Experience is Essential April 23 2009

Recently my first-grader came home with a new book from the media center at school. He excitedly presented me with his selection, a book about South Africa. Knowing my love for South Africa and my work with Beaded Hope, he was excited to sit down and read this book together. Little did we know that reading this book would result in a life lesson for all of us. So, one night we read the entire book on South Africa in one sitting and, by the time we were done, I was absolutely and completely appalled. For starters, the book explained that about 300 years ago people from "the country of Europe" began arriving in South Africa. What? Seriously? The COUNTRY of Europe? How did this mistake get written let alone pass through the editing process? Then there were the political inaccuracies of the book. Nelson Mandela, according to this book, was a man who was jailed for 26 years because he spoke out against the government. Again I say, seriously? I spent a great deal of time, after reading this page, explaining to my children that Nelson Mandela was a man who fought for the equality of the people of South Africa, that he was willing to go to jail for his belief that all men (and women) should be treated equally, and that he was a great and brave man. The book also contained more subtle inaccuracies such as the description of pap as being a common and much-loved food in South Africa. This is inaccurate on so many levels. For starters, pap is starch, much like porridge or grits, that was a staple for native South Africans. Typically, pap was served with salt on it. If you were lucky, it might be served with a bit of gravy. And if you were really lucky it would be served with a meat stew. So, while it's true that pap was a common food in South Africa, it's more accurate to describe it as a food of necessity rather than something that was much-loved. If I had read this book to my children 3 or 4 years ago I would have believed the inaccuracies (okay, except the "country" thing, that just irks me). But now, having been to South Africa multiple times, befriending the people and listening to their life stories, I have a better, more complete understanding of the true history of the country. Thanks to my first-grader, my life lesson from this experience is that, even though book learning is important, life experience is essential.