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Wednesday, July 19, 2017

History Class

I just started reading Bill Bryson’s One Summer: America, 1927.
It was the summer — if one allows “summer” to occasionally include parts of both spring and fall — that Babe Ruth hit 60 home runs, much of the country was engulfed by a catastrophic flood, Jack Dempsey lost the famous “long count” fight to Gene Tunney, Calvin Coolidge announced he wouldn’t run for another term, the world’s leading bankers made the policy adjustment that would do so much to bring down Wall Street in 1929, “The Jazz Singer” was released, radio and tabloid culture came into their own, an American audience got its first public demonstration of television, work started on Mount Rushmore, Sacco and Vanzetti were executed, and Henry Ford stopped making Model T’s. And oh, yes, most of the world went mad over a 25-year-old prodigy named Charles Lindbergh, who flew a flimsy plane to Paris from New York. (source)
In my pre-college school days, back when the Maderer famiglia was pulling up stakes every year or two, moving further and further away from my beloved East Coast, history seemed the class which, curriculum-wise, suffered most. That is, from third grade in Townsend, Massachusetts through sixth grade in Bloomington, Indiana, the only time frame offered for study was the mid 1700s through pre-Civil War 1800s.

I kept thinking, I betcha my old classmates back in Providence/Townsend/Peapack are getting to learn about the slaves being freed and maybe they’ve even gotten to World War II now! 
Me? Every year I learned all about the Thanksgiving myth (though that's not how the teachers billed it), Washington crossing the Delaware, the Tea Party (before that moniker became synonymous with idiocy), the battles of Lexington and Concord and all that other good stuff. Yup, history class was like Groundhog Day but with mega loads of rote date memorization (versus meaningful understanding of events) and zero talented, funny actors.

There wasn’t one word about slavery, Nada about the subjugation and genocide of the folks who already lived here. And nothing about women's long-ass fight just to get the right to vote! Gosh, you'd kinda get the idea that history's written by the winners of wars, eh?

In ninth grade we did have a brief overview and discussion of Watergate but, fer fuck’s sake, it was happening in real time, EVERY single day.

As a teen I tried to catch up by reading, between sci fi novels, Bury My Heart at Wounded Knee and every other depressing book I could find (Anne Frank, Primo Levi anyone?) This, THIS is how history should be taught – by reading the experiences of individual people who’ve lived through it (or haven’t). Dammit. Every person's story is part of history.

1927, the year Bryson writes about, was also the year my mother was born. Yesterday would have been her 90th birthday and I find myself wondering how involved she was in the events of her time.

In the year she turned 20 – 1947, amongst oither things, a supposed high-altitude surveillance balloon crashed in Roswell, New Mexico, the Cold War began, Polaroid came out with the Land Camera and Harry Truman was president. What did she think about all this?
I never did give anybody hell. I just told the truth and they thought it was hell.
~ Harry Truman

I have found the best way to give advice to your children is to find out what they want and then advise them to do it.
~ Harry Truman

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