Your site, American Comes Alive, mentions the idea of "making sense of today by looking at yesterday." What historical facts do you feel are being overlooked in this day and age, and how is that affecting us?
I think people just need to be reminded of our past. For example, the shock we felt after 9-11 bore a certain resemblance to how people felt after Pearl Harbor. In that case, reminding people we have lived through something horrific makes them feel more prepared for some of what we face today.
You also write and speak frequently about US elections. In other countries, people fight for the right to vote; here, people seem to take it for granted, even groups that have struggled for recognition in the past. Why do you think that is?
Americans do sometimes become complacent, or they slip into a feeling of “What I do doesn’t matter so I won’t bother to vote.” But of course, it does matter. Right now I happen to live in a very small town where the election for mayor can hinge on just a few votes. It’s a good reminder, because every vote really does count all across the country.
This fall I’ve written a lot about how women won the right to vote, and I hope it reminds voters to appreciate that voting is both a right and a privilege.
How can parents use history to pique their children's interests or bring their families closer?
Kids may roll their eyes when you start with the words, “Well when I was young...,” but don’t let that stop you! Whether it’s a story about how you didn’t have a cell phone when you were young or about how their grandfather walked two miles to school every day, they hear you, and the stories will come back to them later on. Also, I love the school assignments where the kids are to interview a grandparent or a neighbor about something that person lived through. Those conversations help a child understand the past. My kids had a great-grandfather who owned a general store, and we have wonderful stories of his life, as written by the kids, on our bookshelves now.
Parents also love taking their kids to historic sites and museums. The experiences can be interesting to the whole family, but remember: even an adult is hard-pressed to remember more than three things from a museum experience.
Before you start, challenge the kids to find three interesting facts or select three favorite things, and if they accomplish their goal in 30 minutes or so, don’t worry. Let them amuse themselves until the rest of the family is ready to leave, but they’ll come more readily on the next visit if they feel they had some control.