The Century for Young People
by Peter Jennings and Todd Brewster
This book is recommended in the Level 4 history program at Mater Amabilis™. We used it for the first twelve weeks (which we're finishing this week) for an overview of American History in the twentieth century, reading about one chapter a week. I posted my plans using this book on the Mater Amabilis™ facebook page, for those that are interested.
Published in 1999, the main text of the book gives a relatively quick overview of events of the twentieth century, mentioning major events to establish a narrative. Sprinkled throughout the text are attractive photographs and first-person accounts of some of the events.
Some of the first-person accounts describe disturbing events, like those during times of war. Milt Hinton, who was part of the Great Migration, described a lynching he saw before he was eight years old:
I was on my way home from school, and I saw a black man who'd been hung up on a tree. A bunch of white men were standing around him--they had poured gasoline on him and set him on fire, and now they were shooting at his body.The later chapters begin to introduce more controversial topics, like pro-life debates in chapter 10. Unsurprisingly, the debate is described as one of "reproductive rights" and "antiabortion" rather than pro-life. This debate is mixed in with other feminist arguments. It's not entirely balanced, but I didn't find anything offensive and my son is well-acquainted with this issue thanks to our parish's active pro-life ministries.
Chapter 11 covers the years when HIV and AIDS appeared in the United States. Issues of homosexuality and gay rights appear.
For more than a decade, activists had been struggling for gay rights, and they had made considerable progress. But the arrival of AIDS brought a backlash against the gay community. Some conservative critics went so far as to claim that AIDS was God's revenge against "immoral" people. All the finger-pointing and name-calling often hid the sad fact that real people were dying, including babies who had gotten AIDS from their infected mothers.There was a first-person account by a man who worked at GMHC (Gay Men's Health Crisis) who talked about prank calls to the hotline.
The level of ignorance and homophobia from some of the callers was just amazing. And the indifference was overwhelming. When I first started, prank callers would just say, "All you faggots should die! Click. Thank you for sharing. It was bad enough all these people were dying and there was nothing that we could do about it, and then you've got people hating you for being sick or for helping sick people. Of course, you wanted badly to be able to say, "Where's your compassion? Who do you think you are? What's wrong with loving someone?"I talked a lot with my son about this chapter, more than I normally would, to discuss the devastation of AIDS, compassion for those suffering from diseases like this, and how that compassion is right even for those who do not follow Church teaching. For future children, I'm going to find a Catholic source to supplement the reading.
The last chapter covers a lot about technology. There's a first-person account by Stacy Horn, who pioneered online interactions in the early 1990s.
On the Internet, you get to know someone from the inside out first, whereas in the physical world it's from the outside in. Each way has its pluses and minuses. People are people, and they're no different online than they are anywhere else. We don't sit down at our computers and all of a sudden become unreal. If I say "I love you" to someone on the phone, does that make it not real? So if I say it on a computer, why would that make it not real?I have to believe if this book were being published now, twenty years later and with a great deal more experience dealing with predators who groom their victims online, the editors would not have included this paragraph. We are now trying desperately to teach our children (and ourselves) that people are most assuredly not always themselves online, or at least find it easier to portray themselves in a particular way to manipulate others.
Also in this last chapter, the issues of Dr. Jack Kevorkian and the right-to-die movement are introduced. There's a personal story from a woman who's husband died of metastatic lung cancer, quickened by a morphine drop.
Whenever you read anything about death or dying, you inevitably read about Dr. Kevorkian and about physician-assisted suicide. That is just a red herring in the whole discussion of death and dying. It has little to do with ordinary illness and dying.I supplemented this chapter with the USCCB statement To Live Each Day with Dignity which provides an excellent overview of the Catholic Church's stance on assisted suicide.
After having completed the first twelve weeks of our history for Level 4, I think I'll modify it for my later children. I'm going to spread it over the whole year and king of nestle the other units (World War I, World War II, the Fall of Communism, and Asia) within the studies. I think it will flow better.
I have a copy of The Century and might use that as a spine instead, but it would involve a lot more reading. My son read through part of 20th Century Day by Day each day, along with a reading from The Century for Young People. This book is a huge tome, but it's full of interesting bits of news covering a wide range of events in world events, science, technology, and the arts. I think it was one of his favorite parts of history. Reading the denser and longer text of The Century would probably mean giving up time devoted each day to 20th Century Day by Day and right now I'm not sure I'd do that.