Is Our Children Learning?

September 9, 2012 § 1 Comment

When I think about all the issues being discussed during this election, I’m reminded of the early 90’s—a time when I became certain that terrorist attacks would happen in this country eventually, yet no one seemed to think about it at all. Of course people were thinking about it, but the belief that “it can’t happen here,” was very potent.

Today, the threat is climate change, and it’s discussed all the time, yet even so it seems to me that nobody is taking it seriously. So much talk of America not being able to compete in the global marketplace, of looming Medicare costs, yet no mention of the costs of accelerating disaster clean-up, soaring food prices as droughts deepen, or the warfare that historically arises over water rights. I’m talking about warfare between cities and states in the Western U.S.

I don’t how when any of this will happen or how it will play out but if I were raising children, I would be far more concerned about preparing them for this than for Harvard or competing against the Chinese.

How does one prepare for this? The first thing is to dismantle the idea that it can’t happen here, that America “the greatest country in the world,” is somehow immune to the future. What are parents—those with choices—doing? Focusing intently on their kids’ grades and sports teams. Being well educated and learning to compete are, in theory, advantages but not when the education doesn’t take into account the realities ahead, and not when the sports mania seems mostly about reducing the chaos of life into a tidy win/lose. Never mind how over-parenting is making this generation even less capable of adapting to change than mine or my parents’ was.

As an 11 -15 year old, I was fascinated with books about survival: I must have read Kontiki half a dozen times. That story: in 1947, Thor Heyerdahl became convinced that people from South America would have settled Polynesia and he set out to prove by crossing the Pacific on a raft with a crew of 6. This sotry of storms, sharks, vulnerability and the unknown resonated with me because I was recovering from great family trauma. I knew the focus of my life was endurance and survival and though the situation of Thor Heyerdahl was, for me at that time, a metaphor, I would have recognized any attempt to teach me what I needed to know.

I learned to survive but not to prosper. Most of what I’ve accomplished has been the result of early financial privilege, talent and endurance, not adaptability or risk-taking and though I know depression is clouding my vision, I find it hard to see my life as anything but a ruin. I’m still focused, day-to-day, on psychological survival, to the point that financial survival often feels secondary. One must be alive to need to eat.

Sudden loss always feels like a punishment. When security vanishes, self-confidence withers. Shock paralyzes until you learn to process shock, which I never have. Most people won’t lose a father to suicide at 10, and don’t have a brain that tips naturally to the dark side, but the changes about to overtake us are going to visit the same level of shock on an entire generation.

We can’t teach children what to do about the climate change that is already happening and inevitable. There are too many variables. But we can teach them that life is by its nature full of unexpected loss and change; we can use stories and tell our own stories; we can forget team sports and spend that time on adventure, teaching kids to react to novel situations rather than perfect a series of swim strokes or touchdowns.

Catastrophe Theory II

The foot goes forward, yes.
Yet there are roots. And a giant orb
which focuses its cyclopic eye
on a moiré morning.
When the microcosm is dry—it’s earth;
wet—it’s water.

Water, reeds, electric eel: one possibility.
Sun, reeds, dust mote and mite: another.
Whatever the elements
(it’s urban/it’s pastoral,
it’s empty/it’s open), the theory says
it could always be worse.

Until it is. Then theory fails,
leaving a tracer mark.
From blood you come to blood
you go. Sudden things happen
inside a frame. A flame is
lit. Look

at those pathetic wiggly squiggles.
Inferno or garden?
An immeasurable distance
sizzles between them.
Watching it all. But taking so little in.
Just what will fit on the flat

of a glass lens. The ticker is hopeful.
Pathetic fallacy.
Look at the numbers move.
The mystery of ticks.
One per second, sixty per Mickey.
Four becomes ten, one in six

bombs falls in a bushel, a basket,
a two o’clock casket. Do you wish to stay
connected? The seen blurs
into the just heard. A bird outside the wide
open window. The warm day
of March. It changes. It has

all changed. The world
as a distracting disaster.
MY, what little SENSE you make, said the wolf
to Mary Jo. The theory rests
on a tipping point.
The clock steps in a direction.

Mary Jo Bang


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§ One Response to Is Our Children Learning?

  • Andree Pages says:

    My thoughts have been drifting in the same direction. I keep wondering if selling the land is a good idea when there is so much good clean water on it. I read that you just had two tornadoes in NYC. Wtf, as the younger generation would say. Wise words about parental priorities–I think the Harvard brand may have been damaged by the cheating scandal anyway.

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