Wednesday, November 28, 2012

Be gone...before someone drops a house on you!

I'm undertaking a new challenge. I challenged myself, but it requires family participation. Let me explain.

I finished my book club book, The Timekeeper by Mitch Albom (Don't waste your time. Ha.) and was looking through my bedroom bookshelves to find something new to read. Perhaps something more satisfying (I really didn't like that book.) I specify my bedroom bookshelves, because we have bookshelves in every room: the living room, every bedroom, the kitchen, the hall...even the bathroom. We are a family of book lovers. Right now, I'm reading The Hobbit aloud to the boys every night so that we can finish it before we go and see the movie. Cause that's how we roll.

So, back to my bedroom bookshelves. I came across a book that my father gave me when I was 16.

Cultural Literacy: What Every American Needs to Know by E.D. Hirsch, Jr. You can probably guess that I never read it.

It sounds a bit dry, I'll give you that. But as I flipped through it, I came across this folded and tucked in between two pages.

It reads:


Dear Kate -

     Here is a book I have found to be very helpful to me. The title tells it all. This book will help you a lot.

Your Father-
Dan Ryan

How could I not read it? (This was typical of letters my dad wrote me.)

I dug in and was amazed that the biggest issues in education facing the country in 1987 are pretty much exactly the same as those in 2012. Namely, that student test scores are going down and their knowledge of the world around them has decreased dramatically. Hirsch calls "cultural literacy" that information that it is essential for us to maintain intelligent conversation with one another and have hope for any progress. He goes so far as to list those things in our culture that really deserve to be taught in our schools. But they aren't. They used to be, but they aren't anymore.

So what would any self-respecting former teacher and wanna be writer with three children do? She would challenge herself to teach her family these very things. She would vow to raise culturally literate children. She would do that by going down the list included in this book, item by item. From Aaron, Hank to Zurich.

I shared this idea with Aquaman who cautioned that it might be pretty hard to do and that the boys might balk at the notion of learning such things when they could be playing xBox. I was undeterred. Especially when I came across this article in The Atlantic. It references President Obama's recent ad lib "voting is the best revenge," a derivation of "Living well is the best revenge" that certain parties warped into a political battle cry of fear instead of the actual meaning.

This morning, a golden opportunity presented itself. As I packed lunches and toasted strudels and signed forms, I dismissed Thing 1(who was only lingering to harass his brothers) from the kitchen with these words: "Be gone. Before someone drops a house on you."

I saw in his eyes that he didn't get it. But The Redhead did - he chuckled. Mostly because he was just part of his middle school's production of "The Wizard of Oz". Thing 1 had already disappeared into the hall, but I called him back. With all three boys sitting at the kitchen table, I announced, "Here's what we're gonna do from now on. Every morning, we'll discuss something that is important for you to know as an American. It's called 'cultural literacy'. It means that you'll be able to speak intelligently about things. And it means that you'll recognize when someone else speaks intelligently and you'll know that they're smarter than the average bear which means they might be okay to hang around. Although not always."

Thing 1 asked, "Like what kinds of things?"

"Just things that you need to know that you probably won't learn in school," I explained.

"Like 'Don't eat yellow snow'?" he asked.

"Good one!" Aquaman yelled from the bedroom.

"Um, no. Not really. No." I was getting frustrated, but decided to press on.

"So let's start with this one. When I just said, 'Be gone before someone drops a house on you' what did I mean? Where does that come from?"

The Redhead jumped right in. "It's from 'The Wizard of Oz'. When the Wicked Witch of the West has found her sister has been killed by Dorothy's house landing on her. Glinda the Good Witch tells her that to get her to leave Munchkinland."

"Exactly," I told him. "The Wizard of Oz is a classic American movie. It is more well-known than the original series of books it was based on. It is part of our culture. And you should know it and be familiar with references to it."

No response. I looked at Thing 1. "Now," I said. "Be gone, before someone drops a house on you."

He scuttled away, unimpressed. Tomorrow? We'll tackle, "Abandon hope, all ye who enter here."

It just might apply to this whole challenge.  

Truthfully, I don't yet know the origin of this saying - but I will tomorrow. My father kept a sticker like this one in the drawer of his Gerstner tool chest. This was where he stashed extra cash. When the cash was gone, the sticker greeted the seeker. Clever, no? 

*On a side note, an occasional reader of this blog remarked, "So, you have Aquaman, The Redhead, Thing 1, Thing 2, and Yellow Dog. Who are you?" To which I replied, "I'm no one. I'm me. The narrator. It's my blog. I don't need an alias." But now that I've had some time to think about it, I think I will be "She Who Must Be Obeyed." How's that?


  1. At HealthWorks Theatre our signature show was "The Wizard of AIDS"- a fantastic parody for High School kids that used the storyline to teach about safe sex practice (the tin man was oiled up with KY, the original water based lubricant, the witch was killed with a giant latex condom, and so forth). It was a fantastic show but sadly one we had to retire becuase the students no longer got the references and inside jokes- they hadn't seen the movie so couldn't relate... it made me sad.

    1. That makes me sad as sounds like a fantastic show. What did the Lollipop Guild give Dorothy? Edible underwear?