Many young teachers and instructors are sent into the classroom with the notion that they must be "bias-free" - a concept I cannot understand and do not attempt. Here is why:
Students must learn to evaluate bias, hidden and otherwise, because it cannot help but bias the presentation. Period.
So, when I get my bias "out there" and visible, where we can discuss it, it is no longer a farce to teach my courses; I can talk with my students about critically examining all the bias they can find.
There is bias in:
The materials I have chosen
The authors and editors of those materials
The publishers of those materials
The fact that the particular ideas they have chosen have even been considered - and others rejected
Each primary source - primary sources aren't generally written by omni-focal committees, but usually by individuals, and each individual (and even the makeup of committees) shows bias by being deliberately chosen or self-empowered for the task
The fact that certain sources were handed down
The fact that so many voices are absent
And so on.
Why you *wouldn't* teach bias and confront it as a natural human condition is simply beyond me. How can you develop critical thinking skills without first understanding this singular concept?
As such, it is one of the very first things I teach in my classes, and one I revisit constantly. What is the bias of this photographer? Why is s/he showing this particular element, from this position and this focus? What about painters? The documentarians pulled from X, Y, Z sources - why not others? Does the reporter's religion factor into her/his viewpoint? What about the state of science at the time - are there words to adequately describe something without resorting to smoke and mirrors? (Did I just show bias asking that in that way?)
Or, more specifically: How did the government's version of First Peoples' history (and public policy initiatives) deviate from those put forth by the First Peoples'? I have a great exercise for onsite classes (could develop it fairly easily for online classes as well - just have not yet done so!) in which I split the class in half, A-B-A-B all the way through, indiscriminately, and tell the A side they will make the case for the government in Indian affairs, and the B side will make the case for the Native side. No, I don't always use "A" for the government, either - but do discuss even that as a possible bias (they really *get* it by the time we are through with the course!)! The students really jump into it, perform wonderful research, and end up arguing passionately for their own side - usually quite articulately. I believe setting aside that class period for that exercise alone is essential for all the object lessons - and the history - it involves. Not only that, but I find that even in a survey class, virtually every student contributes - and I drop little hints and reminders and poke and prod every so often through the course until that day to whet interest (historical invective taken out of context can be quite alarming - also an object lesson!). It's fun for me, too!
Why would you teach - or not teach - bias? Are you required to teach a "biasless" classroom, and if so, how do you make it work - or not?
Today I am riding high. It's a good day for history!
My title for today must seem rather oxymoronic, but I am dead serious - history really is the wave of the future. It is also riding the wave of the future - proactively, one may hope.
History is real. It is tangible. It is about people who hurt and loved and bled. Blood is red the world 'round, you know...
But why, why do I claim history is becoming the future?
The internet, and internet-based software applications. It's as simple as that.
While we have, for many years, been utilizing technologies handed to us (WebCT / eCourseware, etc), some new opportunities are here and on the horizon. Not to completely knock what we have been handed, but the technologies have been, for the most part, pretty lumpy and recalcitrant and cranky and sometimes even downright user-UNfriendly. While we may still need to "fit" things within the cookie-cutter of those shells, we can still create all year and make the best presentations we are capable of making. There are some magnificent tools coming online just for that, fortunately!
The one that has intrigued me the most is from the geniuses at Mozilla. Popcorn Maker shows incredible inventiveness, powerful tools, beautiful presentation capabilities, and, it enables users to create their own presentations based on their level of tech savvy - from super easy to highly advanced.
Why do I like it so much? Because it, for the first time, lets historians of every ability create and polish terrific video, with strong audio and visual content, live updating, and simple editing. In turn, historians can present their "perfect" lecture without the one-shot, monotone delivery that is so commonplace in the online education sector today. If you are going to venture into online education, you need the tools to succeed, and this one definitely succeeds wildly. No more boring PowerPoints!
I listened to a truly inspiring TED Radio Hour broadcast on NPR today (if you download the NPR App for iPhone - it's free - and click on "Programs" at the bottom, then scroll to "TED Radio Hour," the specific episode I am referencing is called "Building a Better Classroom"). In it Salman Khan of Khan Academies makes a good point: if you post clear, concise and interesting "lessons" on the web (or, in our cases, our class websites), students not only have the ability to watch the content over and over again until it "sinks in" - but they can also refer back to previous videos when something becomes confusing. Let's use the example of advanced mathematics; you need the building blocks of math in order to perform Calculus, for instance, and even the best mathematicians sometimes need a brush-up on the basics. But, asking anyone for help - especially as a post-doc / tenure-track - on the very elemental ideas can feel humiliating, not to mention that it doesn't instill the best confidence in your abilities (regardless of how natural it may be to refocus as you, say, shift gears into a new idea). Getting back to basics is great for everyone once in a while, and there should be no shame in it! Fortunately, with the internet, we CAN do that. So, if we with authority can transmit even better information to our readers / viewers, the better off everyone will be.
I would create and post a sample, but, I have well and truly lost my voice! So, instead, please scoot on over to the Popcorn site and watch the samples and tutorials. This is within your grasp, You CAN do this.
Now MAKE IT HAPPEN! The future is here, now, and it is history!
This article How Christian Were the Founders? came out in 2010, and I was pretty frustrated then about the increasing conservatism in K-12 public education - conservatism that told flat out lies, actually. I am not conservative in my values or most other parts of my life, and when it comes to history, flat out lies don't do much for me. Put them together and steam sometimes appears, pouring from my auricles. (Please note that liberal lies don't help one bit in my mind, either)
The question of the Christianity of the Founders has been a long and heated one - clearly people are lined up on both sides of the fence and the battle lines are drawn - perhaps moreso then than now, though I do wonder about that idea; redistricting to favor heavy Republican / conservative majorities in local and regional politics over the past 20 years has changed the face of politics with most people remaining ignorant of these machinations. And while I well know the machinations have meted harsh changes to benefit Democrats / liberals in the past, the other side has the upper hand right now - and will until at least the next Census.
What I find particularly appalling about the current state of affairs are three things: the fact that 1) people who have NO idea what they are talking about except religious credo and fanaticism have led the way for years with textbook publishers; 2) the influence of one state is so overwhelming on the others; and 3) the right wing ultra-conservative faction has it so wrong, period, and are trying desperately to pull the rug out from under anyone who would say otherwise, masking the free speech and debate so cherished by our Constitution. By the way - I am not saying that liberals get it wrong, but rather that the people who have been getting it most wrong lately have been ultra-conservative.
So let's talk about what they have wrong.
Note this quote from the article:
In the guidelines — which will be subjected to further amendments in March and then in May — eighth-grade history students are asked to “analyze the importance of the Mayflower Compact, the Fundamental Orders of Connecticut and the Virginia House of Burgesses to the growth of representative government.” Such early colonial texts have long been included in survey courses, but why focus on these in particular? The Fundamental Orders of Connecticut declare that their state was founded “to maintain and preserve the liberty and purity of the Gospel of our Lord Jesus.” The language in the Mayflower Compact — a document of which McLeroy and several others involved in the Texas process are especially fond — describes the Pilgrims’ journey as being “for the Glory of God and advancement of the Christian Faith” and thus instills the idea that America was founded as a project for the spread of Christianity.
True enough in some ways: the documents *do* describe the idea that many people came to the colonies in search of both a religious way of life and a place to "plant" their zeal. They also came with the idea that they would have free reign over this land - land already inhabited by First Peoples. So what did the colonizers do? They tried forced conversion (I see no respect for Native cultures in THAT - do you? Didn't work particularly well via Inquisitors in Europe either.)... and when that failed, the Puritans tried outright slaughter (think for a moment on the Pequots, the Wampanoags, and Narragansetts, among others, who were killed in the name of religion and religious freedom as the Puritans viewed it). The Virginia House of Burgesses accepted and encouraged Indian excision from ancestral lands, and expressed no qualms about applying military tactics to do so in the most brutal of ways.
Consider the quote from Don McLeroy, though: "We want stories with morals, not P.C. stories." What McLeroy, the former head of the Texas State Board of Education, a dentist, and self-proclaimed new-earth creationist, fails to grasp is that these are not P.C. stories; these are history, plain and simple. History is a mucky place, full of violence, love, hate, passion, sex, tangled alliances and even more tangled threads - and lies, true enough; as I tell my students on the first day of class, "You are not the first to discover these elements - what you feel today has come before - and will come again. Seek out the stories in the textbooks and in the history and learn to understand some of the inherent biases that exist in recording and transmitting history." And, I tell them to realize that "history" is mutable - wherein lies much of the problem; we are always discovering new facets to history, and they have the potential to change - even radically - the past we thought we "knew." And, I tell them to look for the noticable absence of particular voices - usually minorities. It isn't as though women just now learned how to think, or that black men and women lacked intellectual drive and capability until after the Civil War, for instance...
McLeroy appears much less savvy than my students, though, because most of mine manage to figure out by the end of a semester that history is not set in stone, and even stones have sides; upending one stone may uncover a gravel pit of change. Naturally, I don't want my students' history education to end with one semester in college, but it is thrilling to see them expand and become more and more curious - and yet be able to adhere to their own religious, social and economic lives. A diligent, ethical history teacher never, ever, attempts to influence a student's religion - ever - yet, perhaps McLeroy's concern is that the history teachers in Texas are not diligent and ethical? I would, for the most part, disagree. In my summer work scoring national standardized tests I meet high school and college history teachers from around the country, and I have found that most are compassionate and competent folk. They believe in their duties to inform, and to engender critical thinking skills in their students. I would wager that 99% of them would never seek to influence religious viewpoints - most of them are frustrated with the top-down hammer-stroke demand for the promotion of bad history. The other 1% have, in my experience, been in the McLeroy camp and do much more harm than good. They resist embracing variety and multiculturalism, multiethnicism. And they are more than willing to push their personal beliefs onto others.Let schools with agendas hire them, please... don't let uncritical thinkers and those willing to judge their students (not their students' work - big difference) into the pool of those who want young minds to ask, "Who? What? When? Where? Why? How?"
Does McLeroy NOT want students to learn to think critically about all possible elements of society's past that have been handed down to us? Does he only want to force-feed children and young adults on his viewpoint and his only? Does he not realize that this is - and always has been - a multicultural nation, and that the stories of all cultures we study are valuable and essential to understanding both their pasts and our future as well? (The single multicultural issue that hits hardest in the classroom in my experience is the one that makes it clear that Hispanic men and women lived and worked in the West and West Coast from the late 1400s (not long after Columbus) until the time other Europeans made it from England and France across the North American continent - and that, as a result, until the country's boundaries were formalized, movement between present-day Mexico and the United States was fluid and unnoticed. It was fairly fluid until the past 15 or 20 years, even.)
Consider also this:
Christianity has had a deep impact on our country. The men who wrote the Constitution were Christians (or Unitarians/agnostics) who knew the Bible - and very well, indeed. Our idea of individual rights comes from Scottish Protestant (particularly) interpretations of the Bible, filtered through humanists and broad thinkers from Socrates forward. I don't think there is a scholar worth his or her salt that would say that Christianity did not have a tremendous influence on the "origins" (what a loaded word) of our country; McLeroy is basically correct on the idea that Christianity was a strong influence. So were Locke and Polybius and Montesquieu and Hobbes and Rousseau. He is dead wrong when he says that the idea of individual rights comes from the Bible - as though that is the fountainhead. It actually comes from the idea of sovereignty of the people and is based in the philosophy of the social contract. An Enlightenment ideal and not a Biblical one.
Peter Marshall is also dead wrong when he claims, “The Founding Fathers’ biblical worldview taught them that human beings were by nature self-centered, so they believed that the supernatural influence of the Spirit of God was needed to free us from ourselves so that we can care for our neighbors.” Again, McLeroy: “There are two basic facts about man,” he said. “He was created in the image of God, and he is fallen. You can’t appreciate the founding of our country without realizing that the founders understood that."
These ultra-conservative men and their ilk are attempting to hijack the minds of our children. Cynthia Dunbar, quoted in the article, states, “this battle for our nation’s children and who will control their education and training is crucial to our success for reclaiming our nation.” Also cited in the article - again, Ms. Dunbar:
Recently...perhaps out of ire at what they see as an aggressive, secular, liberal agenda in Washington and perhaps also because they sense an opening in the battle, a sudden weakness in the lines of the secularists — some activists decided that the time was right to try to reshape the history that children in public schools study. Succeeding at this would help them toward their ultimate goal of reshaping American society.
A Christian activist on the Texas board, continues, “The philosophy of the classroom in one generation will be the philosophy of the government in the next.”
Certainly this is true, but shouldn't we want strong critical thinkers made of *all* students (regardless of their religious backgrounds and beliefs), well-versed in the important issues of our multicultural, interfaith society? Somehow, I suspect Dunbar and McLeroy's answer would be an emphatic "no." Their overarching goal is to bring to the fore young men and women who will act as Christian warriors, willing to fight and fight hard for their version of revisionist history.
So where does this leave us?
With much unsaid and much unargued. This debate will undoubtably continue for decades - remember the Scopes Trial? You should. It was in the 1920s and is still with us today in the chasm between creationism / "intelligent design," and the ever-evolving ideas formalized by Origin of Species. We must all be prepared to gird ourselves for a long, hard and bitter fight - no matter the side. I think you know where I stand.
But, in closing, I will agree with McLeroy on one thing - and likely one thing only (besides the value of brushing and flossing): "For our kids to not know our history, that could kill a society. That’s why to me this is a huge thing."
It is, indeed.
(Many, many thanks to Russell Shorto for writing the original article. Further, what you see here is a revision and republication of an earlier article of mine.)
I was distressed today to learn of the horrendous Bangladeshi garment factory fire that occurred while Americans went on a furious, wild spending spree purchasing the clothing these victims made in squalid, shameful circumstances. (See: Bangladeshi Garment Factory Fire)
As we have long known, many of our big-box retailers have sent most of their orders for clothing, toys, electronics - everything they can - to places around the world where people may be exploited for their labor most cheaply (i.e. no significant safety laws, poor sanitary conditions, no health care options - ever, workers without voices, and incredibly, incredibly, unimaginably low pay). And definitely - make no mistake - this is exploitative, and perhaps even criminal (I think it represents moral bankruptcy at the very least). Yet, as we Americans also know, several things are at work this holiday season to challenge consumers to closely and critically examine the inner workings of our big box corporations. Kind of an Occupy Wall Street in reverse: Deoccupy the Big Boxes.
Confused? Shouldn't be. Because if you live in the US and have any access at all to media, you should know that, among other things, we as consumers are being asked to "Shop Local" - and to also consider at least morally supporting the employees of Wal-Mart as they attempt to band together in common voice to express their workplace concerns - against the wishes, desires and wants of an incredibly resistant and militantly anti-union global company.
Now, you say, why am I talking about this?
Well, because those who heed not history are tragically doomed to repeat it.
In response to huge, huge consumer demand, the owners of the Triangle Shirtwaist Factory created some of the most shocking safety conditions imaginable. Not only were they shocking, though - they were deadly. On 25 March 1911 - one hundred and one and one half years before the Bangladeshi fire - an enormous, fast-moving conflagration consumed the factory - and the lives of 146 garment workers (of roughly 500), all women, all between the ages of 11 and 48 (with the majority of them between 16 and 23). Many jumped to their deaths rather than be burned alive, and the voluminous amount of fabric at loose in the factory was the single most important reason for the speed of the flames, with locked and inward-swinging doors trapping the women inside and a single malfunctioning fire escape leading factors in high death toll.
109 to 120 workers killed, including several who jumped to their deaths
"hundreds of workers"
poor safety standards
wide range of ages, including the very young
If there is any cause for hope - a silver lining in this terrible textile-factory setting? - it is that the Triangle Fire led to significant changes in the workplace. So significant that they still affect work in the US today. Safety standards. Anti-sweatshop legislation. Unionization of workers. The development of what became the Occupational Safety and Health Administration.
So yes. Please. Shop local and tell Wal-Mart and other exploitative retailers that this is no longer acceptable.
I was thinking about the impact of PBS on my life earlier today... and realized my earliest must-see TV was Sesame Street (I was plopped in front of the tube (do you remember why the "The Tube" was called "The Tube"?) the day it aired, and grew up on Mr. Hooper - and Big Bird's sweet goofiness, mispronouncing Mr. Hooper's name every single time.)
So, I looked up the history of Sesame Street - and, indeed, of PBS - and realized it has been thirty years since Mr. Hooper passed away - the episode in which the cast spoke to the world of Mr. Hooper's death was aired thirty years ago this week, on Thanksgiving Day. I was 14, and remember crying like a baby because he was gone. I had also steadfastly refused to watch any part of that episode - until today. And you bet, I can still cry. Hard. He was family, you see...
I then began to think of the journey PBS (and NPR ) and I have taken together.
I remember the first time All Things Considered aired (am I really this old?), and so many other "firsts" in Public Radio - who knew that in the computer age - the age of the Internet, such a thing would survive - and thrive? I have listened to NPR/PRI, etc programming on transistor radios, early pushbutton AM/FM alarm clocks, high-end stereo systems, car stereos... you name it - including, now, the Internet (and multiple iPhone apps!).
I remember, incidentally, that, living in northwest Ohio as well as going to my other grandma in northeast Ohio, I learned French, not Spanish from Sesame Street; we were just south of Canada, you see. I am glad to have my rich French-Canadian accent (though my French-Canadian friends says I "boo-tchaire" their language horribly!), one I took with me to the Eiffel Tower. One that, with a great deal of further study, allowed me to reach out instead of demand in Paris so we could bring out the best in both cultures - and have an immensely enjoyable experience. Thank you!
I was a pianist for the first half of my life - classically-trained - and count NPR for widening my horizons - opera, Mahler, Bach, jazz, New Music, and very, very old music. I very clearly remember sign-off music in NW Ohio - Faure. The Pavanne for a Dead Child. Then, the sounds of the National Anthem... then nothingness. Time to go to sleep. To this day, I allow myself to drowse and take a moment away when I hear the Pavanne. Hard sometimes to change that which has become such an ingrained custom!
Then, there was James Burke and Connections - oh, how I STILL love that series, none more so than the original! For the first time I really began to understand the interconnectedness of all us as part of the human condition. I began to make, well, connections and put things together, sorted and ordered, in my mind. I loved the question, "Why?" (Still do!) I have all the companion books, sitting right here on the shelf, beside me. They remind me constantly of the ways - and sometimes very odd ways - in which history works.
Who could have lived through that time without knowing the sound - that very distinctive sound - of Carl Sagan's voice? Do you remember the piano music? The sounds of the theremin? The red planets, the rush of the ocean... "The cosmos is all that is, all that was or ever will be..." "lost somewhere between immensity and eternity, is our tiny planetary home, the earth" "our species is young and curious and brave..." (yes, I looked it up - but it was so very important to me to get it right - not speculate). He, too, is gone - and more's the pity; his influence helped shape my spirituality. My outlook on life, the past, the present and the future. "To find the truth we need imagination and skepticism both... but we will be careful to distinguish between speculation and fact." Good words for a historian. "We are made of star stuff..." Good words for a human being.
And NOVA... what wondrous things! Things I could never have imagined. Things as cutting edge as we could make it. I wonder if my astrophysicist NASA-JPL cousin might have been influenced by it as well?
You know? Those last three programs alone were enough to cut short any and all library visits, and self-curtailed my rehearsal schedules regularly. (NOBODY messed with my library time. Except for PBS programmers, evidently!)
One show that has lived with me for a very, very, very long time is American Experience - and it is one I take to my students. Perhaps the most important one for me is entitled "Influenza 1918" and reminds me of talking to one of my paternal great aunts, who graduated in 1918. Actually, her graduation never took place, because half her graduating class had died of the Spanish Flu (I am trying to remember, but I think exactly nine of 18 perished in the epidemic) and there was distinct fear of gathering. So they celebrated it quietly. At home. That pestilence respected no boundaries, no ages, no money. It killed indiscriminately. You could be healthy at dawn and dead by sunset. Neither my students - nor I - have experienced a fear like that, though I can certainly speak to the fear of the Cold War (Did anyone else's parents give them fits by saying, as you turned on and off lights from room to room, "What? Are you signalling the Russians now?" What a strange, terrifying time. Hard to believe what my generation has in common with my parents'... And please! I was at least turning the lights off!)
At every stage I have been influenced by the great minds brought to or made alive by Public Television and Public Radio. And I expect I will continue to be so for a long, long time - at least I certainly hope.
NPR is important. PBS is important. They're essential, even.
Please. Take time out this holiday season and give to something worthy. Don't ask for something. Give. And give generously. Give for Mr. Hooper. Give for Faure. But give. Your kids will never regret it.
It's interesting. Last night I was watching Alfred Hitchcock Presents on Netflix and realized that most of the guest actors - indeed AH himself - are gone. I remember losing Cary Grant, and Jimmy Stewart (and his late-night poetry readings on the set of Johnny Carson), and my... the list seems endless these days. Getting older is inevitable (at least we can hope - I know too many gone too early), and one of the worst parts of it is losing those whom have made deep impressions on our lives. My grandmother used to say that growing old wasn't a part of the mind, but rather of a failing body and the loss of friends who had been there for 30, 40, 50 and more years. I am reaching a point where I am attending more funerals and memorial services in a year than I ever did in the first 30 years of my life - put together. All my grandparents are gone; I had the great fortune of living life with four grandparents until 1995 when I was 27. My last surviving grandparent lived until I was three months less my fortieth birthday. Such changes. And so fortunate.
As an educator I try to keep on top of those things my youngest students do not have as collective memory - because they weren't born yet and I am getting so much older!! On the first or second day of classes, I usually ask students to chime in with their earliest historical memory - their earliest memory of a national or international event. It's a great icebreaker and begins to pull the class together with some camaraderie - and many questions for one another. The students aren't just sitting in a chair; they are sharing history. It's helpful for me as well to orient to their understanding of the world.
When I began teaching, about 3/4 of my students remembered 9/11 as a very early memory; now, very few do - even when I am teaching evening classes on-site. (Evening classes bring together people from more walks of life, more experiences and a wide range of ages not usually found in the daytime classes - at least that has been my experience - and the reason I love teaching them!). The eldest person I have taught? She was in her eighties, African American, and remembered bullying and pushing and forcing herself through physical barriers, poll taxes, and Jim Crow Mississippi to vote for FDR in his *first* election. She had many grandchildren - and two or three greats - in college. But they were all holding off graduating until she had. She did, and I was (and am) so proud of her. Heard something about her passing earlier this year, but just smiled and smiled; she'd done so much under such adverse conditions that it was hard to move the syllabus forward when she responded to a question! She was an amazing woman, and while I was just as exacting with her work as with every other person in the class, I enjoyed her immensely. As did each of her classmates.
The earliest-born family member in my memory was born in 1876 - my maternal great grandfather. He smelled of shaving soap mingled with his own gentle scent - body soap, perhaps? - had a scritchy chin from his ever-growing beard, sang Swedish lullabies to me - in Swedish - and had enormous hands. His hands really were incredibly large - his fingers as big as some nice-sized carrots; quite literally, he could not just press only one white key on the piano because his fingers were wider than the ivory would allow. He passed away when I was 4 - almost five - and I am the only grand of the twenty on that side who remembers him - at all. 1876, born ten years after the last American Revolutionary War vet (Lemuel Cook) died; he would have easily remember the last veteran of the War of 1812, who did not die until my great grandfather was 29. My students kind of freak out when I relate this experience - most of them have never known anyone born in the 1800s.
With Veteran's Day just behind us, I have been exploring my own memories of the soldiers I have known - or seen as someone on the sidewalks as a kid, watching the parades. When I was young, I remember Spanish-American War vets perched atop convertibles being driven in style in recognition of their sacrifices (James Morgan didn't die until 1993 - two years after we were married!); the WWI vets were young enough to have been MARCHING behind them; now we haven't a single WWI vet left in the *world* (Frank Buckles died last year).
Further, I was speaking with a friend of my parents' generation the other day - and he remembers Civil War vets in the parades (last one died in ... 1956!), and recalls the passing of the last survivor of Little Big Horn (died 1955).
Just as much a part of this "recall" is the coming of the telephone and automobiles (my eldest maternal great aunt (b. 1903) rode in the first automobile to come to their little town in Ohio); the disappearance of almost every one of the once-ubiquitous covered bridge from the landscape; the advance from flip-book animation to early silents to the Sound Age to Technicolor to Pixar and ILM/Skywalker Sound - and the types of viewing venues - the movie houses to drive-ins to the multiplex, etc; we morphed from prop planes (and from bi-wings to fixed singles with retractable gear) to jets; the development of the separate Air Force; the coming of the atomic age; the switch from steam locomotives to diesel, typewriters to computers; computer tape (and computers that ran on tubes) to 8" to 5 1/4" to 3 1/2" floppies to... flash drives and memory cards. I *vaguely* remember those 8" ones ... and they had something like 80 kb storage on them. I remember loading programs onto those immense paperweights known as desktop computers of the 1980s from 12 to 16 disks of media - and even at that, in order to run a program, you had to load it into memory *each time*. I had one of the first commercially-successful laptop computers; it weighed 14 pounds, ran on MS-DOS only, with two slots for 3 1/2" floppies.
My early life was filled with things like leaded gasoline and smoking on commercial airplanes (and in my very young life, it was expected you would dress up for the flights. Seriously. I had a big collection of bleached and starched white gloves for small hands.)
My first memory of a historical event? That's easy. Actually, there are two. As I have mentioned before, I remember Neil Armstrong landing on the moon in 1969. The other major memory? Nixon and all the problems from the Plumbers to the Resignation; it's influenced my politics - and my all-too-sarcastic distrust of anything coming out of any government - since then. I remember Ford falling down and over anything in his path - and Chevy Chase doing hilarious imitations for Saturday Night Live (the beginnings of which I also remember)...
So, before I go through every piece of nostalgia in my head, I would like to get back to the point at hand: students today have very different memories - and thus very different mindsets - than we "elders" possess. Where do I go each year to learn more about the incoming students each year? Well, Beloit College - The Mindset list. Check it out - I think there is something over which everyone reading this can weep!
Well, I need to run and work on my dissertation - which is, by the way, positioned in a time period of which *I* have no memory - the late 1800s... But I've known people who would have. What a privilege that was.
I have been pondering this post for a while now. Quite a while, actually - I started it sometime in August.
The question Lance is considering was, in a very similar theme albeit in a quite different way, to Facebook friends: "How would they recommend handling a mother-daughter talk on what it means to be an adult and assume the responsibilities and posture of an adult?"
I am wondering if F. Scott Fitzgerald already engaged this particular question of the American psyche in the Jazz Age: Roger dominated Benjamin's early life - his toy box and his friends - but never gave him the freedom and wonderment he finally found by growing into into childhood. Tearful fade to black.
The hard-line stance parents and other seemingly-responsible adults take toward gravitas and distancing from the "lesser" - the younger, the more "fragile," the "innocent" - grieves me, especially as our factory society takes our childhoods, and out of them pulls despair and sameness and dullness and an assumption that there are no color wheels, only, at most, shades of grey.
Allow me to digress a moment. This is going to feel for a moment as though I have thrown the stick into reverse while heading forward at light speed. :::nod to Benjamin:::
enter strangely mute 1800s actors
Back in the 1800s, Dartmouth College v Woodward (1819) interpreted the the Constitution as enabling the basic premise that corporations could be seen in an individual sense, with fewer rights than a human, but other, stand-alone rights that could legitimately elevate the corporate entity to exhibit and defend near-human liberties. (Remember, though, that this era also counted blacks as 3/5ths of a person, and Native Americans could not even become citizens of the continent they had previously inhabited, shaped, nurtured - distinct stratification of human rights as a whole clearly existed - clearly not via concept of social justice based in equality in the law.)
However, after the Civil War - and under the 14th Amendment, in particular - manufacturing and industry underwent a revolution, fully backed by the Supreme Court. Large monopolies, robber barons and even new ideas on personhood ruled their decisions: the case law established by the Slaughter-House Cases (a set of three appeals to the Court pitting enterprise against the person, decided in 1873 as the first real test and distinct interpretation of the 14th Amendment, as Reconstruction was coming to the end). The so-called Slaughter-House cases consisted of: Santa Clara County v Southern Pacific Railroad (1886); Pembina Consolidated Silver Mining Co. v Pennsylvania (1888).
Enter assembly line workers under robber barons, also mute
The development of the assembly line and Taylorism - roughly concomitant with the rise of the robber barons and the legal throes of a developing nation - dismissed the individual as well (Taylorism embraces a concept that elevates the idea of the "one best way" in production, right down to the precise repetitive hand positions (for instance) required of new factory workers). Taylorism was also extraordinary (though crushing to vast multitudes of workers who had previously had autonomy and creativity in their operational and crafting methods) in that it was easily taught - especially to the new waves of immigrants after the Civil War. The individual body - or even hand or finger - movements tended to be quite simple - but never really required an engagement of the mind. Generations of the uneducated toiled relentlessly - to the hands of the clock for the first time in history, as well - and manufacturing and industry became rote and disengaged from the unique arena of the creative, engaging, and intriguing mind we have developed as perhaps the defining mark of homo sapiens.
The natural "progression" in education came as corporations needed educated individuals - but not necessarily their expansive, inquiring, exploratory realm of our grey matter. This corporate ideal restricted hundreds of thousands - indeed, millions - to schooling and life in regimented factory towns and corporate-sponsored education. We learned to emphasize structured, non-experiential, racist, religion-based, hierarchical patterns and institutions despite the coming of the Progressive Era.(If you would like to see a fascinating presentation on the corporate bases of the American educational system, definitely see the TED lectures by Sir Ken Robinson - stunning! TED)
enter actors of current era (2012)
Regimentation of our grey matter more than a century and a half ago created problems I see today in
education - especially in the lack of acknowledgement, acceptance or
interest in the "color wheel" of life. As Simmens states about this new
generation of youth, "There is a palpable air of distrust, cynicism,
anger and despair that has permeated the world that our kids have
inherited and they have every right to be wary of adults. For it seems
that to be an adult, to be responsible, to be in charge as it were, you
need to forfeit your ability to be creative, compassionate and caring,
and there is a widespread rejection of the legitimacy of those in
enter aloof, immigrant workers
Back toward my backward-facing forward progression of ideas. "Progressives" were not entirely, well, progressive; the "Progressives" also embraced the reading of bumps on the head - phrenology - as a measure of intelligence; eugenics advocated the sterilization of those with "low IQs" (IQ measuring was in its infancy and revealed to the nation new racist ideas, too), genetic diseases, or traits that were deemed "undesirable"; nutritionists - a new professional group - advocated the blessings of 6000 calorie diets and the boiling of vegetables to mush... and so on. Needless to say, the rise of the Progressives did not mean progress in *all* areas.
Enter Melville Dewey, in shadow
Even that icon of Progressivism, Melville Dewey had some very Ameri- and Christo- centric views that have thoroughly entrenched themselves into our everyday life - and, I believe, inform us on the sorts of priorities we should have in our lives, especially as adults. However, I think most of you will disagree with the world he painted originally... and perhaps as it has continued:
Note the amount of space devoted to such concepts as Christian Theology (with "other religions") at the very end of the 200s; how Commerce and Communication (380) have needed to change over the years; the place of non-European (or even Northern European) languages (490s); changes due to the advancements in Astronomy (520) and Physics (530); the entire concept of "Useful Arts" found in the 600s (for instance, the 640s and 680s are fascinating as snapshots of his time - and the 640s of an upper-class American ideal, in particular); the fact that there is no room (unless you count 756) for other than European/American schools of painting, and the fact that the 780/790s are in almost no way reflective of current forms of music and musicianship, and, the types of "Amusements" we enjoy around the world; again, no non-European languages until the 890s; and the rather fascinating changes in the world since he conceived of the 900s / History. We Americans grew up exploring a library that was already skewed to place US on top and... THEM as addenda. Very, very interesting - especially when you consider the pervasiveness of his concepts. (Don't forget he didn't just create the DDC; his ideas are just as pervasive in the realm of education as in the library).
Exit Melville Dewey, sadly, shoulders humped as an old man
Enter exuberant Rosie the Riveter
Come World War II, the factory line was ever-more needed - and the women who manned the lines broke all production records to date to feed the war abroad. However, those are the same women who lost their jobs at the end of the war to the returning "breadwinners" despite their demonstrated positions and skills. Throughout the fifties and most of the sixties, women were often left unconsidered for jobs requiring any sort of unskilled or skilled labor; women took jobs that were separately-listed in want ads as "Women's Work" or similar. But what makes labor skilled: is it the rote performance of work, or thinking through the problem of why the threads don't fit the nut?
Exit the dejected working woman, stripped of vocation
Fast forward to today.
Enter the military-industrial complex
My husband was noting earlier that CEOs in the manufacturing sector state that there are plenty of manufacturing jobs available... but when they face application upon application upon application with poor-to-nonexistent grammar, no observable critical thinking skills, and no idea how to make quick and accurate decisions - well, you might consider the people who *can* make F-16s as few and far between. Do you really want someone who cannot read a manual - let alone schematics - building some of the most expensive aircraft in the world? Not to mention the importance of those craft in military application? I can understand these CEOs' reluctance. The assembly line has come back as the serpent who is eating his tail - the under-educated snake cannot manage to perform its work without education, but effective education is more and more out-of-reach to the majority of people.
Why is this the case?
Enter the Geroge W. Bush Administration, tutti
I have a thought on this, and I don't know that you will like it. I think we have an utterly lost generation. A generation subjected to No Child Left Behind, teaching to the test, and, well, No Critical Thinking Skills Needed. Everything must be qualitatively examined via the bubble (Which bubble? The bubble on the scoring sheet - or the bubble in which we place each child?). But when I stand before a class of Freshmen / Sophomores and ask them questions that require complex answers to "Why?", for instance, I, more often than not, look out on a sea of blank faces. It takes a semester of enticing, cajoling, encouraging, demanding to begin to awaken minds long-dulled by rote recitation and frustrated primary/middle/secondary school teachers who have no autonomy in their lesson planning. When I was attending those schools, our teachers loved nothing more than to tease out a new facet of our minds, and lived on the moments when our faces lit up with new understanding. I don't know that public school teachers have those moments anymore. That's too bad, because, despite the manufacturing-style regimentation of schools, I received a superb education.
Fade omnes, remain in background, bowed heads, silent witnesses
Introduce YOUNG PERRY
I knew how to form interesting and informative complex sentences - and why they were complex - because I had diagrammed them (something I finally appreciate). I knew how to recognize chemical reactions even in foods - because we merged parts of our chemistry education with biology education for a richer, fuller experience. My classmates and I drove our physics teacher nuts when we applied calculus to physics problems far more easily than the "long form" equations - but we learned the long-form equations because it was another avenue of understanding. Everyone - EVERYONE - demanded proper English in oral and written material. Whether they were wholly successful is another thing - but it was a demand, not an option (I see *maybe* four students a semester - from both classes combined - who really know how to incorporate knowledge with the written word. Maybe.).
Solliloquy, thoughfully, OLDER PERRY
So. Is there something to regimentation? Sometimes. Times tables, the abbreviations for chemicals - some of them are just slog work (and yes, I know that Montessori education and Waldorf and some other schools do make it somewhat easier to remember these ... but when it comes down to it, you had better know your numbers - and why the elements have the names they do. Where, oh where, is Latin in schools these days?). But teaching to standardized tests as though your job depended on it - because it does - is insane. Measures of success are multifaceted (F-16s?) and nowhere near all students will do well when faced with the stress of filling bubbles day in and day out. I am constantly riddled with the question: do I maintain a standard that *all* students must meet? Or, do I look at each student, challenge him or her from their starting point and see how much progress they make during the semester based on the standards? I demand high levels of skill - but then again, I ask for varying kinds of work - not just bubble-filling. (In fact, I have only asked for multiple choice once in all my years teaching - and it was an unmitigated disaster for the students). I prefer short answer - and even more - essay questions. I work with students to tone down the stress of writing essays - for instance, you can always write an essay if you have a fist full of five: opening paragraph (thumb), closing paragraph (pinkie) and supporting paragraphs (other fingers). Same concept applies whether you are writing a response on a test or a dissertation; all that differs is the number of paragraphs. Same concept. Always. Have your hand with you? You can write an essay.
So, as you can probably guess, there is not a pat answer to what I would expect out of adulthood - what I *do* expect of adulthood. Let me see if I can come up with a list (how regimented of me!):
reading abilities to their best ability
ability to prioritize appropriately to the skills required
respect of self and one another
self-confidence without arrogance
make mistakes - and comprehend they are not necessarily signs of failure
Please notice that none of these things have anything to do with grades or scoring or anything else of that order - but rather life skills. Whether you received an A in Calculus the second six weeks of your senior year in high school is something to which I am relatively indifferent. I would rather see you exhibit any one of these life skills than be able to solve a complex derivation. Might you be able to get from Point A to Point B? Via Point V is frequently fine with me - sometimes it's the journey! Or, if you insist on the derivation, can it be applied in theory or in practice? Can you recognize the difference?
Chorus, stage right
We'll never agree on a One Right Way to present material, to evaluate, to allow students to progress based on some form of evaluation - surely Taylorism continues to exist in the minds of pencil-pushers who insist on testing kids to death - but that is not how I roll. And, we will never agree on the One Right Way to raise kids.
But we could certainly do with more of the above, I think. Imagine the different world we might embrace. Imagine the things we can learn from our kids as they play - with their limitless and voracious imaginations. Ask them to color our world without shades of grey.
And Benjamin Button? Perhaps we need to realize sooner than he did that play and joy and inquisitiveness are to be valued far and above the ability to understand knot theory as it applies to something hanging under your chin.
Flourish, exeunt omnes, curtain.
(Did anyone notice the literary references... and Benjamin Button... and... aw, it doesn't work if you have to explain it. Ta-dum-DUM)
Would like to briefly share my philosophy on history. It's short and to the point, I think:
History is not all about dates; for us, as human beings, the only remembrance many will leave are the dates on their tombstones, unfortunately. But, history, to me, is told in the stories in between. Those are what really matter. Dates are place-markers - what hold history together, what allow us to make sense of the different threads of different stories. The stories in between those dates...those are the real history - and if we don't know those, we won't remember the dates, because they are of no consequence to us; they have no meaning.
Yes, it is essential to remember certain days and dates - absolutely you, as an American historical scholar must know dates like December 7, 1941 - how could you not? But what is the story that makes that date so important? What surrounds it? What makes the story so tantalizing and interesting. Ahhhhh... there's the power and the fascination of history.
So sally forth, and love the history around you - you do know that history resounds in everything you wear, everything you touch, every emotion you feel, don't you? Make it come alive. Investigate. Love it.
I am going to make a very rare, very personal statement about Neil Armstrong:
I am so saddened by Neil Armstrong's passing a few hours ago.
I had the deep honor and pleasure to have met him on two occasions.
The first was during the week of the opening of the Neil Armstrong
Museum and Planetarium. (it is now called by a different name) We had
gone with a group just to be part of such a historic event in Wapakoneta, OH.
I was young - clearly so (was I in my teens yet, even?) - and I just wanted to shake hands with the man
whose landing was THE first memory I have of a historic event. Of the event itself, I
remember having been *very* bored until the last several minutes - then
WOW! We went outside that evening and wondered at the fact *someone* was
waaaaaay up there, walking on it.
I am part of a generation
who believes that, with ingenuity and great willpower, great things can
happen. I am part of a generation that *programmed* some of the very
first available personal computers (the Internet joke called the TRS-80 - AKA
"Trash-80s") - less than ten years after that landing. I just uncovered
my BASIC textbook from those days (historians are pack rats), and I remember using it for Commodore
64s as well. Yes, folks, we did some neat things with those huge floppy
disks and 48k of memory. (I did not write that incorrectly; 48K of
memory. Later 256k, but...). My father programmed with punch cards and reel-to-reel tapes; we had punch cards for grocery lists for probably 15 years after he left that institution.
So the first time I met him was at
the Museum. We were loading back on the bus, and I realized that lone,
quiet man really was Neil Armstrong. I ran out of the queue over to him
and said something along the lines of, "Mr. Armstrong? May I shake your
hand? Because of you I realize that we can do extraordinary things."
He leaned against his car and asked what things interested me, and I
remember telling him, "history, math and physics." He asked a few more
questions - I am ashamed I don't remember what, though I do remember him
asking me if *I* had goals, and I said, "Yes." he said, "Good. Always
work toward your goals."
He then asked me if I had any questions for him. I did.
I asked him, "Why?"
He pondered it a moment, and then said, "Because it was my job, and as
part of my job we made goals many hadn't considered. It was my job."
The last thing I asked him was, "Did you enjoy it?"
He kind of ducked his head and said, "Yes. I suppose I did."
He said goodbye then and I ran back to the bus, filled with impatient people.
But I spoke with someone who had also dreamed - and succeeded in a way
previously thought impossible. And somehow, that made all the
Fare thee well, you sweet, humble man. I miss you much.
P.S. I found a quote attributable to Einstein that seems to sum up Mr. Armstrong's philosophy better than any poor squawk I might make: "If you want to live a happy life, tie it to a goal, not to people or objects." (From Ernst Straus' memory) Armstrong succeeded.
I am nearing the end - really, the final end - of the remaining research for my dissertation. The next several months will be spent in reflection and writing (and checking, checking and rechecking source material) - then final submission to my committee - and then the defense. Whew. As I said, finally. PhDs are not easily attained or granted.
However, the closer the end becomes, the more anxious I become not only about the completion of this particular body of work, but also the conceptualization of things to come. Focus is hard to come by some days, and there are times - one must hope less frequently than the work - when I daydream about the topics and ideas I will consider next in my next mini-corpus. Daunting, scary - and incredibly tantalizing. I have not only an invitingly-designed and hard-bound notebook of research for the current project (I really *must* emphasize the value of it; all your work in one place, easily noted with tabbies, and close at hand - make regular copies, though!) ... but another, soft-sided one (basically a steno pad) in which I toss ideas for "later". Since "later" is "sooner" now, this, well... dawdling... becomes a fight over its increasing encroachment on what I *am* doing.
So, my constant struggle becomes one of both great self-discipline (Satellite TV? GONE.) and great creativity let loose on the page ... versus - well, see above.
After so many years delving into a topic that remains, to me, endlessly interesting, even cutting off the research process is difficult. There *must* be an end to this, and it *must* arrive soon. Either that, or I will have a three-volume, thousand-page, 30-appendix dissertation. Not generally considered advisable (or, respectful of your committee, for that matter - best not to irritate the lot of them; their time is not unlimited, either).
As I am fighting a bout of summertime pneumonia, I have had much time to think - perhaps far too much. I fight the dual temptations of dissertation and advancement. However, this has also been a good opportunity to consider the bounds of what I am writing, the end to this particular creative work. I actually feel grief for the final product. As in life, all things must come to an end, and this shall, too. A part of my mind shouts to the mountain tops: NO! I can relate to Albert Einstein when he said: "I love to travel, but hate to arrive." (I am quite fond Einstein - as you shall see)
So, how do you confine yourself to self-discipline yet encourage the creative process?
I have had the great fortune to be mentored by a marvelous woman - the chair of our department and a distinctly good professor - who is in so many ways a role model for me. I have closely watched her particlular version of the melding of self-discipline and the creative process as well as her ability to juggle as a 'gleeman' an astonishing array of what the juggler calls 'props'. Frankly, I would have to be propped just to do it all.
What I have learned from her covers more ground than I can possibly put to words. However, these are some of the more fertile and pertinent practices and ideas I have observed as she has put history to the page:
Spend time in thought tossing around the argument. Engage your creativity AND your intellect. Do you have an idea snippet of something you are pretty certain you can develop? Or do you need a little more time with sources before you can define any of your objectives? Is there enough source material to even carry out your project beyond mere speculation?
Objectives are malleable, and they change as you discern more and more of your topic's importance, place, time and story arc.
Talk to others. As with teaching (and she is an astonishing teacher), you really can't teach a subject until you yourself can put it to words. Trust me, I have spent more than a few sleepless nights writing and rewriting a mash of words only to find that they don't remotely reveal an objective, or a concept of that into which I am digging. Say it. Bounce it around. MAKE it make sense, and feel comfortable with constructive criticism. Criticism is not about you, but rather the conveyance of thought by others to help shape and pursue an idea worth the kind of effort you wish to expend. Allow yourself the freedom to pester colleagues, fascinate the right people at cocktail parties, and cherish your family when they tell you they really don't understand what it is you want to do!
In keeping with (3), find a way to create a concise cocktail snippet (sometimes called an elevator speech) that quickly conveys the topic - and say it with assurance and enthusiasm; if you cannot excite the "average" consumer about your work, how on earth will your editors - and, ultimately, your end readers - be enthused about it? Boring does not sell.
Excavate your sources with relish and an open mind. You cannot go into sources expecting them to conform to what you believed before you researched.
When you start writing - and frankly as you continue the writing process - develop a way to reveal obtuse language and imprecise thought. I read aloud. Some read backwards. Some let their work "rest" and then revisit it. You should be open to new and novel ways to create an incisive and clear narrative. (And I am the first to admit that this may be neither incisive nor clear.)
While not specifically from my mentor, these are clearly in the spirit of her teaching: Einstein made several points about the creative process and the conveyance of ideas - as well as the process of self-discipline. Here are a few attributed to him (I am snagging them from en.wikiqute.com, where people have gone to great pains to actually make certain they are attributable - a refreshing thing on the Internet):
"If you can't explain it simply, you don't understand it."
"Whoever (sic) undertakes to set himself up as a judge of Truth and Knowledge is shipwrecked by the laughter of the gods."
"We can't solve problems by using the same kind of thinking we used when we created them."
"Logic will take you from A to B. Imagination will take you everywhere." (may not be attributable to Einstein)
"A man must learn to understand the motives of human beings, their illusions, and their sufferings." (probably AE)
"Time and space are modes by which we think and not conditions in which we live."
Take a position. Don't argue all sides of a point. After all, you are writing what you "know" - and not from another's "knowledge"; anything else constitutes plagiarism. If you are going to fancy yourself an expert, be familiar with the rounded understandings but keep in mind that, in general, experts are generally not generalists.
Don't be stubborn. It closes your mind to subtleties - and can sometimes lead you trippingly down a downright wrong path. Revisionist history is rarely good history, and often comes from a closed, stubborn mind that wants to enforce a world view first, and history second.
Ask for editing. Good editing makes all the difference in the world, and you should weigh the suggestions carefully. Don't be afraid to stick by your points in general - and certainly in specific when necessary - but editors are there for a reason. They are NOT your enemies.
And again, later in the process, still don't be afraid of constructive criticism; it is the only thing that will even come close to the unrestrained public approbation - or unrestrained criticism of you and your writing personally - when your work is published.
No sentence is interpreted by one in the same manner as another. Work to make yourself clear, but understand that muddy water will still result.
Take pride in what you do - but don't let that be your downfall; what you have learned in the present should be differently-inflected - or perhaps proven entirely wrong - in the future. Be glad, for that means you have grown, and that people are considering your work carefully.
DO NOT EVER pull a quote or idea outside of its context. Context is EVERYTHING. And it is that context with which we will - or rather, should - never-endingly wrestle.
Enjoy your finished product. You may know it is incomplete (all history is incomplete), but an end always comes and you must be satisfied with that in the present. After all. Why are you doing this, anyway? If you don't take satisfaction in your work, you are in the wrong field.
And, finally (a final comment for now; everything evolves), enjoy what you do. People are endlessly interesting, and if you cannot relate to that you are a poor specimen to represent the Humanities and Social Sciences - and an even poorer historian. People are never a mere collection of tombstone dates, but are, rather, stories waiting to be told.
And, finally for me, all this may be wrong.
Thank you so very much, my mentor, my professor - and for your considered advice and in all things history, and especially within the human condition. You are a rare gem. Thank you again. You have influenced a generation of historians who will never forget the revel and rigor you have brought to our lives.
(Inspired by and for Dr. Janann Sherman, Professor and Chair, Department of History, The University of Memphis, Memphis, TN)
When I was an undergrad at Northwestern University, I studied early English interpretations - particularly those printed during the reign of England's Queen Elizabeth I, and the *very* early portion of James I's time on the throne - of the apocryphal book of Judith (Note: The Book of Judith is apocryphal in Judaism and most Protestant sects; Catholics and the Eastern Orthodox Church do include it in their translations of the Bible). For those of you who wonder, my thesis was titled Beheading Misogyny: Early English Translations of the Book of Judith. To explain the approach, I had particular interest in the ways in which the English of this time period viewed Judith's legacy - for the good or not. I found that the majority viewpoint was quite anti-woman: women with power were dangerous and could easily cause the downfall of a monarch as Judith: she beheaded Holofernes, and, ignobly - but triumphantly, for the Israelis, anyway - placed his head on a spike on the walls of their city as a means of announcing defeat to the Assyrians. Another interpretation warns all men that drinking to excess around women - as Holofernes did Judith (she had, in fact, gotten Holofernes drunk by beguiling him with her feminine wiles and encouraging the heavy imbibing) - would lead to their downfall. However, one of the most notable pro-woman (dare I say feminist?) translations was one of an English-speaking individual as reinvented by the highly-prolific French commentator, Christine de Pisan (var. Pizan). She reveled in Judith's power, and held her up as a tremendous example for assertive and forward-thinking women. A book you may enjoy that includes this translation is Christine de Pisan's Book of the City of Ladies (Penguin ed.). I used a scholarly edition available at NU (I don't recall which one) but as I look at Amazon.com, I see that there is now a plethora of "original" Middle French, early English, and modern English translations as well as quite a few scholarly works, particularly scrutinizing The City of Ladies in its historical and feminist contexts. Makes me feel kind of humble to have been at the forefront of this trend (I don't see even one that predates my work, which is cataloged at NU).
I had intended to explore the historical aspects of the Book far, far, far more, but it took me half a year to render the Book, in 6 different interpretations, onto the page. As I recall, these were only print editions and not inscribed (well past the invention of Gutenberg printing press, and into its common use), but just *reading* some of them was nearly impossible; in Old and Middle English, there was no common agreement on spelling and sentence structure, much less the spacing of words on a page. Alternate spellings and some lines that were simply a jumble of letters representing words from beginning of the paragraph to end, only broken up by line breaks (which could, actually, split a word without warning), became my life. Further, I created a chart of each translation's content compared to the Vulgate, indicating which interpretation included which details. Incredibly time-consuming, but ultimately quite illuminating (no pun intended).
Where I am going, though, is that early in my research I wanted to look at *one* more interpretation of the Book that was held at the Vatican. I duly sent off my request for viewing or copy, and about three months later I received the response from the Holy See: the Book in which I was interested was held in their now-well-known - and much-derided - Archives and was not available for public viewing, research or any other reason - even academic. I was stunned. I mean - this was a copy of part of one of the most holy books in their canon! Why couldn't I see it, even in copy? I was baffled (still am to a certain extent, especially given the recent claim by Rome that they have been open and candid regarding their holdings since 1924...).
To understand my reaction, there needs to be recognition that my study was entirely by hand in the late 80s-early 90s. This research was performed painstakingly by hand, almost entirely from microfilm, and based on laborious bound-book research, particularly in the first volume of the Short Title Catalog (STC): Early English Books in Print 1475-1640 (STC I). I also must state for the record that, because it *was* hand research and not as comprehensive as our current search capabilities would render it, I *certainly* missed much relevant information. There was no Internet to review and discover that there was even such a thing as the "Vatican Secret Archives," and there were few books written on the topic as well. So, when I received the heavy, parchment-like envelope with its filigree stamps and return address - and my address in beautiful, flowing Scribner's handwriting - I was certain it would contain directions how to request and view the information I sought. Instead it consisted of that one, basic sentence refusing my request. As I recall, it was that sentence and a short "we're sorry" and a signature.
Now, I must concede that the Vatican is still closely guarding the vast, vast majority of their holdings (in some sources listed as millions of documents taking up some vast 90 linear kilometers of material); this release is of but 100 documents. As the article states,
The documents in the exhibition are only a tiny fraction of the hundreds of thousands of documents in the pope’s archive, which also includes the popes' correspondence with such historical figures as Michelangelo, Voltaire, Mozart, Hitler and even Abraham Lincoln.
The Vatican archives are typically only seen by closely scrutinized researchers and scholars.
Ahhhh, to see those Hitler documents. In their unexpurgated entirety.
In this day of the drumming up and beating down of heroes, as is wont to happen particularly in election years in which candidates want to evoke the names of their own illustrious predecessors (think Reagan, Kennedy, Roosevelt, Lincoln), it stands to mind that standing to one's mind is a risky business.
When is it you decide that you are of the same material of those you relate to your followers... or even that the illustrious were really who people say they were?
Historical judgements are notoriously slippery, even (especially?) from those who were closest to these characters... you think because you knew someone and write about them, you know them as a brother or sister. Then, you find out that, much to your surprise and unawares, they were slipping out the side door at night doing risky, dirty business. Or, in reverse, you judged them poorly at the time when actually they were French Resistance fighters risking their own life for those around them. Extreme closeness usually does not good history make, though your opinion will, perhaps, eventually count more. Probably after you are dead, actually. History works that way.
So how do you make equivalencies? How do you judge? *Can* you make equivalencies and judgments that appeal to the present and future based on a blurry past?
In so very many ways, context is everything. You may claim Franklin Roosevelt as your political hero and progenitor, for instance... but was, say, the National Industrial Recovery Act - a part of his New Deal - the work of a hero by promoting monopolies and collusive pricing practices (in direct opposition to several Supreme Court decisions)? Sit in his wheelchair, wear his shirts, shave his face, and think about it a while. Was this part of the New Deal noble - or its opposite?
An even wider view of Roosevelt throws allegations of Socialism in the New Deal and, yes, in some cases a type of imperialism as he and Churchill and Stalin reset their envisioning of the post-war new world order.
Yet, he established a virtually self-perpetuating old-age and infirmity insurance system through Social Security at a time in which a dreadful number of individuals in these circumstances were relegated to poor houses, and worse, the streets and then the Potters' fields... And yes, his direct impact in the war effort likely did save lives - though, many would ask, why did we involve ourselves in "someone else's war" when we had vowed to never do that again after the traumas of the Great War. Can you weigh that opinion against the very real truth of freeing Holocaust survivors?
To bring it a little closer into the present, though, many *do* attempt the broad-brush approach. They see heroes where scoundrels reside - or they see evildoing when pure intentions were propelling decisions and people forward. And then they hold these individuals up - in carefully-worded remouldings of their characters to fit present political expediencies - and state "I am as He" or "I am as She." (or the opposite and very indignant denial of a famous historical individual as seen in so many cases - "I am most certainly *not* as She!")
As the president of Washington and Lee, Ruscio points out that such posturing is nonsense, and that working to accept the humanity - and sometimes the inhumanity - the successes and failings, of individuals of complex and often conflicting facets of personalities and beliefs is not the task of the present, except, perhaps, to understand the complex nature of human relations - at their best, and their worst.
The Cincinnati Subway is a rather interesting odd chapter in the history of the old Midwest, and this one bears a bit of a retelling. Now I must reveal I am not originally from Memphis; I hail from the Buckeye State (yes, Ohio, with her 88 counties and MUCH COOLER WEATHER right now... we hit 109 with a heat index of 129 today... but I digress) so I might be a tad, um, proud of my stata mater (I am also certain *that* is not how *that* is spelled!!! Ahh well.... sounded good anyway!)
As many of you know, I have enjoyed in the past some somewhat-less-than-smart (read: not necessarily within the letter of the law...), um, urban caving on some very sunny days; but not when planned flush-out of the drains by MLGW is scheduled (MLGW is one of those parent companies like Ma Bell who oversees everything in town with an iron fist and with the Police at their beck and call... well sometimes). So, this interests me. A lot. There are *so* many websites devoted to underground adventuring in old, abandoned, transit stations - and I am quite a devotee.
This does not mean I condone it in others. Stay within the law and only do such utter (and frankly it is sometimes) stupidity - at least not alone.
You might enjoy some of these sites, if this topic interests you enough:
Teaching is a wondrous process for both faculty and student. Not only am I forced to learn my subject areas to the point I can readily engage students in the art of critical thinking via showing other points of view, but, I also find myself encouraging their thought processes and offering ideas that advance or challenge them a little bit out of their comfort zone - but using a logical (almost Socratic) approach. The inspire me tremendously, and I wonder sometimes if I get more out of the effort of engaging each student in their ideas than they are able to elicit from me. What a great and truly lovely way to do things! The more they challenge me and their fellow class students, the more excited I become. This *definitely* is the place for me!
The discussion I just scored enveloped settlers through the establishment of the United States and beyond, and how their conceptualization not only decimated Native Americans populations, but also forced Native peoples more and more West until they were relegated to the most infertile and undesirable lands in the country as it became. I have 26 students in the course, and each of them seems to come up with a totally new viewpoint, and very vibrant answer, and as yet they have *all* been quite respectful of one another. Kudos!
Because this chapter and its readings follow Native Americans from their oldest remembered history through much of the 20th century, there is more than enough opportunity to find something for fertile fodder that interests you - and my students seem to be eating this stuff up. I view my role as a facilitator in these discussions a vital one; they get to see how critical thought moves though me... and in the process, I voluminously encourage even more thought through them to explore critical understanding in ways they have not necessarily considered yet.
Since the course is intended as a Freshman / Sophomore level college course, I have found that this seems to help with retention and, in the process of engagement as lifelong intellectual enjoyment, What a rewarding thing!
However, I have found that after so many years in public and private education that does *not* for the most part engage students in this critical thinking exploration come into my course and see things in black and white without greys in between. So pulling them along in a more Socratic idea of engagement is something new - and something that interests them, actually. Tonight I ordered two books: Socratic Circles: Fostering Critical and Creative Thinking in Middle and High School by Matt Copeland; and, What's the Big Idea?: Question-Driven Units to Motivate Reading, Writing and Thinking by Jim Burke. I rarely buy books these days, but I think these will help me in the classroom - digitally and otherwise - become an even better teacher.
So... what are we studying now?
Well, many dove in right away on the idea that Native Americans were always fully and reverently engaged in land, game vegetation, other natural resources preservation; But were they? The overarching theme since the 1970s or so was that Europeans came into North American and thoroughly exploited the "always peaceful" people. But how did they exploit the Native Americans they encountered? This has actually become exceptionally fertile ground in this class. Such fascinating thoughts and answers. We're on our way.
Questions such as, "How do you think the federal government justified the existence of - and forced attendance in - Indian Schools?"; "Is the idea of Native Americans as "savages" tied into the conceptualization of how other groups of exploiters defined "civilized" (and how and why they used those terms)?"; "Did previously-unobserved natural resources on land described as a reservation cause friction or outright movement of Native Americans tribes to less productive land so others could exploit them?"; "How did Thomas Jefferson's idea of an agrarian economy motivate the ways in which people on reservation land were treated? Or not?"; How do you think the federal government justified the existence of - and forced attendance in - Indian Schools?; "In what ways did European settlers attempt to circumvent laws previously passed to protect Native Americans on their lands and ways of life? Did they succeed?"
NOTE: I am using a very careful kind of questioning here. I am studiously avoiding most questions that involve a yes/no answer; by asking more complex questions (but not necessarily longer questions in terms of word counts) that necessitate critical thinking more and demand "how and why" answers I work to avoid student response and creativity ruts. It's one thing to say "NO! ABSOLUTELY NOT!" and another thing entirely to say "Why or why not?")
Moving forward from here
One of the best parts of working with these students is that they are the most *respectful* group of students I have *ever* taught. They engage with each other and the readings extraordinarily well, and I couldn't be happier. Again, I want to continue to develop advanced critical thinking skills - that is one of the less-emphasized items in high school curricula or goals. So very sad, because that was not *at all* the way I was brought up, from my earliest education through now. THAT was a fundamental belief - every teacher pressed every student into some form of engagement and expected us to rise above what we thought we knew. Now, students come into my classrooms and exhibit rote behavior and not engagement. FRUSTRATING!
HOWEVER, I absolutely intend that, but the end of the semester, we will have gone a long way toward developing these skills - and modify some of the writing skills many lack. We'll get there one week at a time! But we *will* get there!
American Humanist Association Consider, if you will, the bases of moral behavior and action outside of organized religion. Humanism is, by definition, a discourse on humankind's best - and worst - behavior. It is kind, loving and gentle, while at the same time steeped in lively, civil debate. I don't think I will ever fall *out* of love with the humanists!
Council for Secular Humanism This is an equally favored site alongside the AHA, encompassing the essence of my personal beliefs. If you want to learn more about who I am as a person, you might consider stopping in here for a while.
I'm A Cow, Can't You SEE? Quite hilariously offbeat - and not necessarily safe for work, not so much for the language (although there certainly IS some of THAT!) but rather for the animation... You've been warned.
Measuring Worth Hands down one of the most valuable (pun intentional) sites on the Internet created with the intent of giving historical financial data meaning relative one year to another. I use this with my students *every* semester, and it never fails to awe. I've watched it grow from a bare-bones site to something quite juicy - and better with each iteration!
OneLook Dictionary Search My all-time favorite dictionary metasearch engine; if you can't get to the OED, this is the next best thing.
RefDesk Can't find it online? Try RefDesk! I use it at work constantly when I have a tough reference question, though for use with customers you have got to be mighty familiar with it.
Speaking of Faith / On Being Krista Tippett explores issues of faith, morals and civil discourse within - and without - religion. The topics are always interesting and it remains one of the most fascinating sites on the internet. To me, this represents one of the better outreach programs on public radio, and she opens your eyes to world religions in ways you have never considered. Broadcasts available online, and, books available at your local independent bookseller!
The Atlantic Online Ahhhhh... now *this* is in-depth news and social science coverage. Probably my all-time fave magazine, whether online or in print.
Unitarian Universalist Association A faith of open hearts and free minds. There is a search function to find a UU church in your area, including contact information and links to individual church websites, where applicable.
Urban Legends Reference Pages Before you send me that e-mail about marauding bands of dissolute youth throwing molotov cocktails through open windows at stoplights, READ THIS FIRST.