OPINION

To Be or Not to Be a Famous Person in the Wax Museum at School?

Can there be a place for a moneyed celebrity with questionable work ethic in the Living Wax Museum’s inventory?

By Elena Vassilieva

“And may we, like the clock, Keep a face clean and bright, With hands ever ready To do what is right.” (From The Real Mother Goose, 1916; © Rand McNally & Company) Image: “What grade are you in?” “Kindergarten.” “Lucky you! My folks said once our boy is a 3rd grader, he’ll be officially out of his lying stage.” © By Elena Vassilieva

The other day, a 3rd grader and my dearest relative, excitingly shared the news with me about the Living Wax Museum, his new project at school. “It’s about a famous person who has a great influence on people. I’ll need to prepare a costume, three props, and a speech about his life. When I deliver the speech, I must pretend that I’m that person.” Naturally, I was very happy about the enthusiasm of the boy who made me take a look at the list of all the influential people the children were given. This year, he said, it included celebrated personalities from all over the world, not only from Massachusetts as in the past. The 3rd grade teachers at the Mullen-Hall School in Falmouth were allowed to use their discretion in adding the names. And they did a very good job enriching the list with 66 names.

I was glad that they haven’t forgotten the pillar of the pillars, William Shakespeare, the Ritz loving Ernest Hemingway, and the advocate of the unfortunate, Louisa May Alcott, among the authors, but was surprised not to see there the beloved J. K. Rowling. Perhaps, the evil fighting Harry Potter is out of fashion nowadays? The list of scientists appeared to be very well-balanced: Marie Curie and Rachel Carson are standing here hand in hand with Charles Darwin and Albert Einstein. And who would dare to disagree with such an excellent pairing? Equally smart was the list of the chosen U.S. Presidents, which included Thomas Jefferson, Abraham Lincoln, George Bush the first, Barack Obama, and JFK. The happy memories of the economic well-being of America during the Clinton’s presidency were preferred not to be recalled, very likely, the Monika Lewinsky scandal was considered a highly sensitive material for the young brains, and, taking the age of the Wax Museum’s participants into account, it was probably the right decision. Never mind Clinton’s new book with James Patterson, “The President’s Daughter” (2021), that had just been published. The second Bush and Donald Trump were both happily omitted.

The category of the Firsts has Bill Gates’ name in it, with the remark: one of the Microsoft founders “that became the richest man in the world.” But for some reason, the extraordinarily popular and brilliant engineering mind, Elon Musk, who, according to the Forbes, is richer than Bill Gates at the moment, was left out. The fact that Mr Musk, a fellow of the Royal Society, very active with his space projects and Tesla, which makes him a good caretaker of our planet, doesn’t seem to be enough to win a spot on the list, alas. The British would be delighted to see John Lennon on the list, but Sir Paul McCartney isn’t among the chosen ones, although he is in his finest and busiest creative mode, having recently, in December 2020, released his new outstanding album, “McCartney III,” a cookbook (2021) with his daughters, Mary and Stella, in memory of Linda McCartney, children’s book, “Hey Grandude!” (2019), and another one along with a memoire, “The Lyrics 1956 to the Present,” underway. Despite their artistic differences, John Lennon and Paul McCartney are unthinkable and unimaginable without each other as creative personalities, especially in their early years, hence it seems rather odd that they aren’t mentioned here at the same time. Martin Luther King Jr is rightfully on top of the list of all the activists along with Sojouner Truth, Harriet Tubman, Rosa Parks, Eleanor Roosevelt, and…Oprah Winfrey!

Frankly, I thought my eyes were playing tricks on me when I saw Oprah’s name on this expansive list. Why is she there? What kind of activism is she promoting? No doubt, it is very easy to assemble her costume. Just find a pair of funky round glasses, a cashmere sweater in the girls’ favourite pink or purple hues, combat boots, and voila you are Oprah Winfrey. Prince Harry and Meghan Markle, sort of her homemade puppets-friends, would make tremendously good props (stiff cardboard and construction paper would do to replicate these two). Then, all a child would need is to interview them, making sure the ‘waxed’ Ms Oprah encourages her puppets-interviewees to tell all the untruths, then indulges in them profusely, and gasps here and there for a larger effect.

But joking aside, it is the most serious thing that makes me wonder how on earth the status of the moneyed celebrity with rather questionable ideals and beliefs (say, hypocrisy and mercenariness in the name of social awareness) that she is propagating to the society can make her eligible for the public school’s Living Wax Museum? How can such a celebrity inspire our children in a positive way and be a worthy role model if she, so brazenly, in broad daylight, encourages (or shall I say extracts?) lies from those whose memory is unreliable and who conspire against their own family? Wouldn’t it be more sensible to recommend only those personalities whose moral compass is in good working order, especially to the children of that young age? And why not consider someone local, too? For instance, I would rather see the name of Emma (née Moore) Barrow on the list, who started her teaching career in 1935 in Alabama, and then, in 1959, became the first black teacher and principal here, at the Woods Hole School. She ardently advocated women’s and civil rights, especially the right for education for everyone, and fiercely fought against racial and gender discrimination. Emma Barrow believed that a woman shouldn’t be discriminated and denied a job if she chooses to bring up her children without nannies and, after they’ve grown up, return to work. The woman who spent 50 years of service in education and was given the 1985 Human Relation’s Award, one would think, surely deserves a spot on the Living Wax Museum’s list at the very school where she taught. I had the honour of meeting Mrs Barrow, and she was one of the most beautiful and loved people on Cape Cod, not only because of her intelligence, but also because of her genuine kindness and her utter dislike of hypocrisy and lies.

According to Dr Forster Cline and Jim Fay (1990, 2006), “most children, from kindergarten through about the second grade, go through a lying stage,” so why should the 3rd graders then, fresh out of their “lying stage,” be introduced to those social role models who have integrity problems? Yes, of course, there is also parental guidance, and one can count on their control and their own social filters as to which personality from the list to choose, but in a child’s school life, a teacher is automatically assigned a very special role and granted authority to guide him. After all, the child spends most of his day at school. An 8- or 9-year-old would probably think that everything that is being told and mentioned by his teacher should be regarded doubtlessly as right and correct. In fact, the child may agree with his teacher rather than with his parent, with as simple an argument as this: “My teacher said so, therefore it must be true.”

Isn’t it the Wax Museum’s main idea not only to broaden children’s horizon and stimulate their intellectual and creative curiosity, but also and, foremost, to give them the right direction as for their social awareness and responsibility? This way children will form a very strong sense of right and wrong, which will help them, when they are teenagers, resist all the ill-informed influences, generated by social media, and other social upheavals, much more successfully. So it’s worth thinking twice, in my view, who may and who may not be on such a list. On June 11, the First Lady, Dr Gill Biden, whilst with the Duchess of Cambridge at the roundtable, at the Connor Downs Academy in Cornwall, England, said that “early childhood education is so important to lay the foundation for all of our students.” It’s hard not to agree with her on that, and I hope this message won’t just stay in the realm of political rhetoric but, first and foremost, will resonate in a classroom.   

(Written on 21 June 2021 in the Sky Control Room on Cape Cod.)

Copyright © 2021 by Elena Vassilieva. All rights reserved.

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