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Lessons from the Past and the Present: Both Matter

by and on November 12, 2019 4:30 AM

A few weeks ago, millennial Instagram influencer Freddie Bentley set the social media world ablaze in an interview with "Good Morning Britain" by saying that kids should learn less about World War II in school. Columns on Insider and The Blaze detailed his comments and the debate that ensued with fellow guest Sir Michael Wilshaw, who is the former chief inspector of schools in Britain.  

"I don't think it needs to be in such a young way to young children. Like, mentally. Mental health, to be told this certain amount of people died for you," Bentley said. "I just learned, as a child, it's so intense."

Wilshaw responded the way you would expect of a proper English gentleman, saying, "Children need to know that it is a dangerous world out there. They need to know that crossing the road is sometimes dangerous."  

I think this story resonated with me because of the recent release of the World War II motion picture “Midway” (about the famous naval battle in the Pacific) and that Veteran’s Day was coming up.

I initially heard about the comments on the radio and must admit my initial reaction was that he was being dismissive and disrespectful. But after reading more about the story, I realized Bentley’s initial statement was taken a bit out of context. He didn’t say not to teach WWII history at all, he just stated we should be more conscious of the appropriate age of when to teach it. He went on to cite all the mental health issues currently afflicting children. While many of us “old-timers” believe we are too soft on kids today, Bentley actually has a point about what is taught and when.  

So, upon further review, I am willing to give Bentley some slack, especially since he made the argument that we should be teaching civics and financial literacy, such as how to get a mortgage.

I am in full agreement with Bentley on the need to do a better job teaching financial literacy. If you have followed my column, you know I am an outspoken advocate of teaching consumer math and money basics to all students periodically from elementary school through high school, even into college. We should be teaching the process for applying for a home mortgage, for buying or leasing a car, about the necessity for understanding your personal income taxes, what insurance products look like and why you need them, and the importance of saving and investing.  We should also be teaching delayed gratification. We should be teaching current events like Brexit and the impact of tariffs as well.

However, because people like getting their news in “byte” sized bits these days, too often we only read what an editor puts in a headline to stir our emotions. We don’t take the time to dig deeper ourselves to get, as legendary ABC broadcaster Paul Harvey used to say, “the rest of the story.” Bentley’s life was actually threatened because of the headlines. Of course, he could have attempted to clear up the intent of his comments to defuse the situation but instead used it as an opportunity to get more publicity (most likely on the advice of someone else). That just led to angry posts and the threats of violence. The old adage that even bad publicity is still better than no publicity is alive and well.

I am not here to condemn Bentley or to give him a complete pass. We should be teaching history whether it’s good, bad, or somewhere in-between. I am also not trying to glorify war. I am simply advocating that we try to learn from it. He is right in that we should also be teaching practical life skills. My conclusion is that we need to study the past AND pay attention to the present in order to have a better future. 

I mentioned that the new movie “Midway” is out in theaters and my buddies and I are getting together to go watch it this evening. It didn’t surprise me a bit that “Midway” the movie was a surprise winner at the box office over the weekend. I suspect the bulk of the audience was those from the Greatest Generation and baby boomers. However, even many from the younger generations love video games like “Call of Duty” and perhaps their appetite for “real” history is greater than the experts predicted. Regardless, knowing what I know about the battle that turned the tide in the war with Japan, it will be action-packed and have a Hollywood twist to the plot.

I try to write a column every year to remind people about the importance of remembering dates such as Veterans Day, Pearl Harbor Day, Memorial Day, the 4th of July, and 9/11. I do this intentionally in part to honor the men and women of the military who provide our security and freedoms, and in part to get people thinking about why it’s important to remember past events and to stimulate discussion about what lessons can be learned.  

Both my father-in-law Francis Smith (WWII) and my father Joe (Korean War) served in the Army. Partly as a tribute to them, I attended the Veteran’s Day concert performance by the State College Area Municipal Band on Sunday at the Mount Nittany Middle School auditorium. The concert was conducted by long-time friend Darrin Thornton and the band played rousing patriotic tunes in honor of all branches of the military. It was a chance to thank all who have served. I want to thank Darrin and the musicians for the wonderful performance!  In these uncivil times, where social media gives anyone and everyone a voice (perhaps a louder one than most deserve), it is my hope that we can all show respect for those who sacrifice on our behalf.  

It is my hope that you will take away two lessons from this column. First, not to jump to conclusions and get swept up in social media hysteria. There is plenty of fake news going around that we all must do our due diligence and use critical thinking skills. Secondly, never miss an opportunity to say thank you to a veteran or someone currently serving in the military. 

Joe Battista has been an integral part of the Penn State and State College communities since 1978. He is best known for his effort to bring varsity ice hockey to Happy Valley and in the building of Pegula Ice Arena. “JoeBa” is the owner of PRAGMATIC Passion, LLC consulting, a professional speaker, success coach, and the vice president of the National Athletic and Professional Success Academy (NAPSA). He is the author of a new book, “The Power of Pragmatic Passion.” Joe lives in State College with his wife Heidi (PSU ’81 & ’83), daughter Brianna (PSU ’15), and son’s Jon (PSU ’16), and Ryan (State High Class of 2019).

This story was produced by the staff at the Centre County Gazette. It was re-published with permission. The Centre County Gazette is a weekly publication, available at many locations around Centre County every Thursday morning.
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