The Right Coast

September 09, 2004
Homework troubles
By Tom Smith

The textbooks we put in the hands of our school children are a disgrace. I'm trying to help Luke with his math homework, when Patrick, age 11, yells from the kitchen, "Dad, I need your help!" I am busy. I don't want to help. So I yell back, "Why? What is it?" Patrick says, "I need help taking notes!" Patrick is a good notetaker. I suspect shirking. "You know how to take notes!" I yell. He says, "I can't take notes on this stuff! It's just, just sap!"

The conversation continued:
Dad: What do you mean, sap?
Patrick: You know. "People in the past lived on the same planet as we do and danced under the same sun . . . " That sort of sentimental crap. How I am supposed to take notes on that? It's too stupid!

He had a point. I asked him to bring me his social studies book. Hmmm. It began with an extended quotation from a Greek source describing what a gentleman Attila the Hun was at a banquet. "Can't you almost see the tender expression on his face?"

Atilla the Hun? He who laid waste to cities and put every man, woman and child to the sword? Wasn't he the one who built hills out of the skulls of his enemies? Now we have to be politically correct about the hun hordes? Why do you think they were called hordes? You think they got their evil reputation by being misunderstood?

Meanwhile, grateful for the distraction from math, Luke comments "Dad, I think Atilla came as a conqueror, not a liberator," then cackles at his own wit. Then he adds, "I know: 'Vlad's Hospital for the Physically Impaled." More giggling.

Jeanne gets home in time to listen to the ongoing dissection of PC history. "We've created monsters," she says, despairing.

I suppose the book has its good points. It is trying to help kids understand the past is not that much different from today, in some respects. It is not a scary land inhabited by monsters, but a place that also had kids who liked games and so on. But really! Wouldn't history that was a little closer to the truth be more interesting and prepare kids better for the world? If the past is still present, then doesn't something like decency demand Atilla be treated as the mass murderer or at least the ruthless, bloody minded conqueror he was? He must have been responsible for the deaths of what, millions of children?

The Romans saw Attila as a fierce warrior, but as this portrait shows, he was more than that. He was also a man with a unique personality and a family, just like people today.

Well, except few people today can claim to have laid waste to continents, driving their enemies before them like cattle (his hordes, I think, thought of their victims exactly as cattle to be herded and slaughtered). It must have been some family. "Daddy, what ethnic sub-group are we going to wipe from the face of the earth today?" A fascinating family. He murdered his brother (as kings did often enough) and is said to have eaten two of his children. But maybe his angry wife killed them and fed them to him as an act of vengeance. Interesting family, in any event.

So sorry. We are not going to cut the Hun Devil any slack in this household. There's going to be a little pocket of Western Civilization in Jamul if I have anything to do with it.