Imagining what life was like before we were born is typically not an easy task. When I asked Emirati students about life before their country, the UAE, was founded in 1971, it was like asking American students what life was like before their country was founded in 1776, with the Declaration of Independence.
The American student would say: “Uhmm, let’s see…in 1492, Christopher Columbus sailed the ocean blue…In 1620, the Pilgrims landed at Plymouth Rock.” They know that the Spanish initially came for conquest, followed by other European immigrants who came to America for religious liberty and freedom, and there were waves of immigrants each century. Otherwise, not much is known. They have little sense that the foundation of American society was laid by Europeans.
One of my Emirati students wrote on a quiz that prior to 1971, the way people discovered that the earth was round, not flat, was that they shot up rockets, took pictures of the earth from space, looked at those pictures, and exclaimed, “Wow, the earth is not flat but round!”
We are immersed in the tyranny of now when context and history are ignored in favor of becoming informed about the latest thing closest at hand. I asked American students to name the nine members of the U.S. Supreme Court. Silence. Then I asked them to name Snow White’s seven dwarves. They proudly and quickly blurted out all seven!