Dad, There’s No Need to Worry

I taught my World War II class at UMass-Boston in the Fall of 2021 and emerged with a sense of optimism and hope.

First, a little background.

Many of you who have been loyal and kind enough to follow my “author life” know that I’m proud of my dad’s service as a World War II Army veteran.  Tony Puleo was a Purple Heart recipient who served in both the European and Pacific theaters.  He was also immensely (albeit quietly) proud of his service, and in the late 1990s, when I was interviewing him and preparing to write his war memoirs for the family, he said to me more than once:  “Please make sure young people remember the Second World War, the sacrifices, the heroism, and what it meant to the world.  As time goes by, people tend to forget their history.  I’m worried that young people will forget.”

Dad died in January of 2009.  I spent the next several months designing from scratch a college-level World War II course, in his honor, that I taught at Suffolk University in the fall of that year.  After teaching at Suffolk for several semesters, I moved to UMass-Boston, where I’ve been thrilled to teach the course at my alma mater.  “World War II: The Global War” is an upper-level elective, attended mostly by juniors and seniors, but I’ve had numerous freshmen and sophomores in the class and they’ve done remarkably well.

And that brings me to the hope and optimism part.  You’ve read and heard about the surveys as I have:  college students don’t know anything about history; ask them who fought in World War II and on which side, and you get blank stares; kids aren’t interested in anything that happened before they were born.

And on and on.

This past fall, my students debunked all of these canards.

I had a class full of engaged, interested students who worked hard, expressed thoughtful curiosity during discussions and demonstrated shrewd analysis in their papers and in-class exams.  These young people were truly interested in the Second World War.  It’s true that many had never studied it in high school – someday I’ll write a blog about that! – yet all of them knew the war’s scope on some level, that it was perhaps the largest and most all-consuming event in history, and each student wanted to know more.

I was also impressed all semester with their dedication and responsibility.  My class began at 8:00 a.m., a difficult time for college students to be sure.  UMass-Boston is still largely a commuter school, so for most students, arriving on time for an early-morning class is more than a matter of rolling out of bed a few minutes before class begins.  There’s perhaps an hour or more of commuting time, driving or riding the “T,” before these students arrive on campus.  And yet, their attendance was outstanding (I had several students with perfect attendance).

Great attendance.  Hard work.  A passion for learning.  I was proud of my students – they taught me something.

As a teacher, I couldn’t have asked for more.

And dad, don’t worry:  I think the future is in good hands.