Native Writes: Youth and history

The renewed interest in history among young people is gratifying.

Study of the Cold War, for example, has taken the young mind down recent roads, toward topics that are still easy to research and discuss. How did parents and other adults view the Russians, Chairman Mao and the nuclear threat?

Parents are the key factor. My youngest son teaches advanced math at a college in Reno, Nev. and has somehow managed to work me into his course offerings.

It’s interesting to have a parent who is a numerophobe, not necessarily afraid of numbers, but not doing well working with them. Double checking with a pocket calculator is almost essential, like looking over the edge of a cliff only if the protective rope is securely attached to one’s waist on one end and a very big, solid tree at the other.

His classroom discussion recently turned to the disparate numbers of females to males in the lucrative world of high tech. Girls approach math and science with fear, feeling the chill in the air that took root when their mothers and grandmothers were given the impression that females weren’t as good in those fields as men are.

That’s not hormonal, it’s social.

When I visited in Reno several years ago, we went shopping in a big mall, looking for unique gifts for his nieces.

A cute little blonde clerk greeted us in a very teen-oriented store, “Mr. Gallegos, Mr. Gallegos, that class Wednesday was awesome!”

Walking out of the store, I wondered aloud what she was doing taking advanced math. I realized that, despite my avowed feminism, I was still subscribing to the old stereotypes. Small, cute, blonde – what was she doing studying trigonometry?

“She doesn’t want to spend the rest of her life selling Goth trinkets to teenagers. She’s going on to the university to get into medical research and find a cure for female cancers.”

As we drove back to his home, I thought of my own upbringing. When, at age 16, I announced my plan to join the Navy, my dad hit the roof. I would either get married and have children or “study right” and become a nurse or a secretary.

I took college preparatory classes and then ended up married right after high school. Three sons later, as a single mom, I entered the world of work and then education to get a better job.

A classmate who was in the same boat joined me every Friday at a happy hour that offered all one could eat fried chicken wings. We took big purses and plastic bags, filling them with chicken wings to feed our children. The financial outlay was the cost of one beer.

It was interesting economics, said a college prof who joined us from time to time, contributing his share of wings.

Today, we look at economics through many lenses. We face what is called the second cold war, with renewed tension among the players on the world stage. The people have changed, happy hour is gone and chicken wings aren’t free. There are no universal answers.