Today, I started reading Ray Bradbury’s “There Will Come Soft Rains” with my 8th graders. The story takes place in 2026, but was written in the 1950’s. It focuses on an automated house that wakes you up, cooks your breakfast, tells you when your bills are due and who has a birthday today, reads you your favorite poetry, and so on. There has been a nuclear war and the inhabitants of the house are dead and the city — except for this house — is destroyed, but the house does not know that and continues to behave as if everything is normal.
I was explaining that Bradbury wrote the story during the Cold War, when everyone in the United States was terrified that the Soviet Union would drop a bomb on us at any moment. I said that I remembered being afraid of the Russians when I was young, and thinking that everything bad that happened in the world was due to the Russians and the evil they embodied.
The students were kind of familiar with the Cold War (I don’t think they’ve really studied that era of history yet), but they didn’t know a lot about it. One of my students asked, “Didn’t the Cold War and the Great Depression happen at the same time?”
Sigh. “No,” I said. “I’m old enough to remember the Cold War. I am NOT old enough to remember the Great Depression.”
“How old are you?” they asked, as if the Cold War was a hundred years ago.
“I’m thirty-seven,” I said. “I was born in 1975 and I remember being afraid of the Russians during the 80’s. The Great Depression was in the 30’s.”
Then they had a discussion about whether I was older or younger than their parents. Sigh again.
But I think maybe they learned a little something today.