Today, the family went to Salem for a day trip. We walked the streets a bit, saw some old buildings, and ate candy made by the oldest retailer in America, but skipped the various Witch museums and dungeons. After all, the events in Salem in 1692 really didn't have anything to do with witches or magic. Thus, it seemed to make sense to avoid the places that have tried to sell Halloween 365 days a year.
We did make one logical tourist visit -- to the Salem Wax Museum, which uses wax figures to tell the story of what the proprietors call the "Hysteria of 1692."
The kids looked at the exhibits and read the text, and they were interested in the details of that era, but my wife and I eventually directed conversation to the "big picture."
So, I told them a little about Senator Joseph McCarthy and his anti-communist witch hunts of the 1950s.
And we talked for awhile about the post-9/11 arrest and detention of at least hundreds of Arab-Americans and other Arabs in the US, and even about Abu Ghraib (somewhat sanitized version).
We discussed the problem of government, or even a community, arresting or otherwise mistreating members of that community based on mere suspicion -- or identity. We also talked a little bit about the danger of linking church and state very tightly.
Late in the day, my oldest daughter asked about Japanese internment.
Outcome: at least one future potential card-carrying member of the ACLU.