One of the interesting things about the kids being home from school for basically an entire year now is that we’ve gotten to see a lot more of their curriculum than we used to. Before it was mainly just math problem sets and already-completed writing assignments. Now we get to see a glimpse of what they’re doing in all their subjects.
This has made their social studies classwork kind of fascinating to see. Given the backdrop of what’s been going on in the country over the past couple decades but especially during the past year, what they’re learning has often felt woefully outdated and embarrassingly naïve. It’s basic stuff: Three branches of government. Checks and Balances. Limitation of powers. There’s also been instruction about what government does with examples like food safety and the postal service.
Nothing inherently bad or even wrong. Just that we have to gently explain the difference between the theory and the execution. One of the first things they commented on was that the President wasn’t nearly as powerful as they thought he was. So we had to explain that he gets to be as powerful as the other branches allowed him to be. And that Congress has been abdicating its responsibilities for decades now.
Same thing goes with what government does. We’ve had a year of government actively not doing what it’s supposed to do. Killing the mail. Letting the food supply chain break. Sticking its head in the sand regarding COVID. It’s been dismaying to see how far apart what they’re being taught is from the actual reality of things.
At the same time, I don’t have a problem with this. Learning how things are supposed to work is not a bad thing. Learning what you should demand of your government is a great thing. We’ve just had to step in and explain that if things aren’t working it means we should be trying to fix them. And in order to fix something we need to know what it’s supposed to be doing.
Of course, not everything that government is supposed to be doing is a good thing. We’ve also discussed the electoral college and the Senate and how they’re both inherently undemocratic. And how the concept of voting for who you want most is usually not possible and you have to vote pragmatically. Lots of discussion about who we want to be President which we had to reframe to be about who we wanted to avoid being President.
Anyway, it’s been an ongoing topic for months. Last September we warned them that things were going to be especially bad after the election. While school suggests that elections just work without effort, this year has been a textbook demonstration that all the the things that “just happen” do in fact have to be maintained to continue happening. And that once the maintenance is neglected, everything that the schools teach us to take for granted might break.
We told them that the two most-likely scenarios were either a Trump win followed by months of retribution or a Biden win followed by months of denial and burning things to the ground. They haven’t been actively following the trainwreck that’s been gathering speed ever since election day but it’s something that we kept discussing in the house. We’ll let them know when a milestone is reached and how closer we are to a change in power while also making sure they know that there’s still a lot of stuff going on.
Which brings us to last Wednesday. Did it scare the kids? Yes. Of course it did. It scared us too. Did it surprise them? Not at all. We’ve been building toward that conversation for over a year. We explained that it finally happened and Trump’s supporters tried to disrupt Congress and derail the election. That some people got hurt. That it wasn’t nearly as bad as it could’ve been. That the police appeared to be complicit. That the election still got certified despite everything. That this is part of a long pattern of white men breaking the rules in the country and not suffering any consequences. And that we were now in uncharted territory.
The conversations we’ve had since have surprised me a little. They’ve ranged from obvious reactions like concern that something like this will happen locally. To how much we trust the police and how their interactions with them in town have been good ones. To what will happen if there’s another coup attempt. To the Little House Books and how Pa and other settlers ignored the rules and tried to homestead on Indian land. To issues of multiracial identity, blood quantum, and the Dawes Rolls.
I think we’re going to continue to have interesting conversations all week. Especially as the ramifications of Wednesday start to shake out. I will probably have to remind them Inauguration Day is likely to have some problems. That’s an event which I can see them watching in school so I hope the schools are ready for it to get weird. But I’m glad that the door is open and they’re not in that shocked/stunned stupor that way too many adults are in.