Yesterday, I took the kids up to Sonoma. On the way there, the subject of 9/11 came up, and the kids wanted me to tell them again what happened that day. Thus began Thursday's Social Studies/History lesson.
I told them the story as best I could, fielding questions about what the boys were doing that day, why daddy called me from work to tell me to turn on the TV, and whether or not the field in Pennsylvania was dry or wet. That question came from my 10 year old, who figured if it was wet, maybe the plane wouldn't burn up as badly.
We talked about the Muslim faith. About Osama Bin Laden. About the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan that followed 9/11, and how those wars are different from each other. About the people who suffered and died that day. About why we went to war in the first place, or at least how the war was justified by our leaders. Was George Bush a good president? What was he doing that day when the attacks happened? Why do Saudi Arabians hate us? Is it true that we won't ever surrender and the wars won't be over until we win? My daughter asked "What are the names of the people who died?"
Later in the day, at my mom and dad's house, I went looking for an empty box for the kids to stash their creek-found treasures in. Up in the storage closet, I noticed a stack of newspapers. Leafing through the top five or so, I realized that my parents, probably my dad, has been laying important newspapers on top of that stack, in dated order, each time a significant event -- historical or personal -- takes place. Right on top was the local newspaper from the day our town's beloved Fire Chief, a good friend of my parents', was buried earlier this summer. Down through the dates, there were papers with headlines about Obama's Inauguration and his election, Barry Bonds' record breaking homerun, JFK Jr.'s death, etc. I rifled down nine years, and found a slew of papers from September 12 2001, and brought them out to show the kids. We looked at the pictures and talked about them. There were the towers, on fire but not yet collapsed. There were the people running through Manhattan, covered in ash. There was the field in Pennsylvania. There was George Bush, children's book in hand, 2nd grade class sitting in front of him, with an advisor whispering something in his ear.
Some of the photos were really hard to see, and I questioned if I should be letting the kids see them; I certainly haven't ever wanted to before. My oldest son found some video on YouTube, shot by a regular citizen who was visiting the city with family and who captured the smoking towers from a hotel room not far away. We watched that for a little while, until I decided I wasn't ready to talk about people leaping from 110-story buildings.
On the way home, we talked even more about that terrible day and the complicated mess of events that have followed, including the idiot Pastor Terry Jones and the proposed Community Center that everyone insists on describing as a Ground Zero mosque.
It was quite a History Lesson, and we stumbled into it. I had school plans for the day, plans I followed, but which didn't actually go all that well. It was difficult to get them to listen to me and to do the very simple 2 or 3 things they were "assigned." But it still ended up being one of the best school days we've had so far.
The ability to swerve into a topic and talk about it in depth, to read more about it in newspapers, to watch video of events unfolding, to listen to NPR discussions: none of this would have been possible last year, when my time with my kids consisted of rushing them to practice, and then rushing them through homework, dinner, baths, showers, teeth-brushing and bedtime. When my responses to their questions were 90% frazzled and 10% thoughtful. When I never would have had the chance to happen upon those newspapers in my mom and dad's storage closet. When keeping up with our life was getting in the way of living it.
So: Yesterday, we had a History lesson that will stay with them, I think, and one that is far from over I am sure. This is the model of homeschooling that I had hoped for. It's too bad I cannot plan for days like that, but I will happily welcome them whenever they arrive.
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