Ghosts Of Missippi (your e-mail)I received so much poignant e-mail about the Ghosts Of Mississippi post last week that I wanted to share it with you.
First, from Daniel d'Avignon-Aubut:
I read your post, Ghosts of Mississippi, and I want to share my thoughts (as a new dad) with you.
I think you ought to show the images. And here's why. I'll talk about the holocaust because my personal story is about it.
I've learned about the Holocaust at school or in books, I honestly do not remember when. It was always something horrible that happened a long time ago in a different place to different people. I am not Jewish and not European either. So nothing linked me to the Holocaust.
When I went to Paris, at about 28, I visited the new Shoah Memorial and saw footage of the liberation of the camps. It literarily changed me inside. Seeing the black and white videos of people that endured torture and treatments beyond words scared me, but also touched me beyond anything. Just writing about it makes me feel something in my stomach. That instant, the Holocaust went from an idea, a concept to reality. It increased my compassion for my fellow humans. It made me feel real pity and indignation. I truly believe this is something everyone should see to have the fullest effect.
I was not a child anymore when I saw these, but I wished I had seen them earlier because I truly believed it made me a better person.
Next, from Nick Youngblood:
Well, now that you’ve asked all these rhetorical questions about when to do what with regard to Eli, expect to get a thousand responses from self-proclaimed experts on the subject. I don’t present myself as such, but I still remember my own introductions to these topics clearly, and thought my memories might be of some assistance.
As to questions of race and hatred, I don’t think that around 12 is too young to be exposed to such things. I grew up in rural Texas, and so was exposed to these things even earlier. I don’t think that waiting until I was older would’ve had a better result. Indeed, the early introduction taught me to look for hate and oppose it sooner in life, and to watch my own attitudes closely.
As to the Holocaust…this is the more interesting question. I don’t remember when I first heard about the Holocaust, but I do remember when I first saw it. I was about 14 years old when my school arranged a field trip to a holocaust museum. I remember realizing that until that point, I had never really seen a corpse, even in photographs. Then suddenly I am surrounded by photographs of dozens or hundreds of corpses. Photos of the starving, of the neglected, of the dying. Documentary footage of people so emaciated they could hardly move. Piles of bodies. Mass graves. It was horror on a scale I had never before imagined. My mind recoiled from it. Even writing about it now is difficult.
To this day I’m haunted by those images. I’ve never watched Schindler’s List. I don’t generally watch Holocaust documentaries. It’s not that I want to pretend these images don’t exist; I take them with me wherever I go, and I’ll never forget them. But at the same time, I feel they’ve had their full effect. My life will not be improved by seeing them again, or adding to those I’ve already seen. I don’t think that particular impression can be strengthened any further. If it can be, I’m not interested in knowing.
I wrote this email because I wanted to say that in hindsight I personally wouldn’t have wanted to be any younger when I saw those images. From my perspective, it is a shattering of innocence that can never be fully recovered from. Perhaps as more people respond to your post, you’ll get a better idea of what you should do. I don’t have an answer. All I can talk about is my own experience – I wouldn’t have wanted to be any younger. To be honest, I wish I’d never seen them at all. But I agree. It is necessary.
One more (I'll also have more tomorrow), this time from Daryl Singhi, who weighs in with a teacher's perspective:
As a teacher (middle school history), I would strongly suggest supporting/supplementing the school curriculum as it comes year by year. While most states are going towards a uniform scope and sequence in the form of the "Common Core Standards," odds are, it will be a few years before History gets the same treatment. From what I know, I think Texas requires a VERY broad (but shallow) 6th grade curriculum of ancient/medieval world history (across 5 continents and several civilizations), 7th is Texas History, and 8th is early American History. More modern historical horrors won't show up until high school. I would trust the high school teachers to do a very good job on the horrors of Holocaust and the Civil Rights movement, though the pressures of so many standards means the teaching can only scratch the surface. I would suggest supplementing that teaching with your own brand of depth from home.
Eli might be ready to see that stuff, and possibly come at it with insight beyond his years. That said, there is something to be said for allowing the innocence to remain. Personally, one of the more formative events for me was reading "By Bread Alone" in 6th grade. It was on my history teacher's bookshelf and I asked to read it. I remember the images vividly, and while I understood the words, I don't think I was ready for that scope of horror. The downside with any exposure to something like the Holocaust of the true stories around some American tragedies is that a teacher or parent can support and emotionally gauge the kid, but when that child closes their eyes at night, they are alone with some pretty mature and confusing thoughts.
When topics you really want to provide depth on present themselves in the classroom, that is a perfect time to jump in with advanced stuff. Your first good opportunity will be when the Crusades show up in 6th grade, and then a real opportunity surrounding Slavery in 8th grade. Add in the Age of Exploration and some of the alternative info about the conquistadors and, some pretty horrific interactions during the Inquisition and the Reformation can offer a few good (but distant in terms of time) chances in 6th grade. 8th grade will also open doors to talk about the treatment of Native Americans during Manifest Destiny, some of the religious intolerance during colonial times, and the issues immigrants faced throughout first half of American History.
Every kid is different, but sometimes even if a kid can comprehend something, they may not be ready in other ways. Eli seems like an insightful boy, but he also seems to think HARD about stuff and sometimes take things pretty hard. He definitely cares, and might not be able to set aside some of the harder hitting subjects.
Like I said, I'll have more tomorrow.