Those who cannot remember the past are condemned to repeat it.
In order for young people to make sense of the current sociopolitical landscape, it is not a bad idea for them to look back fifty years at the pivotal year of 1968. As volatile and contentious as today, but with the benefit of passing years helping to make sense of it all, 1968 is a great place for young readers to start with many topics in order to fully understand them. This is also a fantastic resource to use in conjunction with the perennial middle school favorite, Hinton's The Outsiders (1976), to gain insight into the events of that book.
The quality of the writing shows the fine hands of Aronson and Bartoletti as editors. The essays are all brilliantly written, with an excellent balance of historical facts and emotional recollections. Fleischman's "Biker's Ed" could be a rallying point for every disaffected teenager who has ever wanted to journey out alone to experience the world, but is also poignant in that teenagers no longer feel safe in undertaking cross country bike trips, even with all of our improved communication.
It's rare that I discuss every entry in a collection, but I really can't leave any of these out. Lenore Look's "The Red Guard" should be included in all future edition of Ying Chang Compestine's The Revolution is Not a Dinner Party (2007) and is informative in showing how much information we don't have about China's Cultural Revolution, and how devastating it is to historical understanding when people are not allowed or encouraged to share their experiences.
Partridge's historical narrative at the beginnings of the chapters intertwine current events with her own experiences at the time, and Kate McMillan's memoir of being a soixante-huitard in Paris give a lot of description of what it was like to be a young person at a time of political upheaval. Add to that Hill's "The Wrong Side of History", about his experiences living in a a family with strongly racist views at the time of Martin Luther King's death, and Jennifer Anthony's explanation of Mark Rudd's involvement in protesting a segregated gym at Colombia University, and today's readers can begin to understand how teens were instrumental and active in many of the events that they read about, letting them know that they do not need to be powerless bystanders.
Mark Kurlansky, who has done a stand alone book on this topic 1968: The Year That Rocked the World (2001) as well as a fiction book about a conscientious objector to Vietnam (Battle Fatigue, 2011), writes touchingly about the personal impact that Robert Kennedy had on his experiences. Bartoletti gives a detailed explanation of Abbie Hoffman and the Yippies that was tremendously informative and useful in understanding the counterculture. Jim Murphy writes about the contribution and tribulations of two other notable individuals, Tommie Smith and John Carlos, who protested from the winners podium at the Olympics.
Kurlansky also writes about the Prague Spring, which I had never really investigated, and Omar Figueras covers another event not mentioned in any of my history classes, the Massacre at the Plaza de las Tres Culturas in Mexico City. Loree Griffin Burns adds a STEM offering to this list of topics not covered by most curricula in discussing the work that continued in the 1960s with DNA.
History is so often about events, politics, and wars, so two essays about cultural phenomena added greatly to the comprehensiveness of this volume. Marc Aronson's entry about Douglas Engelbart and his demonstration of computers in 1968 covered an issue that few readers, young or old, will have known about. Moments in history that offer a clear cut delineation between eras are hard to find, and Englebart's demonstration of a computer with a mouse, split screen, cursors, and hyperlinks is chilling to read. The fact that this was not hailed as a pivotal event at the time is not surprising, but makes the prophetic qualities of the event even more powerful. David Lubar's entry, "Running with Sharp Schticks" is by far the most interesting and engaging essay, but also the most disturbing in some ways. Humor is so very subjective, and changes so quickly, that the comedians he writes about are no long funny to us, but deeply offensive. The brilliant part of the internet to me is that with the magic of You Tube, we can see not only historical events, but all of the comedians that Lubar talks about as having an impact on the emotions of the day. Given the current climate, it is jaw-droppingly astonishing what words came out of the mouths of comedians like Pat Paulsen, even as a satirist, and Don Rickles.
These essays would be wonderful to read out loud to history classes, and to use to compare with current events. If there were ever a book that showed vividly the validity of George Santayana's assertion "Those who cannot remember the past are condemned to repeat it," it would definitely be the exquisite 1968: Today's Authors Explore a Year of Rebellion, Revolution, and Change.