Domestic Bliss Report

Motherhood is hard work. If we don't stick together, we'll all fall apart.

Friday, January 05, 2007

On common culture

Warning: This post has been percolating for a while and I don't want it to get lost in the shuffle to New Blogger. Please excuse the clumsiness of wording and incomplete ideas--no profanity is used. And hey, this IS just a blog, after all.
I've been reading The Educated Child (see sidebar), and I've finished the chapters of subject areas. The history section has as part of its discussion the idea of our children needing a common culture, common history, as touchpoints for national unity. I agree with that idea. If in studying the Kennedy era one has no idea what Camelot was, with King Arthur and Guenevere et al., you really don't get it.
I used to think of Sesame Street as a touchpoint, but I'll admit--my kids don't watch it often. It's not the same as when I was growing up; it's more "interpersonal relations" than letters, introductory phonics, or numbers. And what in Heaven's name is the point of Elmo's World?
So, now we're in 2007. What are some common cultural discussion points? I remember when River Phoenix died and was thus heralded as the Champion of Disillusioned Generation X, and Kurt Cobain was later the spokesman for my generation. Problem: I don't think I've done enough heroin (as in any) to regard either of them as peers.
Are we too diverse a country to have them? I recall hearing of a discussion regarding official language here in the U.S. The discussion centered on Spanish, but frankly, I still think that would be a regional choice. Here in Motown we have a large and growing Arabic-speaking community. Should Wayne County have a second official language? Should Macomb, with the Hmong in Warren and the Albanian in the Romeo area? When should we expect immigrants to speak the language of the majority of their country, if ever?
Are they ideas I want in my home? If you tell me in order to understand their country and its role in the world my kids need to be acquainted with most of the "works" in our local B. Dalton, you're out of your mind. Things like this or this or this... I don't think so. (side note: children's lit is a mess. I think the reason so many pop culture "icons" like Madonna think they can write it is because they see the dearth of quality in their own kids' books and think, "I can do better than this!" Exception: John Lithgow.)
I've recently gone on a classics kick, in preparation for classical homeschooling at the high school level. If I want to be prepared to discuss some of that stuff, even in ten years, I'd better start now. Out go the historical romance and Oprah's book club; bring on Herodotus, Wilde, Dumas, Shakespeare, Dickens, Twain, Orwell...
Then things like this happen (Library purging article at American Spectator) and Rich Leonardi asks some very valid questions (Rich's post on cultural repositories).
I wonder who's in charge of coming up with our common culture, and terrified of what those touchpoints could turn out to be.



At 7:56 PM, Blogger Milehimama said...

I'm not sure there is such a thing as a unified American pop culture. Our society is, almost by definition, a mosaic of different cultures.
I think really, giving children the critical thinking skills and love of learning to become knowledgeable about the subculture of their choice is better than trying to give our kids the lowest common denominator of pop culture. Giving them the ability to learn Arabic or Spanish on their own, the confidence to learn new skills in new "cultures", the roots to keep them grounded when everyone around them is washing out.
Even I, an adult, have trouble making a "fit" sometimes. I am writing a movie, and when I talk to the other screenwriters, I wear one hat with one point of reference - being able to discuss how being the director affects a script, delving into debate about whether adaptation should be faithful to the spirit or the letter of the work, and of course, the Zeitgeist. When I was reviewing TV shows I had a different point of reference - sly comments referencing SpongeBob or even shows I hadn't seen (Survivor, Sex and the City) but were in the audiences' point of reference. (The internet and episode guides are your friend!) When I am at a traditional Catholic homeschooling conference, there is another one that assumes familiarity with John Dewey's educational models vs. Waldorf, Mason, Montessori; Little House books, and up to snuff on the debate of natural vs. plastic materials.
I have writer/reader friends, homeschool friends, church friends, and best friends... and often they never meet each other, sometimes they overlap. I can only assume the same will be true for my kids.
Modern America requires us to be Renaissance men, with a hand or foot in many spheres.


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