Sunday, February 18, 2007

America Rockin' in France!!!

actual conversation:

me: Are you French?
Nicolas: Yes.
me: Are you American?
Nicolas: What's American?
me: [thinking] Hmmm, I guess we need to work on that...

Like every nostalgia-maniac generation-X parent, I've got my kids watching Schoolhouse Rock!!!

It's funny to watch these cartoons again thirty years later and in a different country. I don't know about the rest of you, but strangely I've found that the "America Rock" set from this series has more meaning for me than any other patriotic songs about America. I'm not sure why -- maybe because I learned them and liked them as a kid? Whatever it is, sitting my kids down on my lap and putting in this DVD seems like the most natural way to teach them about their American Heritage.

Even though war history is my least favorite part of history, I think my favorite in the "America Rock" series is The Shot Heard Round the World which recounts the sequence of battles of the Revolutionary War. I'm not entirely sure why I like this one -- there's just something about it.

Maybe I'm just responding to the fact that it shows the French role in the American Revolution, which I always point out to my kids as it flashes across the screen for a few seconds:


Well, they showed such determination
that they won the admiration
of countries 'cross the sea like France and Spain...



At Yorktown the British could not retreat
bottled up by Washington and the French fleet...


My second favorite is probably No More Kings. When they show the people on the Mayflower meeting the Native Americans, I like to mention to my kids that they had ancestors on that very boat -- as well as among the Native Americans -- so they can make a personal connection with all of this:



Actually, the more I look at this, the more questionable it looks to portray the the Native Americans' ominous meeting with the European invaders in this cheerful manner. Overall I'm a little torn on how to teach my kids to value the positive traditions of their heritage without glossing over the the negative parts and what we can learn from them. Oh well, at least Schoolhouse Rock didn't do some cheery song-and-dance number about slavery...

One of Nicolas' favorites (which I don't really care for) is Mother Necessity, which lists all of the great American inventors. I don't really like the fact that they promote the myth that technological innovations are the works of spontaneous genius (rather than acknowledging all of the earlier research they're based on), and worse: it promotes the myth that inventions always come from America.

To their credit, Schoolhouse Rock mentions that Marconi invented wireless radio communication. But weirdly the song almost seems to imply that he was American. Or at least you could easily get that impression from the song. Yet this comic book I read about Italian history (La Storia d'Italia a Fumetti dall'Impero Romano all'Anno 2000) seems to indicate that Marconi was Italian and that he did his research on radio in Italy and Great Britain. Oh well, I guess all of this would be less confusing if I tried learning history from some source other than cartoons...

Another one that's funny to watch here in France is The Great American Melting Pot. It seems a little ironic to show it to my kids considering our family's situation:


America was the new world, and Europe was the old...

I'd actually rather be showing them a song that gives a global perspective on worldwide migrations, but I guess that might be too complicated.

Leaving aside "America Rock" for a moment, there are a couple of items in "Science Rock" that are kind of poignant viewed with thirty year's perspective:


And Pluto little Pluto is the farthest planet from our Sun...

Poor little Pluto is no longer "the farthest planet from our Sun" since astronomers have demoted it to just another piece of space debris. Sigh.

And this is the saddest one of all:

If everyone tries a bit harder,
our fuel will go farther and farther.
Energy, we're gonna be stretching you out.


Considering America's current energy problems -- and the national security disaster that is America's oil dependence -- I can barely watch this one without feeling some pain and regret about the opportunities that were thrown away thirty years ago.

This is why I often think of my generation -- generation X -- as "the generation that dropped the ball." Older generations can rightly claim they didn't know any better. But my generation was raised with the idea that energy conservation is important and still had to get that McMansion out in the sprawling suburbs and the giant S.U.V. to drive there.

The only positive thing I'll say is that at least we have this song that has become timely again, and maybe this next generation will actually learn from it...

And if you're still up for more of this crazy nostalgia trip (I know I can't get enough of it!!!) I wrote even more musings about Schoolhouse Rock over on The Hathor Legacy here: The Tale of Mr. Morton

11 comments:

Jonathan Blake said...

Another must have in any Gen-X educational television revival: The Electric Company. My children love it!

Robert said...

Not to strain at gnats or anything, but at least in U.S. courts, the patent for the first wireless communications ended up being awarded to Nikola Tesla, even though Marconi still usually gets credit. (I read a fascinating book about Tesla a couple of years ago.)

JohnR said...

We totally did this a couple months ago! The kids and I sat in front of YouTube while I called up video after video. As we watched, I started noticing and pointing out the problems--which videos were obsolete, which ones belittled the genocide of Native Americans, which ones had sort of racist or overly parochial approaches, etc.

We couldn't find the one on the environment, but I'll never forget the "CHOP! CHOP! CHOP!" that it began with.

We still sing "Conjunction Junction, What's Your Function?"

C.L. Hanson said...

Hey Jonathan!!!

That's cool -- I loved the Electric Company!!!

Hey Robert!!!

That is so like the U.S. courts to award credit to an American for a foreign invention!!! ;-)

Hehe, J/K, but seriously, this is part of my problem with the song: A lot of these inventions were ideas that were in the air at the time -- based on the current level of scientific knowledge -- and multiple engineers or teams were independently working out the implementation. This is also true of Philo T. Farnsworth inventing television -- there were other engineering teams working on the same idea, and each group contributed critical components to the finished product. Also I understand the Wright brothers' claim to inventing the heavier-than-air flying machine is disputed by someone from Brazil...

I'm torn on this, because obviously I like to see scientists and engineers remembered in the history books for their contributions. But on some level I feel like we could celebrate technological innovations and the bright minds that developed them without reducing them to myths and legends...

Hey John R.!!!

I think Schoolhouse Rock got a whole lot of stuff right (see especially my Hathor Legacy post about gender representation). At the same time, it's true there are a lot of little things in there that make me cringe. The best thing to do though is watch them with your kids and discuss them, as you've done. It can be a good starting point for thinking about some ideas one might not have thought of otherwise.

One in particular I find kind of overly parochial is The Great American Melting Pot, which is ironic because it is obviously intended to celebrate diversity. But while they hint at immigration from Africa, India, and China, the song is specifically about how "19th century immigrants" from Europe built the USA. One could easily watch it and get the idea that those 20th century immigrants (y'know, the ones speaking Spanish...) aren't really Americans. Additionally, it kind of gives the impression that blending cultures is an American innovation, when it would be better to show it as an American flavor of a worldwide phenomenon. Lastly, I much prefer Artemis's view that we should be talking about a "stew pot" rather than a "melting pot" (see comment #2 here):

"I had a professor in high school who told my class that he thought a better metaphor for America was stew pot, rather than melting pot, the idea being instead of everybody assimilating, they came together and interacted with each other while retaining some uniqueness. I’m a carrot and you’re a bean, but we make a wonderful stew together, especially with the right seasoning."

Regarding the "CHOP! CHOP! CHOP!" in Energy Blues: My kids took exactly the wrong message from that and began improvising toy axes and playing at chopping down the trees in our backyard...

Oh, well, they're just little... ;-)

The Sinister Porpoise said...

Ah, too bad we don't here much about the Melting Pot any more.

You're showing them Government and Grammar Rock right? Poor kids. Not only are they learning a language with horrible pronounciation rules, they're getting stuck with a language that has a lot of rules, but is relatively inconsistent about following them. You ought to add Latin in there for true grammar horrors.

C.L. Hanson said...

Hey Sinister Porpoise!!!

Maybe I should have them learn some Latin...

English and French are two of the worst offenders in terms of having irregular spelling that doesn't follow consistent phonetic rules. And since those are the two languages they're learning, they''ll probably get the idea that all languages are like that...

SAM-I-am said...

Hey, don't knock the history cartoons! Okay, I admit it, I get all my knowledge of history from Larry Gonick's "The Cartoon History of the Universe" books I, II, and III. Good stuff. One of the few American cartoon books meant for adults.

I've been meaning to get his American history book as well, and his Cartoon Guide to Sex for my teenager.

There was a show on when I first moved back to the states that used characters that reminded me of the Animaniacs to reenact big stories from history...I loved it, but I don't remember the name, and I can't find it now.

Liseysmom said...

We have the whole collection on DVD. Love 'em. I very much remember sitting in 8th grade Social Studies and having to write the preamble to the Constitution for an exam...

And hearing every single person around me humming "we the peeeeeeople"!

C.L. Hanson said...

Hey Sam-I-Am!!!

I'm not knocking history cartoons!!! I wouldn't have learned all of my history from them if I didn't like them!!! ;-)

I'm not sure what cartoon you're talking about that's like the Animaniacs...

Hey Lisey's Mom!!!

LOL!!! It was exactly the same at my school -- we had to memorize the preamble to the constitution in Jr. High, and of course everyone already had it memorized because of Schoolhouse Rock!!!

wry catcher said...

I love Schoolhouse Rock - I have it in my collection for me, as I don't have any children. :-) I saw the Broadway version of Schoolhouse Rock a couple of times too - it was so great!

I always sing "Lolly, Lolly, Lolly, get your f-words here," which reminds me of my naughty self as a child, lol. I also like to unpack my adjectives, and think about being "only a bill." And I love "Suffering until Suffrage," with its blatant '70s women's lib aesthetic. Good stuff!!

C.L. Hanson said...

LOL!!!

"Lolly, Lolly" is one of my kids' very favorites!!! In keeping with my usual parenting strategy, I'll have to teach them that variant... ;-)