This spring break I had a mission in mind for my youngest son Sean (age 9). I was appalled by his lack of historical knowledge and lack of interest in learning about it, so my plan was to show him a bunch of movies about history over the break. I figured it was a low-stress, sneaky way to secretly teach him history.
I started with a softball, a classic of American literature, “Tom Sawyer” by Mark Twain. My idea was to give him a slice of life from the 19th century, while opening the discussion of what was going on in history in the years immediately preceding and following that. At the very least, I figured, he would see a classic American tale written by one of America’s greatest writers.
The version of the movie I chose was the Disney-fied version from the 1970s. I vaguely remembered seeing it when I was a kid, and in my memory it was a wholesome family film.
Unfortunately, there were a few problems with my plan. In the first place, the version I chose was a musical. I didn’t remember that. (And the music was terrible). I found myself fast-forwarding through the musical numbers so that Sean didn’t walk out of the room.
Secondly, and most importantly, I didn’t remember that this was a terrifying story.
Tom Sawyer and Huck actually witness a murder; a knifing of the town doctor. In one scene that Sean will never forget, Tom (played by Jody from “Family Affair”) stands up for the falsely accused town drunk (played by Sgt. Hulka from “Stripes”), and testifies in court that the drunk didn’t do it. Tom says “I saw Injun Joe kill Doc with a knife!”
Instead of screaming out Perry Mason style “That’s a lie”, Injun Joe stands up and throws a knife at Tom. The knife sticks into the wooden chair behind him–only inches from Tom’s face.
Sean screamed and ran out of the room, vowing never to return. I finally coaxed him back, but when he started watching again, Tom and Becky were being chased through a cave by the knife wielding Injun Joe who was screaming “I’m going to kill you Tom Sawyer!”
Sean screamed and ran out of the room again, never to return.
That night he was too terrified to sleep in his room. For the first time in his life, he asked if he could sleep in our bed with us. The next night he asked me to release our pit bull Ivy (we usually crate her at night), just in case a robber came into the house. The third night he wasn’t satisfied with that, and insisted I sleep on the couch just a few feet away from his room.
Needless to say, we didn’t have the in-depth discussion about American history that I had planned. Instead we had an in-depth discussion of how difficult it would be to break into our house and kill us while we were sleeping. I showed him the locks on the windows, and the double-paned glass. I showed him that all the doors were locked and made of heavy duty wood. I reminded him that our dog was super protective and wouldn’t let anyone hurt us. And I vowed that I would take the bullet if anyone tried to shoot him.
Happy spring break, eh?
Thanks a lot, Mark Twain.