The Learning Curve: Why Mission Dioramas Are (Mostly) History

Building dioramas of Spanish missions used to be a rite of passage for California’s schoolkids, but growing awareness of colonial brutality is making the dioramas obsolete.

By Randy Doting at the Voice of San Diego:

Craft stores used to make a killing out of California’s fourth-grade state history curriculum. Every child, myself included, had to make a diorama of a state mission – and they needed supplies like hot glue, corrugated paper and Styrofoam, not to mention milk cartons and clay. Parents could even buy a whole pre-fab mission-making kit in case their kid happened to mention after dinner that the project is due tomorrow.

For many Californians, putting together a diorama is one of the most memorable parts of their education. Now, mission-making has nearly gone the way of venerable school traditions like smoking areas and spankings. Some students still make them (watch out for ants if you use sugar cubes!), but most fourth-graders no longer need to ask Mom for a ride to the nearest Michaels or Hobby Lobby.

The change is linked to a changing understanding about our state’s early history. The Spanish colonialization of California is no longer romanticized, and we now recognize the brutal treatment of Native Americans by European invaders.

Instead, educators advocate teaching the actual, complex history. Kids know that things live and die, they know what conflict is. Teachers can teach the history from the different perspectives of those who lived then and their competing goals.

Also: In 2017, a San Diego fourth-grader built a Mission diorama, burning as a result of the Kumeyaay Native American revolt. My kind of kid.

After all these years in the state, I consider myself a full-blooded Californian. But this part of the experience, and the veneration of California’s Mission history, is alien to me. In the New York schools where I was taught, Mission history barely got a mention. It’s a big country, and everybody’s local history is different.

Is civilization just a phase?

Lately I wonder whether our current level of technological and scientific development is a short-lived peak for the species. Whether our natural state is hunter-gatherer.

We were hunter-gatherers for hundreds of thousands of years, and we spread out and settled the entire planet that way. Tiny bands of dozens of people.

The entire period we call civilization has been a brief flicker of that time, and so far it doesn’t seem to be going well.

“Dollar Princesses”

During the Gilded Age, wealthy American heiresses married broke British aristocrats. These “dollar princesses” were seeking to raise their families’ social status. They included Jenny Randolph-Churchill, “the tattooed daughter of a philandering financier and a social climber,” who became mother to Winston Churchill.

Erin Blakemore at How American ‘Dollar Princesses’ Invaded British High Society

Also: “In 1880, stock and railway heiress Frances Ellen Work married the future Baron Fermoy. Like many ‘dollar princess’ matches, it was an unhappy one, and the couple divorced in 1891…. her great-granddaughter Diana became the Princess of Wales.”

“Suppose I wanted to kill a lot of pilots.” Thinking backwards for success.

To plan for success, often it makes more sense to plan how you might fail, figure out what might cause those failures, and then don’t do those things. That’s true for getting pilots home safely during combat, and also true for planning your career.

EJ on History of Yesterday:

“For example, let’s say you are trying to figure out ‘How can I have a great, fulfilling career?” Instead, ask yourself ‘How can I have a terrible, worthless career?” and whittle away at the choices that you know will ensure that outcome: Stay in a dying industry. Stay ignorant of emerging technology. Continue to be a rent-taker as opposed to adding value. Prioritize near-term income over long-term value. Continue working with people that treat you poorly. Continue to think like a junior team resource. Be reactive to opportunity as opposed to proactive. And so on.

“Now you have a list of actions to avoid. Avoiding them begins to move you away from failure and closer to reaching your goal.”

A catastrophic comet strike 13,000 years ago could have triggered the birth of civilization

Chelsea Gold at

Scientists think that a cluster of comet shards may have smashed into Earth’s surface 13,000 years ago, in the most catastrophic impact since the Chicxulub event killed off Earth’s large dinosaurs about 66 million years ago. In a new study, a team led by Martin Sweatman, a scientist at the University of Edinburgh in Scotland, investigated the impact and how it could have shaped the origins of human societies on Earth.

While the first Homo sapiens emerged between 200,000 and 300,000 years ago, much farther in the past than this impact, the researchers found that this comet crash actually coincided with significant changes in how human societies self-organized.

I have sometimes wondered about this: For hundreds of thousands of years, humanity was a species of nomadic hunter-gatherers and small villages, groups no larger than a few dozen people. Changes were small, and happened excruciatingly slowly.

Then, 10 thousand+ years ago or so, things start changing fast — rapid changes that continue to this day. We get the emergence of agriculture, the first cities, and a few thousand years later, written language.

So why the sudden change? Maybe a cometary catastrophe?

America 2026

Biden, the Democrats, and Republicans all seem to be moving along like 1/6 was an ordinary riot, and Trump was on ordinary Republican President, and we can just go back to the way things were under Clinton, Bush, and Obama. That’s delusional and dangerous.

My crystal ball says that the United States is on the cusp of a historical transition. We are not going to be the same country in five years that we are today.

One likely outcome is fragmentation, like the USSR. Probably the resulting nation would continue to be called the United States and would have the surface trappings of the nation we’re accustomed to. But individual regions and states would operate as independent nations. Some of those places will be good places to live — California and New York, in particular, might be better off. Other places would be like Eastern European dictatorships. Not nice at all.

Another likely outcome is the emergence of a powerful President and following to tie things back together. If we’re fortunate, that President will be like Lincoln or the Roosevelts. If we’re less fortunate, that President will be a Hitler or Erdogan.

I foresee an uncomfortably high probability of Civil War 2 on the horizon. Or even World War 3 — but this time, the US is the bad guys.