I thoroughly enjoyed reading the following article by Alina Tugend in The Times on our culture's obsession with success. It is definitely worth reading and can be found here. Tugend's editorial entitled Redefining Success and Celebrating the Ordinary is spot-on when it comes to the value our culture places on celebrity and success. The need to be #1 or the best, the brightest, the prettiest, the thinnest, the most wealthy, the craftiest, the most creative, is one that pervades our culture and can invade our own minds in insidious ways. Children are now saying that they want to be "movie stars" or "pop stars" a lot more than firemen or vets. The value of an ordinary life has been minimized and it's difficult to communicate to our children that normal is OK.
I was discussing this with some friends and we were talking about the fact that in any given generation there will only be a few people who will go down in the history books and be talked about by generations to come. The rest of us need to be happy with having our little place in the world and working faithfully in the places we have been sent. More than likely none of us will write an earth-shattering treatise or make some great discovery yet in today's climate of success, it's almost sacrilege to admit to choosing a life of "normality". Everywhere you look you can see people chasing that elusive "greatness" or "celebrity" at a high cost to themselves and their families. But, history and literature help shield us from that delusion. And they can help our children to see that value in life comes not from the limelight but from integrity, generosity, character, and hard work.
When a child is raised on the stories of George Washington, Galileo, the Pilgrims, and other historical figures, they can learn about what makes a person worthy of historical memory. And they can learn from the examples and mistakes of those who have come before them. History is valuable not just for its example of great minds and characters but also for its terrible mistakes and injustices. It will also become apparent to a student of history that the people who are in the headlines today will probably be forgotten relatively quickly. Only a very remarkable few will be remembered centuries from now.
Additionally fictional literature is also valuable for developing a child's sense of identity and value. If they are fed a steady diet of admirable characters in books like The Bronze Bow or The Family Under the Bridge they will be much more likely to see the worth of humility and faithfulness. While encouraging a child to do his or her best is fine, it is important to also emphasize the fact that their value is not in their performance but in their character. Providing them with stories that back this up will infiltrate their little hearts and buffer them from the allure and trap of being "the best" and show them the joys of living a good and kind life.
To learn more about teaching history using literature, visit our website.