I read this story this morning on the alternet:
I remember first hearing the Selkie tail on my mother’s copy of The Joan Baez Ballad Book LP. I must have been four. That record and its mysterious tales of the strange struck a chord with me–a Mexican American girl. I didn’t feel badly about not being a fair maiden and I wanted to know more. That LP lead me to D’Aulaire’s Greek Myths, and the equally horrific tales of the bible. Eventually all this spawned an English major. I bought my kids Kristin Hersh’s great Murder, Misery, and then Goodnight CD of American folk ballads of questionable stabbings and drunkenness. Why you might ask? Because it is part of our heritage. I am also a teacher.
I can’t tell you how sad it is to face a college freshmen classroom full of blank faced children whose parents never bothered to tell them anything about their own heritage and history. They think, for example, that violence against women and violence in general is somehow a late 20th century phenomenon. They have no knowledge of history. My daughter recently scared other parents by singing a PJ Harvey song. My son was bullied for knowing who Buster Keaton was. But knowing the history of violence against the other HELPS them and gives them solace. They are up there with all the others who have fought against the darkness of illiteracy and willful ignorance of American culture.
The kids and I recently read Madeleine L’Engle’ A Wrinkle in Time together. Back when I was growing up in the 1970s, my 4th grade teacher read it to the class. In the 2000s it’s been reclassified as a young adult book instead because it’s too hard and kids won’t be able to understand it. That’ s of course , bullshit, though I suppose if your kids were raised by the Disney Channel, it would be too hard.
There is no greater passage in children’s literature as the chapter with the Happy Medium who shows the Murray children their own planet and the dark shadow of ignorance and evil that tries to shadow it. But Earth has not fallen to the darkness. It has always had those that fight it. In this passage we find out the fighters are great scientists and artists, Shakespeare, Buddha, Jesus, etc. It is those that bring knowledge and light to the world. It’s those that strive for understanding and betterment of the species, not those that score perfectly on multiple choice tests. Wrinkle celebrates difference, hope, and faith–and it acknowledges the balance of the shadowy side. Knowledge is a source of strength.
At 4 years old, I liked the tune of the Selkie and didn’t understand what it was about. I hummed the tune; I later learned the history. That’s how exposure to the world works, in fits and starts. I’m sorry that America’s parents have decided to raise their children on TV and only things that relate to them. I’m at fault there too. My daughter owns two American girl dolls: Josefina and another that looks like my daughter: brown hair, brown eyes, brown skin. I appreciate that she wanted dolls that look like her and that she saved up her own money for them too. But I loved too when she started reading Japanese folk tales and played with Japanese dolls. She can’t necessarily ‘relate’ or ‘identify’ readily at first but guess what? Over time she realizes that there is this thing called universality.
I’m glad the mother of the article got involved in her daughter’s education. It was well-written and exposes quite a few issues of American education today—it also helps solidify my decision to have my children remain outside today’s public school education system.