Randomness and Ambiguity

It’s November 22nd. Forty-five years ago today, President John F. Kennedy was assassinated. I was five years old at the time, and the incidents surrounding his death are the first vivid memories of my life. My mother crying with our neighbor on the back porch. The television set being turned on all day long. Jackie’s black veil.

Don DeLillo wrote a complex, challenging, gripping, unforgettable novel based on the Kennedy assassination. It’s called Libra. And, as I learned today from the indispensable Writer’s Almanac, Don DeLillo also wrote:

“What has become unraveled since that afternoon in Dallas is … the sense of a coherent reality most of us shared. We seem from that moment to have entered a world of randomness and ambiguity.”

I’m with you there, Don. I think the reason I like watching Leave It To Beaver and Father Knows Best so much is because I can feel that sense of shared coherent reality in every exchange between characters, in every plotline. I know it wasn’t really that way, but it seemed as if everyone in America was following the same recipe for how to live and raise their children.

Then came the ’60 and the ’70s. I’ll never forget my mother wagging her index finger at me and saying, when I was seventeen, “You know, this ‘free love’ thing isn’t going to last.” Not something Margaret Anderson would have said to daughter Betty.

And, in the ’80s, there was cocaine to worry about, and the manic pursuit of money. And then came the ’90s, with stay-at-home moms vs. working moms, Democrats vs. Republicans on a grand scale, and so many varieties of popular music that watching the Grammy Awards became a totally useless experience for me — I didn’t know any of the nominated songs anymore.

Of course, technology and globalization and population growth and increased access to higher education and fill-in-the-blank-with-your-choice have all played a role in the increase of randomness and ambiguity — and the accompanying decrease in a shared sense of reality — in American life. There are some good things about not having a single, shared version of reality. It makes us more open to other people and other ideas. And, of course, we never ever really had one reality anyway. But it certainly seemed that way before 1963. Now that it doesn’t even seem that way anymore, I’m glad I homeschool. Why?

  • NOT so that I can impose a particular version of reality on my child
  • NOT so that I can pretend there is only one version of reality

I homeschool so that I can do my best to ensure that my child is aware of all the randomness and all the ambiguity. I homeschool so that I can do my best to ensure that her mind is open enough and large enough to encompass all the versions of reality she chooses to entertain. I homeschool so that I can do my best to ensure that she respects randomness and ambiguity and all that they imply.

Around here, we take everything in, and we shape it into our own unique view of life. If the aftermath of the  Kennedy assassination was a great big lemon, we’re using our very own recipe to turn it into a great big pitcher of lemonade.


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