Wednesday, February 22, 2006

What's the U.S.S.R?

So I had one of these weird history teacher/triathlon metaphors today. Is metaphor the right word? I don't know. Parallel is perhaps a little better.

I taught my 9th graders about the Russian Revolution, Lenin, the Bolsheviks, etc. And then I explained that this is what started the Soviet Union.

*blank stares*

You know, the U.S.S.R.?

*"Isn't that in a song? I think my Dad has a cd with it"*

Yes, it is a Beatles song. But I'm talking about the country.

*long pause*

"What's the U.S.S.R.?"

The stares get blanker and blanker every year that I've taught. And every year, I have more and more students that have no effing clue what the U.S.S.R. is. Was.

My freshman were born in 1991. They were babies when the Soviet Union was falling apart. They literally have no. idea. what. it. is.


This fascinates me. I'm a relatively young person, so my memories are limited to the 80s. I'm a child of Cabbage Patch Kids. Jelly Shoes. Bad bangs. Reagan. The Evil Empire. Star Wars--the movie, and the missile defense system. And the fear that a nuclear weapon was going to hit us because of the U.S.S.R.

I remember coming home crying--really!-- in 2nd grade because my teacher told us that if a nuclear bomb hit, it would hit Akron and Cleveland first because there's a lot of industry there, and that would be a good thing because we'd all be instantly vaporized and wouldn't know what hit us.

(My mom sure gave that guy an earful the next morning)

The funny thing is now, that all that fear--all the war--all the sacrifices made--all the often irrational paranoia that surrounded these years and the Cold War years in general--it dominated everything. It was in the background of every day.

And now it doesn't exist.

Now I have to EXPLAIN to high school students what it was.

At the same time, it's BECAUSE of the fear, the sacrifices, and even the paranoia that it doesn't exist. It has been conquored. What seemed to be the root of so much fear fell apart--and mostly fell apart from within.

I have a buddy, M, who grew up in the Soviet Union in the 80s. He's a year older than I am. He's probably sick of me asking so many questions, but he always answers them truthfully. He talks about long bread lines, about not being able to say what you want, and about underlying fear, suspicion, and frustration that grew stronger every day.

Is triathlon the same as living under the grips of a communist state? Not even close. Don't get me wrong, here.

But today when my students asked me, innocently and with great interest, What's the U.S.S.R., it made me think about how something so feared, something so seemingly unbeatable, crumbled apart and needs to be explained.

This was the slight parallel I saw with IM. (slight--again, in no way am I trying to say that the fall of the U.S.S.R. is equal with IM) But the fear, the sacrifices I'm making every day, the occasional irrationality in my thoughts, the things that sometimes keep me up at night as I worry about conquoring this thing that seems unbeatable--that's where I see a parallel.

I know I'll look back when this trip is done, and wonder how I could have ever thought it was unbeatable. The hours I have put in and will put in will make it crumble from within. But it's long. It's scary. It will take a lot of time, and it will not be easy. Right now, it even seems uncertain that it's possible.

I know that these sacrifices will pay off in the end.

And someday, when this is all over, it will make me a stronger person.

And someday, I look forward to answering the question in my classroom:

"What's terrorism?"

Crazy? Yeah, I might be a dreamer on this one.

But who ever thought I'd have to correct papers that said, "The Soveeyit Unity" or the "U.S.R.S.S?"

Nothing is impossible.


Eric said...

WOW. What a concept but the kids just don't know. They now Russia, Kavakstahn (sp), and all the broken up little pieces of the former U.S.S.R. I too remember how it was growing up in the 80's since I graduated from high school in '85, twenty years ago.

I like how you found the similarities between USSR and IM.

bunnygirl said...

I remember how fascinating it was to watch the USSR fall apart. After all the fear and all the hype that we'd lived with all our lives, that our parents had lived with all their lives, that even our grandparents had lived with all their adult lives, the big ol' boogeyman crumbled just like that!

I remember being over at a guy's house one night, he turned on the TV and there was a news broadcaster reporting from St Petersburg. Not Leningrad. Such a small thing, but it hit me hard.

Just as an aside, my DH still sometimes forgets himself and uses "communist" as an insult. LOL! Poor baby needs to catch up with the times!

Anonymous said...

I love history, especially the political side of history. "Today class we're gonna talk about who F'd up the most." I'm just amazed at how different things once were. And how they continue to change.

Cliff said...

I did a paper on the fall of Communism...a lot of the Eastern European countries were actually thinking to change from Stalinism (Stalin's form of Communism) to a more truer form of Communism. Stalinism is basically take control of the media, elminiate any opposing political party and rule by iron fist (just like in the Stalin days).

Ironically, it is closer to democracy, their plan was to have a bodily elected government or certain government position. Interesting....

One of the fault in Communism was that it only benefit Russia. After WW2, Moscow is only concern in protecting itself. All the Eastern European countries were use more as a barrier between Moscow and the Western Power.

With this in mind, Moscow stripped and exploit all the resouces of Eastern Germany and other countries and bring them back to Russia. As time goes on, the other Countries' quality of life goes down and there was riot everywhere...

Ok..enough history lesson.i am sure u know more about this than me....:)

Batman said...

Hatred, tyranny and oppression still exist today; just in a different form. Its more sophisticated because it exists without half the world to back it up.

The same will be true for you after IM-Moo. You will exist in a different, more sophisticated form.

Scott said...

I bet you are a great teacher.

Having read your post, it sounds kinda like you're saying - what's the worst that can happen? are my fears really justified? (I find in most cases mine are not)

It makes total sense to me that every mile you run, bike, or, swim is a mile that nibbles a little at your fears. I've read that those who do the Ironman (woman?)survive by trusting in the training hours logged.

Keryn said...

I feel old. I visited the USSR in 7th grade.

You will conquer the battle with IM and all your walls will crumble! :)

Jamie said...

That is amazing to me. I hate to think that all of the things that were signifigant in our lives (like the Challenger explosion or the Berlin Wall) are as far removed to these kids as the Civil War.

TThis will make you feel old- the other day I heard a kid call Bon Jovi "classic rock".

Joseph Vinciquerra said...

Amazing! This whole time I though the USSR was simply a piece of fiction written in order to tighten the plot in Rocky IV.

Who'd Thunk? ;-)

Spence said...

Great post. I too can remember crying and being terrified about where a bomb would hit when it hit. Remeber that movie, "The Day After?" I don't think I even watched it, I just saw the trailers for it - it was a TV movie...and it just made me sick to my stomach. It'd be nice to think that the world is a safer place but is it really? Keep on teachin' em....

Curly Su said...

yeah. YEAH. and having to explain sept. 11 someday? how great will that be?

my dad told me about 'bomb drills' where he would have to climb under a desk so to be 'protected'. what kind of warped thinking made that something that went on in schools? as though a desk would protect you! it funny, but also a little sad. what are we doing now that is will ultimately seem totally ridiculous?

oh, and i like your works!

Chris said...

We're getting old. :( And you're even younger than I am. Thanks for the reminder! :P

It is so bizarre that something so major and that was a part of our everday lives is "history" to these kids.

Rae said...

I'm always amazed at how things change, and when you hear how young certain people and that they have no idea who people like Debbie Gibson or New Kids are. Time just marches on!!

rice said...

I remember sitting outside in the summer mornings in the early 80’s as a kid. Looking up at how blue the sky was and how beautiful the day was “how could they possibly want to drop booms and spoil all this”. We didn’t know what a Cold War was but we sure lived it.

Great Post