A young actor studies for an audition.
A former prima ballerina teaches her students.
One fine chef layers flavors expertly.
What do they all have in common? The actor is reading for Romeo and Juliet, a classic. The ballerina makes certain her student’s arabesque is perfect. And the chef uses the fonds du cuisine to make a masterpiece on the plate.
Sister Maria had something to say to all:
Let’s start at the very beginning, a very good place to start.
When you read you begin with A-B-C, when you sing you begin with do-re-mi.
One starts with the basics and moves on to be able to use that knowledge and, if good enough, be able to take your own riff on it. But nothing can happen without learning the rules first, all of them. My friend the young actor is studying Shakespeare. My friend the ballerina is shocked that her students don’t want to learn any basics, just do their own thing. And my “inner chef” is now fully trained and I know in my heart and mind that I prefer the purity and soul of Italian cooking to fancy French fare any day.
Now let’s talk about a smart little girl living in a small village in the middle of no-where USA whose high point of the week (sorry, Father, it wasn’t Sunday Mass) was being dropped off at the tiny village library with her sister while Mom went grocery shopping. So, the first Black person I ever met was Harriet Tubman, the first Jew Anne Frank, and Native American, the ballerina Maria Tallchief. I read Death Be Not Proud and To Kill a Mockingbird when I was eight years old. No, they were not assigned in school, as my classmates were still reading basic stuff. My friend Steven and I were asked to sit at the back of the room to study on our own. All the others were learning phonics and we already knew how to read so our parents forbade it.
My father was first-generation American, first to ever go to college and my mother started college the year I did. Dad worked at his alma mater so I was introduced to opera, symphony and plays and had the luxury of private violin, piano and ballet lessons. Plus, my aunts were English teachers so had a lot of reading selections for us to fill those cold winter nights.
By learning, at home and school, the basics of history, literature, fine and culinary arts I was given a gift, one that allowed my mind to grow and me to learn what is important in life. Telling the truth, social justice, loving thy neighbor, equality, being kind to others, no matter who they were.
Today, the powers that be are running out of “others” to hate. Let’s see, Muslims, Jews, Catholics, “elites,” gays, drag queens, transsexuals, and now all women. Did I forget anyone? Banning the teaching of history in history class does nothing to create a well-rounded U.S. citizen. Banning books does no-one any favors. And touting “freedom” when it’s only the freedom of Americans to do what a minute fraction of white nationalists want to let us do, is not freedom at all.
Winston Churchill once said “those who do not learn history are doomed to repeat it.” We should not go down that rabbit hole as a nation, as it does a disservice to all our futures. I know in my heart that children want desperately to learn, and I’m all for letting them read anything they’re ready for. I don’t expect a six year-old to digest Hamlet, but I know how important parents and teachers are to early child development. With knowledge comes, eventually, wisdom. I know that because I have something to say and for the last half of my life I’ve learned how to say it. Out loud. I was once afraid to write, no longer.
Our children are the future of our nation. If they don’t know their, our shared history they cannot responsibly carry on what the Founders intended for an informed, engaged citizenry. And while we’re at it, let’s fix the Supreme Court as well. What would RBG say if she were still with us? Vote! Dee