In my years teaching in public schools, I started to notice a subtle but steady presence of cultural orphan mentality. I talked with 5th graders who did not know anything about George Washington or history in general. I taught 3rd graders who had no understanding of fairy tales and, when asked what lesson a story taught, did not know the meaning of the word "lesson." As a point of clarification, I taught students with some form of a learning challenge but that does not mean all had significant disabilities. Many were in regular classrooms who needed a little extra support. This was often provided in a pull-out model of instruction for a limited period of time weekly. In other words, most of the time they were in their grade-level class.
I’m not suggesting rigorous content was absent but something was definitely going on here. I am also aware that many things have to be reinforced at home in order for children to realize and remember how important they are. Without that, schools have limited ability to pass on knowledge that matters.
Why We Remember
But still, I saw it happening. As technology pervaded daily life more and more, it seemed to be impacting the development of minds and souls. Almost like forgetting anything that came before.
Cultural memory includes the stories, events, and people that are remembered in a society. This can be heroes and villains, art, music, literature, and holidays. It can be seen in celebrations, memorials, and what is mourned.
Scripture is full of this theme of remembering. Catastrophic things happen when God’s people forget their story, Who they came from, and where they are going. Think of the Israelites leaving Egypt and heading toward the Promised Land. So many of them forgot their purpose and the strength of their God. It led to hard heartedness and death.
The Solution is Simple
What are we to do about this? I suggest leaning into sacred order and actionable steps that connect with what is eternal. Steward language, write the play, sing the song, light the candle, read the prayer. Bear witness to faith not just with head bowed in silence but also in communal gatherings of remembrance. Feast days can be opportunities for building tradition and memory as well as acts of courage. We can develop immunity to words in our culture that have become weapons of ideology. We know sin is the real problem of humanity, which exists within the religious and without.
And for the younger generations who grew up with technology in our relatively new world of iPhones and social media, I invite you to build cultural memory in communal acts together.
- To practice hospitality and transparent conversations.
- To believe there is more than individualism and materialism that is being sold as the way to true happiness.
- To lay your phone down and go have real experiences.
- To reach out for spiritual mothers and fathers if that is what you need. My life would be lacking in richness without relationships that span ages and experiences. Old and young are necessary to build the kind of cultural memory that lasts and gets passed on.
Hear the Trinitarian call in your heart and remember, remember, remember.
How are you building cultural memory today?
Jenny Richeson is a Catholic writer who is a lover of language and its mysteries. By day she provides speech pathology and cognitive intervention services to kids. Her main goal in life is to be a speaking stargazer caught up in wonder whenever possible. She makes her home in Kentucky with her husband, Matt. Together they find God in gardening and all manner of outdoor activities whenever they can. Stargazing is a favorite pastime too. You can find out more about her here.