Wednesday, June 15, 2005


A Beautiful Day in the Neighbourhood

In Earth Abides, George R. Stewart has his protagonist, Isherwood Williams, face his greatest fears; the degeneration of civilization and a loss of knowledge. Ish tries on several occasions to enlighten the children of The Tribe with the written word but does not seem able to keep their interest. Could this lack of interest be due to a lack of exposure to the written word? These children did not grow up around books, in fact the library was kept locked and boarded up. Books were as alien to the children as the "shiny white balls" in their ceilings that at one time had emitted light. The children did not have the opportunity to explore books or see them being used by anyone in the community besides Ish. Books were not a source of learning for the children, instead, they modelled the behaviour of the adults around them. They sang the same songs, played the same games, and held the same superstitions as the elders in the community. It seemed odd to Ish how these traditions and superstitutions appealed to the children while formal education did not. Stewart does cause one to ponder the possibility that all the traditions, skills, social structures, and manisfestations of our civilization could be lost in a single generation. Ish is right to be concerned. The tribe seems to live for the moment and has no concern for the future or interest in the past. Speaking of the past, Mr. Rogers, the soft- spoken-cardigan-wearing icon of children's television, also believes it is important to learn from past experiences. In his book, The World According to Mr. Rogers, Fred Rogers states:

The study of history helps keep traditions alive. When we study how our ancestors dealt with challenges, we can (hopefully) learn from their success and failures, and fashion our responses to challenges in even more naturally human ways.

Hmmm...Maybe Fred Rogers and George R. Stewart are trying to tell us something. It can be a "beautiful day in the neighbourhood" if we only take the time to learn from our past mistakes and celebrate our successes.

Mr. Rogers, I think I would have "like[d] to be your neighbour".

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