Monday, August 17, 2009

Credibility Gap

My previous post was a comically exaggerated attempt to show how the counterculture of the 1960s eventually found its' way to us elementary school-age kids, often through, of all things, Saturday morning TV. Today's post is about another aspect of the 1960s, but this time I'm going to try to write about it with a minimum of exaggeration. Remember, however, that I was seven, and this was 40 years ago.

In either the fall or winter of 1969, my school had an assembly--remember assemblies? That's when the gym was converted into an auditorium, and us kids got out of class to watch something either entertaining, like a movie, or, more often, vaguely educational, but that was all right since we weren't going to be quizzed on it. This particular assembly was about Vietnam. Not the Vietnam War. Just Vietnam. The country.

A man walked out on stage and, with the help of slides, told us all about the Vietnamese countryside, Vietnamese food, Vietnamese clothing, Vietnamese customs, Vietnamese holidays, and how the Vietnamese went about earning a living. The war was never mentioned.

Once he was finished, the man on stage asked us kids if we had any questions. A couple of seats from where I sat, a classmate of mine raised his hand.

"Yes, young man," said the older man on stage.

"Isn't there a war in Vietnam?"

The man on stage immediately started laughing. And when the man on stage immediately started laughing, so, too, did all the teachers start laughing. And when all the teachers immediately started laughing, so, too, did all of the kids start laughing. And when all of the kids immediately started laughing, so, too, did I start laughing. And I genuinely found my classmate's question funny. Hilarious, even. Forty years later, I wonder why. It was, in fact, a good question. I don't remember what the man on stage said once he finished laughing ("out of the mouths of babes" would be a good bet.)

Forty years later, I also wonder what in the world made the adults in charge think they could put on an assembly about Vietnam in 1969 without ever mentioning the war. Yes, we were a bunch of ignorant six-, seven-, eight-, and nine-year-olds, but the events of the day nevertheless trickled down to us.

I think some common sense went MIA that day.

2 comments:

  1. Yes they did, though by 69 I was worried about getting to see that country first hand. Adults of any generation forget that their kids have minds, which hopefully They have been encouraged to use. Obviously you had good teaching along the way. I wonder why they avoided the war though it wasn't like you could miss it. It was on the nightly news with Walter Cronkite. At age 6 Iwas on the streets of Cleveland yelling "Kennedy, Kennedy he's our man Nixon belongs in the garbage can". No wonder we grew up to be activists or apathetic, one.

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  2. I can't help but think there was some propogandistic aspect to that assembly. I mean, why teach us about THAT particular country in 1969? But like I said, us kids knew there was a war going on. By the time I was in the fourth grade, most of us kids had been exposed to ALL IN THE FAMILY, so we even knew it was a subject that people didn't always see eye to eye on.

    By the way, from the vantage point of elementary school, the counterculture seemed to be a cool thing to be a part of once I got older. So it was somewhat disappointing that, by the time I entered high school in 1976, it was all over and done with. It might as well have been the 1950s (maybe that's why HAPPY DAYS, SHA NA NA, etc, was so popular back then)

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