Thursday, April 3, 2014

The Same As It Never Was

The title of this post comes from the television show Ghost Whisperer and it was the name of Melinda Gordon's antique shop.  I always loved that name because while we will say "Hindsight is 20/20" all too frequently we romanticize the past and long to go back to a better, simpler time.

I recently saw this video posted on Facebook. and it does exactly that!  It is addressed to those of who were born in the 50's, 60's and 70's and begins with the assertion that according to today's standards we would never have survived.  It looks back longingly to these carefree and wonderful days where children ran around outside from dawn to dusk, adults, particularly teachers and police were treated with respect and life was just grand filled with personal responsibility and resilient children and adults. So what is the problem?

Well let's begin with who is pictured in the video - there are exactly seven African-American children in the video. The fact that I had to stop and count them (because at first I didn't see any) and in only one brief shot is there white children appearing with children of color.  I did not see any other children of color.  So the first observation is that maybe this was the reality if you were a white child in a certain economic class.

So when I was growing in suburban California I can relate to much of this.  Certainly I played outside and was allowed to go by myself to neighbor's homes.  Yet I had to tell my mom where I was and there was an area I was expected to stay within. I agree with the sentiment behind this that children don't just get to play outside in their neighborhoods much these days. With two parents working, there is a needed for structured, supervised places so parents know that someone is around to to patch up those skinned knees.  Of course I guess we leave out the part about latch key children who went home every afternoon to an empty house. Now maybe for some kids that taught resiliency, discipline and self-reliance. They got their homework done, they started dinner and still had time to play.  Maybe. Maybe for other children it was lonely and sometimes scary.  Maybe for others it was the perfect opportunity to get into lots of trouble.

Now let's talk about education.  One lines stands out for me, you would be held back a grade if you didn't make it.  Did anyone talk to those kids who were held back? How they were made fun of?  I remember that if you were held back that child was assumed to be "dumb." Also at certain points they would not hold you back, they would just pass you along. My mother student taught in the 80's and she saw first hand the amount of passing along that went on.  That would give rise to another blog post about the problems of education based on your age instead of abilities, interests or any other criteria.  Maybe we need to re-think the one-room school house - then there would be no "holding back" simply finding your own pace.

It also references respect for police and authority.  Notice that all the authority figures in the video are white. If you are white then the system works for you - police will take your police report, they believe you when you speak, you are not subject to "stop and frisk." Let's remember other images from this period - like this one of the police turning dogs and police hoses on African American children for their civil rights.  Let's remember that for the vast majority of the civil rights activists killed or injured, no one was ever convicted of harming them.

Also ironically the critique in this video that we have lost something essential was created by the same people this video pictures. In other words, the very children portrayed in this video are the ones that grew up to be the parents of today, folks my age.  We the members of the Baby Boomers and Gen X and early Millenials are the ones who have created a world where children are in structured activities from birth on; that everyone makes the team; no one is held back; parents argue with teachers and police rather than blindly backing them up. The issues of parenting from one generation to another are complicated and perhaps worth further discussion in another blog post for another day.

So while it is easy to sit back and say "Yeah, those were the days" it is not honest or truthful. The 50's had the greatest economic growth with access to the middle class at least for those who were white, Jim Crow, suburban flight and urban sprawl. In the 60's people changed things through Civil Rights movements throughout the nation and then we had the Vietnam War; we also watched great leaders like Martin Luther King Jr.murdered. In the 70's there were urban riots, gangs, the Iran Hostage Crisis, the gasoline shortage and let's not forget Watergate. The truth is as one who could have been a child portrayed in this video, my memory of the era of my childhood is not so idyllic and certainly not as ethical as described in the video.

Nostalgia is dangerous because it makes it seem if we just went back to the way things were our problems would be solved.  While we say hindsight is 20/20, it isn't always. Too often we look to the past with rose-colored glasses only selectively remembering.

We do this in our faith communities as well.  I have been part of congregations who think longingly of another era with overflow on Sunday mornings, religious education classes that were full, enough money that we didn't have to work too hard for. They remember a faith community that never was or they are blind to why if the numbers were higher at another time why that ended.  Change is constant, the question is will we will looking longingly back, missing the "good old days" or were will we realize it is a new time with new challenges and will we adapt what we are doing to meet the demands of a new age.  The past can be a good teacher but it is a poor master.  We may be doomed to repeat the past if we forget it but we are also doomed to remain stuck if we look only to the past and seek to bring it back.

So let us learn from the past and yet keep moving forward, learning new things as we go!