Yesterday, I casually mentioned to my seventh graders that today was an important anniversary and they looked at me in odd way – sort of like Ivy when she is confused, tilting her head to one side and cocking her ears back, as if to say, “So, you say?” What it really means is that they have no clue what you are talking about and they don’t have a good answer, because by the way I am looking at them, they should know.
Yeah, seventh graders should have known that Wednesday is the 70th anniversary of the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor. President Franklin D. Roosevelt addressed a joint session of congress the following day and began with,
“Yesterday, December 7th, 1941 – a date which will live in infamy – the United States of America was suddenly and deliberately attacked by the naval and air forces of the Empire of Japan.”
President Franklin Delano Roosevelt from his speech before Congress, Monday, December 8, 1941.
I have heard, read, and recited that sentence countless times and I can hear Roosevelt speaking those very words, yet – I wasn’t alive. My parents were, my mom was three and my dad eight. My mom probably doesn’t recall the event, though she recalls the later part of the war and the hardships it wrought on America. She remembers her parent’s, my grandparents’, stories. She knows the stories of men who fought in the war and the women they came home to. My in-laws remember the stories also. They are a bit older than my parents are and during the war, they finished high school and then served their country; my father-in-law served in the navy from 1944-46 and my mother-in-law worked in a glider factory in Dayton, Ohio. Nevertheless, that was before she and my father-in-law were married.
It is sad our kids don’t know why 12/7 is an important date. A few might, though most won’t. It is sad and I am partly to blame because I could teach it, but I don’t. I am wrapped up in teaching Language Arts – reading, writing, thinking, and I don’t have the time in the day to teach a lesson about our nation’s history. I’ll squeeze a mention in the morning after announcements and a few students will be engaged and ask questions and want to know more.
I was in third grade when I learned about Pearl Harbor. I can remember asking my mom, who was gardening at the time, why we were attacked and she told me she really didn’t know, but she took me to the library and we checked out a book, which led to another book, and so my reading life and love of American and world history began. I eventually landed on Walter Lord’s Day of Infamy and I read it several times. I found a copy a few years back and I bought it; it is somewhere on a bookshelf in the basement.
I read in the paper this weekend that so many of the veterans of the battle have passed away that the Pearl Harbor Survivors Association is dissolving at the end of the year. It is sad, but for many the memory of the why the day is important is fading, too. I suspect, by Wednesday morning, my students will know why 12/7 is important, but it shouldn’t be that way. That is precisely why 12/7 happened, we weren’t paying attention and we were surprised and unprepared. George Santayana, a noted twentieth century author and philosopher, wrote
“Those who cannot remember the past are condemned to repeat it.”
—Life of Reason, Reason in Common Sense, Scribner’s, 1905, p. 284
And, if we cannot remember the past or we choose not to teach it or learn from the lessons it teaches us, we are doomed to repeat it. So, I’ll make my day count by reaching out and sharing. I’ll open my room at lunch time for kids to come and eat and learn and ask questions and together we’ll learn from our past. Making the Days Count, one history lesson at a time.
What mistakes from your past taught you the most important lessons in your life?