In music class the teacher was warming up the class by singing her questions, asking them to sing back their replies. “How do you feel to-day?” she warbled. The girls sang back like angels, but the boys fidgeted and mumbled through reluctant lips. One 6th grade boy droned “pessime,” and the teacher sang back in Latin, Quare pessime O puer? (“Why do you feel rotten, O youth?”) The sad boy had no coherent reply, so when it was my turn to sing how I felt that morning, I belted out optime!
Why are today’s children pessimists rather than optimists? Even in a Classical Academy that seeks the beautiful, the true, and the good, despondency infects our children. But children are not pessimistic by nature. Who or what has stolen their natural energy?
After visiting the school, I went for a bike ride in San Francisco’s wonderful Golden Gate Park. Monument after historical monument glided by, but many of them were headless. The bright statue of Junipero Serra, the Father of California, had been decapitated. Francis Scott Key had been torn down. Ulysses S. Grant was gone. Shakespeare, hiding in a clump of trees, was still up, but I’m sure “they” will cancel him too at some point. I pedaled past the sprawling George Washington High School, whose murals must be effaced and whose name must be expunged because … no one knows quite why these facts of history must be canceled other than … rage dictates that everything must burn. Thomas Jefferson’s statue will be removed from the New York City Council chambers. The past must be expunged simply because it is the past.
Children feel “pessime” when they feel homeless, without father or mother whom they can trust, without a Fatherland or a Mother Church they can depend on. Children feel homeless when they are told that anything that happened before 1960 is bad, and anyone older than 35 cannot be taken seriously. In most movies, Dad is an idiot and Mom is a narcissist. Even when I was in high school, history had been replaced by “social studies,” which even then was morphing into progressivist propaganda.
We teach history at Stella Maris Academy, as do all Classical Curriculum schools. The good, the bad, and the ugly—it really happened, and those who do not know their own roots drift nervously through life without confidence in much of anything. If our children’s eyes seem vacant, if they cannot focus without heavy doses of Ritalin and Adderall, if they cannot sit still and think, it is because they do not know their own history. Let them read and study the lives of the men and women who have gone before us, the “democracy of the dead,” in Chesterton’s words. One of my happiest Christmas breaks was spent reading a high school textbook on American history as background for my MA paper on the first bishop of California, Joseph Sadoc Alemany. The story of our country, like the stories of our own families and the story of our planet, is fascinating, inspiring, hopeful, and sobering, all at the same time. Real history, not political powerplays like the 1619 Project, gives joy and hope to students. Propaganda makes them simply “pessime.” They become like the Russian people I saw on the streets of grey Vladivostok some years ago after 70 years of Soviet propaganda: listless, suspicious, defeated. Our school parents tell me how their children are already more joyful, less stressed out, more coherent, and less depressed. They are learning to sing history, not to cancel it. They are discovering the inherent goodness and order of creation rather than simply trying to manipulate it.
As I was pedaling back home yesterday I saw a billboard pedaling Instagram. It showed an androgynous creature, all tattooed and pierced with orange hair, scowling into his device, with the belligerent words “We make today.” I certainly don’t want to be like such a creature, nor be around such creatures, nor watch our children become such creatures.
We don’t make today. God has already made it for us, and with joy we discover its beauty, its goodness, its truth. Find a good history of our Country, of our Church, of our Planet; study it, ponder it, rejoice in it, teach it to your children, and thank God for his manifold blessings.