Milk Before Meat

My six year old granddaughter just learned about Pompeii, where lots and lots of people DIED.  She is nervous, now, about volcanoes in Utah.  Who wouldn’t be?  And she’s moving to Indiana, where there are sometimes tornadoes.

So, this is the curriculum I’ve devised for advanced first graders who really need to know how scary life can be:

Math: 27,000 people died in an earthquake in Guatemala in 1976. Can you arrange 27,000 dominoes? Now make them all fall down. Numbers are big.

Science: When warm air meets cool air (as it often does in Indiana), a tornado might result. Research tornadoes. How many people died in the biggest tornadoes? How did they die? How many tornadoes have there been in Indiana? What would happen to you if you were in a car and an F-5 tornado formed right above you?

Art: Tsunamis kill whole villages.
Draw a picture of this school just after it has been hit by a tsunami.

English: Read _Terrible, Horrible, No-Good, Very Bad Day_. What would make your day really, really bad? Write an essay about how you’d feel if you discovered that your house was sitting on a volcano, and one day your toilet started erupting lava. Do you want to use the bathroom now?

Obviously, life happens and children will have to learn about the Holocaust, Pompeii, etc.  We hope they do learn of such things, because they need to know about the world around them–and they need to develop compassion.  But that milk before meat idea is a really good one, don’t you think?  I’d like my granddaughter focused on Hannah Montana for now.  She can see _Schindler’s List_ when she’s in college.  (Then again, some students are never quite ready for _Schindler’s List_ and all of the other horror stories humanity and nature have produced. )  I don’t like the idea of force-feeding.  Nonetheless,  we all learn hard things eventually.  Isn’t that the point?


  1. I disagree to a certain extent. If I may abuse the food analogy- milk and meat are both protein, milk is simply easier to digest.
    So, Meat:Milk :: Schindler’s List:Number the Stars.

    We need to tell the truth, perhaps not in painful, graphic, gristly detail, but the truth.

  2. Margaret Blair Young says:

    _Number The Stars_ is a wonderful book–for the upper elementary grades. If I were teaching the Holocaust to young children, I would focus on the courage of King Christian in Denmark, or the skiing Finnish resistance fighters, and a bit later, on Ann Frank. If I were teaching about volcanoes, I’d talk about how they occur, and maybe show pictures of an eruption–but not a survey of Pompeii’s corpses. I’m concerned about university students who have kept themselves so insulated that they can’t handle hard information, but I do want insulation for the very young. I think _Wizard of Oz_ is scary enough for them.

  3. My six-year-old grandson had the blanket over his head a few times during a recent evening of movie watching. The spine-tingling thriller: Pooh’s Heffalump Movie.

    So, Margaret, maybe it doesn’t make any difference. They’ll get scared anyway.

  4. What part of Indiana are they moving to? Tornadoes aren’t really a state wide issue. That’s my home state (first 23 years of my life there).

  5. StillConfused says:

    I do not know why it is really necessary to teach children about these “facts of life”. I am grateful that I grew up in an age when children were allowed to be children. And I don’t watch disturbing movies even now as an adult. I don’t find that knowledge beneficial to me.

    When my kids were in junior high school, they had to do this mock Hitler thing where part of the class was Hitler’s gang and the other part were the victims. I didn’t particularly care for that whole thing. But then the teacher came to my house in the evening and expected my child to play this little role. I gave that teacher such an earful that he is probably still realing about it now, a decade later.

    There are those who think this kind of role play somehow makes our kids better people. I disagree.

  6. Amen to StillConfused. If there is something a 6-year-old can do to help keep himself safe (“look both ways before you cross the street, and this is why”), that’s one thing. Beyond that, constant reassurance that it’s the job of Mom and Dad (and her kindergarten teacher and her Primary teacher and the school cop and anybody else important in her world) to keep her safe should be enough for any child.

    Honestly, what good can possibly be accomplished by making a small child understand exactly how terrible it was that 27,000 people died?

    On the other hand, Margaret is probably pulling our collective leg. What if the toilet started erupting lava? Huh? Better that, than having the bannister you’re sliding down suddenly turn into a razor blade.

  7. Actually, the analogy should be between milk and solid food. (KJV “meat” =solid food, “flesh” = meat.)

    If you’re an adult and still take in nothing but liquids, there’s something seriously wrong with your progression.

  8. Actually, you had better keep a sharp lookout for heffalumps.

  9. Hannah Montana is worse than a lava filled toilet. Just thought I should correct the only part of this great post with which I disagree.

  10. StillConfused says:

    I think that in many ways I may be taking in only liquids in a metaphorical sense. I do not feel the need to know about a lot of the tragedies that happen throughout the world. Just not how I choose to live my life.

  11. Velikiye Kniaz says:

    RE: #2
    Margaret, according to a friend of mine (a Danish national) and the former Senior Lecturer of the State Museums of Denmark, the story of King Christian X and the royal family wearing stars of David and appearing on the balcony of Amalienborg Palace is a myth. How his Majesty did resist the Nazi round up of Danish Jews long enough for the Danish underground to spirit all but about 200 of them away to neutral Sweden. When the Nazi occupiers tried to indoctrinate him into the myth of racial purity the king insisted that he was king of all the Danes. Christian is best remembered by his people for his daily rides through Kobenhavn without any of his Royal Guards. When a German soldier asked a Dane, “Where are His guards?” The Dane responded with a gesture to all of the pedestrians on the street, “We are all His guards!” This daily act kept up the spirits of the Danish people during the dark years of the occupation. The Nazi’s never dared lay a hand on him throughout the whole war.

  12. StillConfused says:

    #11. That is really interesting. It is that kind of strength that I prefer to focus on rather than the gross stuff that the crazies did.

  13. Yes. I completely agree. I’ve read some research that said children process all information about the world by imagining it happening to them. So when my three year old watches Winnie the Pooh and Pooh’s stitching splits while he exercises, my son imagines that could happen to him. Over time, children develop more and more detachment, but even in early adolescence some of it still occurs. It’s why middle school students find it so bizarre that a book character has the same name as a class member.

    As a teacher of upper high school students, I do see my job to do some reality checking, but there is a line to walk… All Quiet on the Western Front covers the horrors of war well enough; Bao Nihn’s The Sorrow of War (the best war novel I’ve read — intensely ugly and beautiful) is too much for most students, so I recommend it to those who are interested.

  14. molly bennion says:

    Confronted with my hand on her thigh in a particularly scary part of the Narnia film, a 5 year old granddaughter looked up at me with a knowing smile, removed my hand and whispered “Grandma, this is pretend.” Nevertheless, I think your point is well taken and that we have to know a child well to know when she is ready for scary in fantasy or real life. Fortunately that child’s parents, who included her in the family movie night, knew her better than did her nervous grandmother. I wonder if exposure to as much scary fantasy as a child can easily (important word) handle better prepares her for real terror.

  15. I am grateful that I grew up in an age when children were allowed to be children.

    Given that the age in which children were allowed to be children and not, say, farm hands, sweatshop workers or coal miners did not dawn all that long ago, this isn’t saying much, but I too am grateful for thirty-odd years of a footloose and fancy-free existence.

  16. Rameumptom says:

    When my now 29 year old son was a young teenager, he was swept up in violent video games. He wanted me to call him by a new nickname, “killer.”

    I knew I had to do something to show him that killing was not a fun event. About that time, PBS was announcing they were going to show the Soviet Union’s films of entering into German POW camps. They showed the remains of escaping prisoners that were shot with machine guns, and burned with flame throwers. They showed countless naked bodies being off loaded from trucks and into mass graves; bodies so thin you couldn’t tell if they were men or women. My son got nauseous and asked to be excused after just a few minutes, but I made him watch the whole thing. He still remembers that event today.

    I think we need to consider the maturity of each child and apply information accordingly. We also need to consider what they need, whether they realize they need it or not, so as to help them consider deeply things that transcend all of us.

    The Civil Rights movement meant little to me, growing up in Western Montana in the 60s and 70s. But after living in Montgomery Alabama in the USAF for 16 years, and being made responsible for opening the missionary work to African-Americans in Montgomery and Tuskegee, was an eye opener that I wished I’d had a decade before as a teen.

    BTW, where in Indiana is she moving? I live on the west side of Indianapolis and can assure your granddaughter that while tornadoes occur, most do not touch down or harm people.

    Gerald Smith

  17. Isn’t this one of the reasons we have pets?

    Let the have a few backyard funerals for fluffy and nemo before letting them see Aunt Imogene throw herself on top of a coffin.

  18. Bro. Jones says:

    #16 – I remember in a high school history class that most of my classmates kind of blew off a lesson about WWII. Later that day, I commiserated with a teacher from the U.K. about my feelings. “There’s a reason I have nobody in Europe to visit during the summer, ” I said, “They’re all at Auschwitz.” “Yeah,” she replied, “There’s a reason they never let the kids like me talk with some of my uncles–they got the thousand-yard stare in the War. The ones who lived through it, that is.”

    She paused a bit, and said, “Don’t hold it against your classmates – it means nothing to them now because it hasn’t hurt them.”

    Kudos to you, Gerald, for making these sorts of ideas concrete for your son.

  19. Gerald, my daughter and her family are (sigh) moving to Columbus, Indiana. It’s fairly close to Bloomington, and when the baby is old enough to go to pre-school, my daughter will pursue a master’s degree in vocal performance.

    Bruce’s facial hair–not likely. I have begged him to grow a beard. He’s just not the type.

    Now, to the subject at hand: I do remember hearing a horrifying story about a baby at Auschwitz while I was in sixth grade. I got physically ill. I had nightmares for several nights. I hope I will always retain some of that childlike horror at the face of evil and what humans are capable of doing to each other. I felt it an obligation to see _Schindler’s List_ when it was released, but it took me several months to prepare for it.
    I am usually aware of what my students are ready for, and I give them an out if I think they can’t handle some really difficult stories. Since my students are studying at a university, I do pity those who still aren’t prepared for the insights of great authors, which are often served up in very disturbing images. When I read Ivan’s recounting of various horrors (_The Brothers Karamazov_), I was also sickened–and I was in HS. But the book itself proved my avenue to other great books because I took the whole, redemptive journey. I was ready for it.

  20. Great Post!

  21. StillConfused says:

    #15 — I did grow up on a farm. I was a farm hand. I didn’t really like it at the time, but i did learn solid work ethic for which I am grateful and again, I did not have to focus on creepy stuff. Hard work = good. hearing about the depravity of human nature = bad.

  22. Great post, Margaret.

    I sometimes think I might be erring on the side of protecting my kids too much, considering the stuff I was exposed to at the same age(s). But they lose their innocence soon enough as it is. I don’t particularly want to push them in that direction. Eventually we all have to confront evil, but it will happen in due course.

  23. Mark B.

    I don’t know about you but Pooh’s psycadelic dream about hefalumphs and woozles on “Blustery Day” scared the crap out of me when I was six.

    Especially that deeply disturbing giggling honeypot.


  24. Velikiye Kniaz says:

    One of the things that trouble me about the average American vision of the world at large is that many perceive it as being made up of nations which more or less are similar to the U.S., share most of our values, envy our ‘culture’, are just less well to do and who just happen to speak a ‘foreign’ language. They can’t seem to grasp that there are millions upon millions of individuals who see absolutely nothing wrong with the mass murder of other ethnic groups as occurred in Kosovo, the rape and pillage of refugees in Darfur, or the whole slaughter of men, women and children who are the wrong ‘class’ such as the ‘kulaks’ in the former Russian Empire. We Americans have never suffered the conquest and occupation by a foreign army as the German Saints did when the Soviet Army advanced into the German homeland. Our last suffering as Saints was at Nauvoo and the trek west. How much damage would our Faith sustain if we had to endure what what German sister did when she was raped by a Russian soldier who told her, “What I am going to do to you is nothing compared to what your countrymen did in my village. My wife was raped repeatedly and before they killed her they threw my baby son into the air and impaled him on their bayonets as she watched.”? Our ‘world’ (country) is one of comparitive peaceful civility when contrasted with the daily savagery that transpires beyond our shores. Were we ever to be occupied by a hostile nation who sees little worth in a human life every horror that we read of in our newspapers or see on our nightly news or behold in historic news reels could very well happen here. With virtually everything our heavy industries once manufactured here now being made abroad and every product in between, we are rapidly losing the capacity to have sufficient self-reliance to adequately defend this nation, thus increasing the possibility that these horrors may someday come to this land. My eyes will likely close on this mortal world before this nightmare might become a reality. But I tremble when I read of those of you with young ones whose eyes are bright with hope and who have been blessed to grow up in homes wreathed in love and security where that is the only reality they have ever known. May Our Father in Heaven grant us the speedy return of His Son, our sure and only Saviour, to put an end to the horrors and savagery conceived in the dark minds of the evil and scheming individuals of this global world.