- The Washington Times - Sunday, March 18, 2007

My family was relaxing recently at the end of our day when my husband and I started telling stories of some events we had witnessed in our youth that were significant to the country and the world.

Not only our own children, but their friends, were sitting in rapt attention. We talked about how it had felt to grow up during the Cold War, with the world divided into two hostile camps; about the Korean War; about Vietnam, Laos and Cambodia. I described the Berlin Wall, how it had epitomized the stark division between freedom and communist oppression.

I described growing up at a time when racist segregation was legal, when polio was crippling children, when tobacco was advertised freely on television and when alcohol was served much more freely than today.

We talked about apartheid in South Africa, Solidarity in Poland and the work of Mother Teresa in India. We talked about the miracles we had witnessed: the Berlin Wall coming down, the bloodless toppling of communism in the former Soviet Union and Eastern Europe, the transition to full democracy in South Africa.

We spoke about events and the efforts of good people that had precipitated these things: brave souls who dared to stand up; speak truth; risk assassination, imprisonment or death to bring freedom to others.

As we spoke, our memories sometimes caused us to choke up or look at each other and laugh or sometimes add some personal detail. Afterward, one of the friends said, “It’s really good to hear about this. I never knew what my parents went through. I didn’t understand why they worked so hard on this or that thing. Now I can appreciate what they did.”

My daughter said, “Yeah, we see pictures or hear about something in history, but it doesn’t really hit you like this. I wish other young people were able to hear this kind of thing.”

I realized that we ourselves are an important resource for teaching our children about the evolution of the world in which they find themselves. Just as our parents may have been born into the Depression or World War II and that affected how they lived their lives, we were born into the world at a certain moment in history, and that affected our choices.

Parents need to share personal and family history with their children. We need to describe for them the road map of our own course, but also that of the nation and the world. Did Dad serve in the military? Was Mom a Peace Corps worker? Did Grandpa teach school? Was Auntie a civil rights activist? Did Uncle work on the space shuttle? Where were you when President Kennedy or Martin Luther King was assassinated? When Neil Armstrong walked on the moon?

As you recount these things, you naturally will share your values, the things that you felt were important, the reasons you made the choices you did. Were you so serious about the environment that you walked to school every day? Did you choose a certain occupation because you felt you could make a difference? Did you volunteer somewhere, write a letter or take part in a demonstration?

Children need more than the kind of history lesson that is printed in a textbook. They need personal history lessons. They have their own set of wrongs to battle: AIDS, terrorism, human exploitation. When they hear that their parents and ancestors took brave steps and made sacrifices for something greater, that informs their own choices.

Those are the history lessons that should not be forgotten.

Kate Tsubata, a home-schooling mother of three, is a freelance writer living in Maryland.

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