As a history teacher for 25 years, I had the opportunity to witness the evolution of parenting from the late 1980s into the second decade of the twentieth century. For some odd reason, this has me thinking about helicopters.
More than two thousand years ago, the Chinese—not all of them—created a toy with a small propeller and a stick. Although it lacked the capacity to transport anything, it operated upon the principle of flight now associated with helicopters.
About five hundred years ago, Leonardo da Vinci imagined a helicopter that grew out of his fascination with screws. We know this because he wrote his ideas down—an important thing to do if you want to be remembered after you are gone. His diagram was actually referred to as the “airscrew,” perhaps inspired by knowledge of Archimedes’ screw, a water pump. In both cases, the spinning motion of the screw moves things; water from a lake for Archimedes and air from above for da Vinci.
I think it’s cool that so many of the machines we use are based upon getting things to spin; a water wheel dipped into a river to power early nineteenth century machines in a textile factory, the camshaft on an automobile engine or that bike they pedaled on “Gilligan’s Island” to charge up the radio battery. (It’s okay if you don’t get that last one.)
It wasn’t until the 1930s that we began to see short flights of real helicopters and the next decade when they were deployed for reconnaissance and transportation of light payloads by both the Allied and Axis powers in WWII. During the Korean War, helicopters played a critical role allowing the quick evacuation of wounded men from the battlefield, often to Mobile Army Surgical Hospitals (M*A*S*H units). I’d like to say that I know this through years of study, but I learned it like most of you, from TV. While “M*A*S*H” was set during the Korean War, its popularity is largely attributable to the cultural issues it addressed from the Vietnam era in which the show was first aired.
While you are forgiven if you are unfamiliar with Gilligan, there is no such excuse for “M*A*S*H”. If you’re just too young to have experienced this one, ask a sixty-something guy to name his top five “M*A*S*H” episodes and then stream away. I guarantee some laughs, thoughtful observations and helicopters. By the way, Malibu Creek State Park was used to film many of the scenes from “M*A*S*H”. They left some cool stuff behind, too. Check it out.
In 1957, Dwight Eisenhower was the first president to be transported by helicopter. This vehicle is called Marine One when the president is aboard; a nice complement to the president’s big plane called Air Force One. Marine One, of course, saves the president the hassle of waiting in traffic on the way to the golf course and other presidential stuff like that.
In my classroom, I regularly referred to the Vietnam War as the helicopter war, not only because of their prevalence on the battlefields of Southeast Asia but their presence on television when I was a child. Some of my earliest memories are the whoop-whoop-whooping of helicopter blades followed by images of flag-draped coffins being unloaded from planes. This is no TV fiction, either. This “living room war” was delivered directly into American homes every night. Helicopters and coffins; that about sums it up for me.
Helicopters continue to be used to save lives today; evidenced by helipads on hospital roofs across the country. On the flip side, we now have attack helicopters and helicopter gun ships. Although I am glad that these machines are out there protecting me, I think it rather sad that we have to put weapons on everything.
The most recent development in helicopter science, as it turns out, comes from parents who love their children so much that they have developed the ability to hover over schools all across the country making sure the teachers know how much their children are loved. I know this because I have spent much of my teaching career at schools where the families have the means to do such things. Helicoptering is not cheap, after all.
My view is that many parents just don’t trust teachers like they used to. Some reject the whole system and keep their kids at home teaching them themselves. I can hardly blame them as I have been witness to the reality of the old proverb that “those who can, do; and those who can’t, teach.” Indeed, some of my old colleagues needed much more supervision than the public school system required. Of course, this explains the evolution of the helicopter parent about as much as anything.
I applaud those who send their kids off to the neighborhood school and then make sure that they are getting what they/we pay for. Most of the helicopter parents that have hovered over me, however, were there to protect their kids from abusive teachers who did horrible things…like giving Bs. Indeed, at a relatively affluent school, many of these protective parents were better seen as Seal Team Six parents, not only hovering up above, but poised to rappel down a rope, swoop into the classroom, and rescue their child lest he be subjected to a challenge for which he was not prepared.
As you have probably guessed, I was one of those old school teachers; lots of note-taking, reading, writing, homework—you know, the stuff we do to learn things.
I know I’m showing my age by speaking this way, but it seems to me that parents have always cared about their kids while at school. I can’t imagine, though, that we had any helicopter parents a hundred years ago. Of course, we didn’t have any helicopters either…but you get my point.