Saturday morning I happened to notice that NASA was about to launch the Atlas-Centaur rocket holding the rover named Curiosity to Mars. I told my boys, we turned on the TV and caught the countdown and liftoff. Over the weekend we had watched a documentary on the Mercury 7, but this was the first time they had seen a launch live. Sitting there with them reminded me of being their age at school where we were called up to the lunch room to watch the one black and white TV — to see John Glenn’s historic mission. From then through Neil Armstrong’s famous step, even down to Challenger’s doomed flight, I have felt the drama of breath-held launches and thrilling splash-downs. That history made sharing the moment with my boys all the more exciting — which reminds me of Arab Spring.
The headlines this morning about the vote in Egypt and the pressure on Syria along with the recent articles on the elections in Morocco, the change of rule in Yemen, the ballot in Tunesia, regime change in Libya, even the successes of the African armies in Somalia remind me in another way of the 60s. The newspaper headlines and 6:00 news reports then were about Civil Rights here and Vietnam overseas. Now we are seeing a version of Civil Rights combined with war and civil war in the Middle East. But I wonder how are schools are responding? Does Current Events still exist as a class? Are middle and high school kids watching the ice cracking, the tectonic shifting, there?
The Metropolitan Museum in New York recently re-opened its Islamic wing: http://www.nytimes.com/interactive/2011/10/30/arts/design/20111030-met-islamic-wing.html — The exhibit is so large and fascinating that you can’t really plan to see it, once. You have to map it out, then return to look at parts more closely. But there is one clear, and deliberate, overall impression — how linked, varied, culturally and ethnically rich the worlds of Islamic culture have been and are today. The galleries are, as they should be, a kind of mini-museum — imagine a European Wing at a museum in, say, Cairo, that needed to tell the entire story of European culture(s) from Rome to the EU, from Oslo to Polermo, Dublin to Moscow. In effect that is what the Met has aimed to do, and has done, for the Islamic worlds.
There is something so perfectly timed about this wing opening just as the Middle East itself changes. But are our schools joining in? Last I heard, US and World History classes struggle to reach Vietnam. Do we have Current Events at all? Seeing the rocket launch reminded me of the power of being part of history in real time. I hope our children get to experience that, too.