck D that was rumored to have circulated through the NYC underground back in the 90s? Their most popular–if you can call a song on a tape only a handful of people are thought to have heard, a tape whose existence today is strongly denied, popular–was “Baseball, the Civil War, and Other Things a Person Should Know About.”

    I thought all the hip kids knew that?

  3. But, B, that’s not what “Yankees” means in the name of the New York Yankees. In the North, a Yankee isn’t a Northerner. It used to mean someone from New England. Which, around the turn of the 20th century, came to mean a WASP — a real American, unlike those immigrant folks flooding NYC; any American, contrasted with foreigners. The Yankees were the NYC American League team, so their ballpark was the Yankee Field, and they took their name from that. Coincidentally, their appeal was to the uppercrusty rather than to the unwashed of the city, so the name fit them well.

  4. Which, of course, is the topic KRS-1 and Chuck D were having the slam about in that tape: is it OK for Bronx kids to root for the Yankees as their local team, given all that history?

  5. When TheBoyfriend™ was teaching, I was surprised when he mentioned that NONE of his 16-24 year old students were aware that there had been an American Civil War.

  6. Who would have thought that the type of kids to wind up in some kind of cout ordered boot camp aren’t the type to pay attention in class?

  7. My (NY or surrounding states, middle class, mostly white) students are generally aware that there was a Civil War, but I’d guess about 40% of them can’t remember who won when they step into my class. The vast majority also think it happened just before WWI, sometime early in the 20th century (because their teachers skipped things like Reconstruction, the Gilded Age, the Progressive Era, and that crazy imperial clusterfuck called the Spanish-American War).

    We do an astonishingly bad job of teaching history to children. It used to be the center of the curriculum, with the goal to create a Unitary Narrative of National Greatness. That sucked in its own way, don’t get me wrong — but it at least gave some markers by which to navigate the country’s past. Now I have dozens of students each year who say they had little preparation in US history even though they want to be history/social studies majors.

    I don’t buy the “social historians abandoned the Real Important Stuff (men, dates, battles) and no one wants to learn about women and black folks” criticism. I just don’t buy that. Public historians are doing a land office business at national historical sites by opening the doors broadly on the past as it was really lived and the market for popular historical texts is still fairly strong. The recent documentary of John Adams was very much enriched by broader contextualization of his life and times. It seems like the general public enjoys that humanizing perspective. To me, the “why don’t our kids know anything about history” suggests that there’s something far more pernicious going on in our schools.

    Teaching in a school that trains social studies teachers (and gets national awards for doing it), I can tell you that there is something deeply wrong with the way we train our history teachers. For example, our program (again, it’s a model and represents a best-case example) only requires 36 credits of history coursework out of the 90-odd credits required for a teaching degree. Of that, only two of those courses (8 credits) have to be in US history. (The NYS high school curriculum requires a lot of world history training, so that’s where the bulk of their preparation goes.) Our social studies teachers are among the most regimented, most narrowly trained students we serve. They are so locked in to their pedagogy/curriculum/admin courses that they have no liberal arts electives, no space to study abroad, no time to even have any extra-curricular involvement. They are going to trade school, in essence, and they have to run like hell to get out in four years.

    To meet state certification requirements in ed, it has to be this way. Clearly, NY knows this is a broken system because it requires that students get an MA within the first five years of teaching. But do they get it in content, going back to pick up the stuff they didn’t learn about the past? Nope. Most of them take another ed degree “because it’s easier.” Since they have to pick it up during the summers and at night while they are teaching and raising their families, I can understand the decision, but damn.

    After twenty years of this cycle — kids getting a not-so-good basic education in history in high school, going to college where they get shorted on content and general liberal arts education but go into secondary ed, they are prepared to offer less and less to the next generation of kids, who then go off to college — you can see where there’s just a general draining away of historical awareness.

  8. Actually, I’m more appalled that at their age they didn’t know the meaning of R, H, and E.

    Actually, I had no idea (I’m guessed R and H to be runs and hits respectively, but was lost on E, but I know now because I DO know how to use Google).

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  12. I’m never sure how much the problem is neglect of history in the grade school and high school classroom and how much is the idea the students get (mostly from the importance placed on standardized tests) that the point of learning is to pass a test, and nothing need be retained afterwards. The number of students I’ve seen come into college with good grades in AP history classes, who are shocked that I think they might remember anything from those classes a whole semester later, shocks me.

  13. I’m totally appalled at the fact that these kids had no idea about the Civil War… how does one miss that in the south, with all the monuments and graveyards dedicated to the remembrance?

    A bit off topic, but still on topic in regard to what kids are NOT being taught — a few years back (2003 or so), I had a conversation with 3 high school seniors. They had no idea about the onset of the AIDS epidemic — no idea it was once referred to as “gay cancer”, no clue as to what Karposi’s Sarcoma was, or the fact that a kid named Ryan White wasn’t allowed to attend school because of his HIV positive status.

    That’s some dangerous stuff — these kids didn’t quite grasp the gravity of the situation with HIV / AIDS — but on the other hand, it shows just how far medicine has come to make it a disease that was once a death sentence to an illness that is somewhat manageable — at least those with adequate health-care. I still sat there with my jaw on the floor that these kids had missed a very important lesson regarding information that could possibly affect their health very adversely.

  14. AIDS is now considered something that “happens in Africa,” according to one of my college senior social studies students (who will be teaching in ur klassrums in the fall). Of course, she also thought it was transmitted because of poor toilet hygiene and had never heard of HIV, so there’s some potentially killer cluelessness out there.

  15. My kids go to what is considered by TN standards to be a “good” school system.

    From what I gather it means there is a minor degree less violence and teen pregnancy than in Davidson County, not because it is more rigorous academically.

    That said, if one expects the schools, public or private, to bear the full burden of educating the kids and prepare them to understand the world around them, then one should expect disappointment.

  16. there’s some potentially killer cluelessness out there.

    When I got certified by the Red Cross to teach HIV/AIDS Awareness, I was surprised at the simplicity of the information we were supposed to be teaching. I took the course, the test, and received my certification (I guess that makes me “an expert” of sorts), without learning ANYTHING I didn’t already know going into it.

    There’s a serious lack of information on HIV and AIDS out there and alot of the info that is out there is inaccurate.

  17. You know, hearing what dolphin and bridgett have to say, the utter lack of knowledge and education is beyond appalling to me. In our society, at this point in history, we have the potential to educate more people than ever before. How can it be that we are not getting this information out there?

    I personally know three people who are living with HIV. One is my best friend and another is his partner — another is a person I know socially here in Nashville. And it pains me to say that I viewed this disease completely different before I knew someone living with it. Before I was privy to my friend’s health status, HIV / AIDS was a thing out there that existed that I occasionally gave a passing thought about. Once I was enlightened that one of my friends was touched by it, it was different — I was mad — mad that this tiny little virus had invaded my friends existence and had the potential to take him away from me. I am ashamed that it took one of my friends contracting it for me to wake up and do something. But it did.

    We all have the power to do something. I applaud dolphin for becoming active in the cause. But I am also stunned at the account she has to give regarding the experience with the Red Cross. There is still a myriad of misinformation out there. And something has to be done. What? I have no idea.

    Is AIDS information being taught in the classroom or is it still stigmatized?

    This year, I will be participating in the Nashville AIDS walk. I encourage each of you to participate. More information here:

  18. But I am also stunned at the account she has to give regarding the experience with the Red Cross.

    Two things: One, I’m a he, not a she.

    Two, I just wanted to clarify in case it wasn’t clear. The information I got from the Red Cross was entirely accurate, just pretty basic (ie. HIV can only be transmitted through contact with infected blood, semen, vaginal fluid, or breast milk. Stuff like that, which i was under the impression was all common knowledge prior to taking the course).

  19. OOPS! Sorry dolphin… thanks for clarifying.

    yeah, that stuff about transmission is obvious to people of a certain age – those of us who grew up when AIDS hit the scene — but apparently had missed the younger generation…

  20. It was great to see you too, Aunt B. Come see me if you’re ever out in Cali. As for the boot camp kids, I definitely find the Civil War thing more shocking than their lack of baseball knowledge. I mean, having grown up in Middle Tennessee, I never watched a baseball game until I moved to the Midwest where baseball is king, so I understand their lack of knowledge of R, H, and E. But to grow up in Middle Tennessee and not know about the Civil War? Maybe their next field trip should be to the Carter House in Franklin.

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