REMEDIAL NATIVE AMERICAN HISTORY – THE INCONVENIENT INDIAN

THE INCONVENIENT INDIAN – A Curious Account of Native People in North America

By Thomas King

University of Minnesota Press
Publication Date: September 1, 2013

272 Pages

Before starting it, I was a bit dubious about the book. The title seemed just a bit … I don’t know. Off-center? I wasn’t sure if I was about to read history, anecdotes, opinion, humor or what.

It turned out to be all of the above and more. This is an entertaining book — humorous, elegantly written and witty. It’s also serious, but the seriousness is somewhat cloaked by its style. Unlike so many books written by oppressed minorities that aim — almost exclusively — to make one feel guilty for not being one of the oppressed, this book helps you help see the world through the eyes of Native Americans. What we see is beauty, horror and hilarity … a mad world in which you can’t trust anyone and you have to make your own rules because that’s the only way to survive.

We have slaughtered our Native Americans. Hated them, admired, adulated, tortured, enslaved, jailed and utterly misunderstood them since our first encounters.

The single thing we non-Natives have never done is accept the Native American claim to this country as more legitimate than ours. At the core of the relationship between Native peoples and the white “settlers” was and will always be land. It was theirs. We wanted it. We took it. They objected. We killed them. And we kept the land and tried improve our position by slander and slaughter.

These days, feelings towards Native American runs the gamut from awe, to bigotry and loathing. Despite the passing of centuries, there is little understanding. That the Native community is less than eager to let outsiders into their world should surprise no one. Their experience with us has not been reassuring. To quote Calvera from The Magnificent Seven: “Generosity. That was our first mistake.”

For anyone interested in discovering the meaning of cognitive dissonance, growing up Native in today’s America is a good start. Natives are by no means the only minority to have to hold completely incompatible world views simultaneously, but Natives have a legitimate claim to first place for the most cock-eyed and complex relationship with the larger society in which they must live.

This isn’t exactly history. It isn’t exactly not. It’s stories, history, opinions and anecdotes presented in a non-linear, almost conversational style. It is easy to read, lively and not at all pretentious. It shouldn’t surprise anyone, but probably will. Logic would dictate that our Native population regard us with at the very least, skepticism and possibly deep-rooted hostility.

This isn’t a deep analysis of the history of this relationship, though for some I suppose it would be revelatory. I would call it “Native American History Lite.” It is a good starting place for those who don’t know anything — or know a lot of things, all of which are wrong.

About the author:

Thomas King is an award-winning novelist, short story writer, scriptwriter, and photographer. His many books include the novels Medicine River; Green Grass, Running Water; Truth and Bright Water; two short story collections, One Good Story, That One (Minnesota, 2013) and A Short History of Indians in Canada (Minnesota, 2013); nonfiction, The Truth About Stories (Minnesota, 2005); and the children’s books A Coyote Columbus Story, Coyote Sings to the Moon, Coyote’s New Suit, and A Coyote Solstice Tale. King edited the literary anthology All My Relations and wrote and starred in the popular CBC radio series, The Dead Dog Café. He is the recipient of a Lifetime Achievement Award from the Western American Literary Association (2004) and an Aboriginal Achievement Award (2003), and was made a member of the Order of Canada in 2004. He has taught Native literature and history and creative writing at the University of Lethbridge, the University of Minnesota, and the University of Guelph and is now retired and lives in Guelph, Ontario.

The Inconvenient Indian is available in Kindle, Hardcover and Paperback and worthwhile in any format.

UNDERSTANDING GEN X AND Y … SAY WHAT?

Daily Prompt: Generation XYZ

I’m Gen W. So I assume my parents (may they rest in peace) were Gen V, which generation is pretty much gone. My generation — aka The Baby Boomers — have become … trumpets and drumroll … The Older Generation.

My 6th Grade class.

This is so weird. I was always the youngest kid in my class, the wunderkind, mature for my age. Now I’m just mature. Or at least old. I don’t know about mature. I think I’m still a kid wrapped in a messed-up body. When I look in a mirror, I don’t see the me I am. I see a composite of all the mes I’ve ever been.

Gen X, my son’s group, are now in their late 30s and early to mid 40s. What an odd bunch they are. So many of them grew up convinced they were destined — and deserving — of everything. Some of them got the message that to achieve that glorious destiny, you had to work. A bunch of them, including my kid, didn’t clearly hear that part of the message … or, having heard it, felt they were exempt. Probably my fault. Everything is my fault, right?

I provided a good example. I worked hard and long. The kid’s father worked obsessively. All the adults these Gen X-ers knew as they were growing up worked long hours. We collectively believed in education and work. It would redeem us. We were willing to serve our time as grunts before expecting to be promoted. Yet I remember hearing my son say “I don’t want to waste my life working all the time like you, my father and Garry.” Say what? That was when I knew we had a serious disconnect. Garry was insulted. I was too but hey, he’s my kid. I can’t stay mad.

96-KKCheer-3a

Well, he’s sorry now. A lot more than a dollar short and many years late. The “success will come because I want it” didn’t work out and belated quick-fix education became worthless when the economy collapsed. I tried to warn him. I have friends with similar kids. We all tried.

As for Gen Y, my granddaughter’s age group? They think it’s all about their personal happiness. They are entitled to a stress-free life. Anyone who forces them to do anything which doesn’t give them immediate satisfaction is a bully or an abuser. Not to put too fine a point on it, but they are clueless. It’s scary the nonsense they believe.

Clueless or not, reality will bite them in the ass. We will pass away. So will their parents. They won’t be able to run to mom for comfort when the mean boss tells them they have to work weekends. Or find themselves working a lifetime of minimum wage jobs and living in grinding poverty.

It makes me sad. There are so many who are doomed to disappointment and failure because they don’t get it. It must have been me, us, our generation. We wanted to help them have a good life but somehow omitted the connection to achievement through personal effort and dedication.

Who knew it would backfire in such an awful way?

Other Voices:

  1. Secrets of the universe | Perspectives on life, universe and everything
  2. Ethical Professor Boynton (Part 1) | The Jittery Goat
  3. Really! How much more :-) (for my US friends) | Perspectives on life, universe and everything
  4. The younger years | muffinscout
  5. Daily Prompt; Generation XYZ | Journeyman
  6. Internet Monsters: a very Grimm tale… Daily Prompt | alienorajt
  7. Maiden – Mother – Crone – Honoring Lifestages | Shrine of Hecate – Ramblings of a New Age Witch
  8. Daily Prompt: Generation XYZ | Chronicles of an Anglo Swiss
  9. Mentoring: A Strand of Three | Live Life in Crescendo
  10. daily prompt: Generation XYZ | aimanss…
  11. Generation XYZ | Flowers and Breezes
  12. How Young are you? | Cascading Dreams
  13. GEN X VS. GEN ALPHA | DANDELION’S DEN
  14. Why Me vs Me Me Me | Reinvention of Mama
  15. Talking ‘Bout Yer Generation | The Shotgun Girls
  16. Learning from my 4-year-old | A mom’s blog
Image

WHY DID YOU TAKE THAT PICTURE?

cropped-75-punkinsgf3-mar-651.jpg

“Why did you take that picture?” I was startled. No one ever asked me before. Photographers instinctively know the answer; non-photographers don’t normally think to ask. It gave me pause.

To me, it’s obvious why any picture was taken: the photographer saw something. Light, shadow, image, color. Abstract or representational, something about the image appealed to the photographer’s inner eye.

75-PunkinsZS19-MAR-17

I don’t need a reason to take a picture, though I may have one. I don’t take pictures of churches for religious reasons. I like the architecture or how the light plays on the steeple or reflects in the windows. If I think it will make an interesting composition, I’ll take pictures of my feet. I have taken pictures of my feet, with and without shoes.

new shoes

I think if anyone asks such a question, one of two things is true. The photographer has failed to convey his or her vision. Or the viewer doesn’t understand art or artists. Either way, it’s a failure to communicate. You can’t explain art. You get it or not. It speaks to you or not. No amount of studying will make art comprehensible if you don’t have a fundamental sympathy for it.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

I know I’m going against the current mantra that “If you try hard enough, you can learn anything.” I don’t believe it applies to the arts or other things, such as sports. Or mathematics.

If you have no eye, no course will give you one. It would be like trying to cure color blindness. If you are tone-deaf, you won’t be a musician. No matter how many lessons you take or how many hours you practice. If you have no gift for putting words together, you will not be a writer. Not everyone is equally talented, even within the arts … but anyone earning a living in the arts has some talent. Some natural gift.

It’s cruel to tell kids they can be whatever they want merely by working harder. Because it’s not true. We should try to find out what our kids are good at and encourage them to go in directions in which they have some reasonable chance of success. Not everyone has talent for art … but everyone has a talent for something. The challenge is determining what it is.

cropped-96-novstilllife_702.jpg

A CURIOUS ACCOUNT OF NATIVE PEOPLES IN NORTH AMERICA

THE INCONVENIENT INDIAN – A Curious Account of Native People in North America

By Thomas King

University of Minnesota Press
Publication Date: September 1, 2013

272 Pages

Before starting it, I was a bit dubious about the book. The title seemed just a bit … I don’t know. Off-center? I wasn’t sure if I was about to read history, anecdotes, opinion, humor or what.

It turned out to be all of the above and more. This is an entertaining book — humorous, elegantly written and witty. It’s also serious, but the seriousness is somewhat cloaked by its style. Unlike so many books written by oppressed minorities that aim — almost exclusively — to make one feel guilty for not being one of the oppressed, this book helps you help see the world through the eyes of Native Americans. What we see is beauty, horror and hilarity … a mad world in which you can’t trust anyone and you have to make your own rules because that’s the only way to survive.

We have slaughtered our Native Americans. Hated them, admired, adulated, tortured, enslaved, jailed and utterly misunderstood them since our first encounters.

The single thing we non-Natives have never done is accept the Native American claim to this country as more legitimate than ours. At the core of the relationship between Native peoples and the white “settlers” was and will always be land. It was theirs. We wanted it. We took it. They objected. We killed them. And we kept the land and tried improve our position by slander and slaughter.

These days, feelings towards Native American runs the gamut from awe, to bigotry and loathing. Despite the passing of centuries, there is little understanding. That the Native community is less than eager to let outsiders into their world should surprise no one. Their experience with us has not been reassuring. To quote Calvera from The Magnificent Seven: “Generosity. That was our first mistake.”

For anyone interested in discovering the meaning of cognitive dissonance, growing up Native in today’s America is a good start. Natives are by no means the only minority to have to hold completely incompatible world views simultaneously, but Natives have a legitimate claim to first place for the most cock-eyed and complex relationship with the larger society in which they must live.

This isn’t exactly history. It isn’t exactly not. It’s stories, history, opinions and anecdotes presented in a non-linear, almost conversational style. It is easy to read, lively and not at all pretentious. It shouldn’t surprise anyone, but probably will. Logic would dictate that our Native population regard us with at the very least, skepticism and possibly deep-rooted hostility.

This isn’t a deep analysis of the history of this relationship, though for some I suppose it would be revelatory. I would call it “Native American History Lite.” It is a good starting place for those who don’t know anything — or know a lot of things, all of which are wrong.

About the author:

Thomas King is an award-winning novelist, short story writer, scriptwriter, and photographer. His many books include the novels Medicine River; Green Grass, Running Water; Truth and Bright Water; two short story collections, One Good Story, That One (Minnesota, 2013) and A Short History of Indians in Canada (Minnesota, 2013); nonfiction, The Truth About Stories (Minnesota, 2005); and the children’s books A Coyote Columbus Story, Coyote Sings to the Moon, Coyote’s New Suit, and A Coyote Solstice Tale. King edited the literary anthology All My Relations and wrote and starred in the popular CBC radio series, The Dead Dog Café. He is the recipient of a Lifetime Achievement Award from the Western American Literary Association (2004) and an Aboriginal Achievement Award (2003), and was made a member of the Order of Canada in 2004. He has taught Native literature and history and creative writing at the University of Lethbridge, the University of Minnesota, and the University of Guelph and is now retired and lives in Guelph, Ontario.

The Inconvenient Indian is available in Kindle, Hardcover and Paperback and worthwhile in any format.

ON A FIRST DAY WHEN I WAS SO SMALL …

My father drops me off and just leaves me there in front of the huge brick building. Me, little me, standing on the wide sidewalk, autumn leaves swirling around my ankles. I’ve arrived but I have no idea what I’m supposed to do next. I’m starting kindergarten. I am four years old. Some strange calendar thing means I’m the youngest kid in the class. And the smallest. All the other kids are bigger, taller, bulkier. I will always be the shortest or second shortest until size places ends in 6th grade.

leafy deck

I wait, looking — hoping — for help. Eventually someone collects me, asking me my name, herding me towards a group of little kids, some of whom are crying, all of whom look lost. If any parent stuck around to watch over us, I never saw them. 1951 was not a year for coddling kids. When the time to leave the nest came, mama birds gave a push and out you fell, tiny wings flailing.

Kindergarten was in a huge room on the ground floor. They didn’t want us little kids getting run over by bigger ones. Or getting lost in the hallway. The ceilings are miles above us, 16 feet or more. Standard on very old schools. The windows go to the ceiling so Miss O’Rourke has to use a hook on a long wooden pole to open or close them. I wonder why they don’t have normal windows like at home. Ours open by turning a crank.

The teacher is ancient and wrinkly. Blue eyes behind steel-framed glasses and frizzy grey hair. She dresses funny. She is tall, talks loud and slow. Does she think I’m stupid? Everyone in my family talks loud, but no one talks slow.

Now it’s nap time. We are supposed to put our blankets on the floor and go to sleep, but I don’t nap. I haven’t taken a nap ever or at least none I can remember. Anyway, I don’t have a blanket. My mother didn’t know I was supposed to bring one. I also don’t have a shoe box for my crayons. All the other kids have them. I wish I had one because I feel weird being the only one without a blanket and no shoe box.

Well it is not great, but here is one of the c...

Worse, I don’t have crayons. I wish I had some because the ones in the big box for everyone to use are broken, the colors no one likes. My mother didn’t know I was supposed to bring crayons. She’s busy.

I got a new sister a few months ago. She  cries all the time and mommy didn’t have time to come to school and find out all this stuff all the other kids mothers know.

So I sit in a chair and wait, being very quiet, while every one is napping. I don’t think they are really asleep, but everyone goes and lays down on the floor on a blanket and pretends. It gives Mrs. O’Rourke time to write stuff in her book.

It’s a long day and I have almost a mile to walk home. My mother doesn’t drive and anyway, she doesn’t worry about me. She knows I’ll find my way. It’s just that the walk home is all uphill. I’m tired. Why do I have to do this? I could have stayed home and played with my own toys.

By the time I know the answer, I’ll be 19, graduating from college. When I know the answer, it still won’t make sense. School — including most of college — will be where I sit around doing things slowly so other kids can catch up with me. Or — for math — where I sit in a haze and have no idea what’s going on, so lost I don’t even know what questions to ask. But who needs that stuff anyhow?

I’m going to be a writer. Unless the cowboy thing works out.

IT DOESN’T ADD UP …

I always say I’m the queen of typos, but lately, I’ve been noticing the problem isn’t typos. Entire words and pieces of words go missing while extraneous words and word fragments that should vanish hang around. Word bombs lurking in my text.

I’ve always had a problem with numbers. I was bad at math but since I have a high IQ, the assumption was I didn’t try hard enough. I can’t remember how many report cards I got saying I wasn’t making an effort. Underachiever is a label that has haunted me.

To a degree it was true. I didn’t have to try particularly hard at some stuff. I read very well. I was a natural researcher and historian. I always talked a blue streak. I wrote stories. I was 10 when I learned touch typing. I type quickly, but the number of mistakes I make can equal the number of words on the page. Inaccurate doesn’t begin to describe it.

I did well things that came naturally. Everything else didn’t come at all. It didn’t matter how hard I tried. Physics was meaningless. Trig was random numbers. If I could remember what I was supposed to do with numbers, the odds were no better than 50-50 I’d come up with the right answer. We did not have calculators, but even if we had, it wouldn’t have guaranteed I’d get the right answer. I also can’t key numbers with any accuracy.

Today, when I commented on a friend’s blog, in a fewer than 10-word sentence, I omitted one word and mis-wrote another. I thought the missing word, but failed to type it. Missing in action. By the time I saw the problems, it was too late to correct them. I’ve been doing that a lot and I finally started searching to see if there was a name for the problem, other than creeping senility.

Dyscalculia. A learning disability with which both my son and granddaughter have been diagnosed.

How did I miss this? How come I never connected the missing dots? I have had all these symptoms for my entire life. It never crossed my mind, or anyone else’s, that there might be an actual problem. Lately it’s gotten worse and I attributed it to getting older and more forgetful. But age tends to exaggerate symptoms of this type. It’s both comforting and frustrating to realize I’ve spent my life successfully functioning despite the problem. As have millions of people because the world doesn’t adjust to your problems. You’ve got to work with what you’ve got because … well … what choice do you have?

When I was growing up, kids with dyslexia and/or dyscalculia were assumed to be stupid, lazy or both, I’ve been called many things, but never stupid. So I was told loudly and often I was lazy. Eventually I came to believe it. It never occurred to anyone that maybe I really couldn’t make sense of numbers. It wasn’t that I didn’t like them. They didn’t like me. Sometimes, it felt personal.

Because I was good with words and concepts, I wrote very well. I didn’t spell very well, but I learned to look things up and if I wasn’t sure how to spell a word, I used a different word. I rewrote whole pages to avoid having to use a word I couldn’t spell. Sometimes, I still do. I don’t trust the spell checker to know what I meant.

Lately, I find my finger typing words that start with the same letter as the word I meant to write, but which are otherwise entirely different. When eventually I see the error, I’m totally baffled how my brain can be thinking one thing and my fingers typing something entirely different

A short post … like this one … can take me hours to proofread and when I’m done, there will still be wrong words, missing words, missing pieces of words, words in the wrong order or wrong form (e.g. gerund instead of past tense). I just don’t see the errors.

If you have a child in school who is doing poorly but is bright and should be doing better, before you assume that he or she needs only to work harder, take a look at dyscalculia and dyslexia websites. They have diagnostic tools for all ages and stages. Not every child or adult has every symptom, nor are all symptoms present at all times. Intermittent memory loss is common. You may know how to solve an equation today, but not recall how to do it tomorrow. Gone from your memory without a trace.

Check out: The Dyscalculia Forum and Dycalculia.org. Meanwhile, here’s some basic stuff to help you decide if you want to search further.

From The Dyscalculia Forum:

The Basic Facts

Dyscalculia is a specific learning disability in mathematics. Dyscalculia is a word you use to describe when people have significant problems with numbers – but still have a normal or above normal IQ. It seems that no dyscalculic has problems with math alone, but also struggle with problems being able to learn to tell time, left/right orientation, rules in games and much more. See the list of symptoms. Also, there are more types of dyscalculia, and all types demand specific learning methods aimed at the specific problem.

How Common Is Dyscalculia?

According to UK studies done by Gross-Tsur, Manor and Shalev in 1996, 6.5% are dyscalculic. According to studies done by Lewis, Hitch and Walker in 1994, 1.3% are dyscalculic while 2.3% are dyscalculic AND dyslexic – that means that according to this study 3.6% of the World’s population are dyscalculic.

That gives a total of between 3.6 and 6.5% of the World’s population. And again: That means, according to these two studies, that between 216.000.000 (two hundred and sixteen million) and 390.000.000 (three hundred and ninety million) people are dyscalculic – if we say that there are 600.000.000.000 (six billion) people in the world. No international study has been done on how common it is.

Symptoms In Brief 

Normal or accelerated language acquisition: verbal, reading, writing. Poetic ability. Good visual memory for the printed word. Good in areas of science until higher math is required and creative arts.

Mistaken recollection of names. Poor name/face retrieval. Substitute names beginning with same letter.

Difficulty with the abstract concepts of time and direction. Inability to recall schedules, and sequences of past or future events. Unable to keep track of time. May be chronically late.
Inconsistent results in addition, subtraction, multiplication and division. Poor mental math ability. Poor with money and credit. Cannot do financial planning or budgeting.

When writing, reading and recalling numbers, these common mistakes are made: number additions, substitutions, transpositions, omissions, and reversals.

Inability to grasp/remember math concepts, rules, formulas, sequence, basic addition, subtraction, multiplication and division facts. Poor long-term concept mastery. May be able to do math one day, but draw a blank the next..

May be unable to comprehend or “picture” mechanical processes. Lack “big picture/ whole picture” thinking.
Poor memory for the “layout” of things. Gets lost or disoriented easily. May have a poor sense of direction, lose things often, and seem absent-minded.

May have difficulty grasping concepts of formal music education. Difficulty sight-reading music, learning fingering to play an instrument, etc.

May have poor athletic coördination, difficulty keeping up with rapidly changing physical directions as in aerobic, dance, and exercise classes. Difficulty remembering dance step sequences.

Difficulty keeping score or remembering how to keep score in games, like bowling, etc. Often loses track of whose turn it is during games. Limited strategic ability.

NOSTALGIA: 15 CREDITS OR SOMEWHAT FEWER

My 6th Grade class.

In sixth grade. Still wondering what I’m doing there. Probably so were most of the other kids.

I’ve arrived. School has begun, if you could really call it school. I’m the youngest kid in the class, only four, but somehow, here I am anyhow. I’m certainly the smallest. All the others kids are way bigger than me. I don’t know it yet, but I will always be either the shortest or next to the shortest kid in every class for the next six years. After that, they stop measuring.

P.S. 35 is tiny but to me it looks gigantic. Monstrous. Many years later, I will come back here and see this school as the miniature it is, but not yet. Even the stairs are half the height of normal stairs. I don’t know about stairs. Kindergarten is on the ground floor. Always. They don’t want us little kids getting run over by bigger ones. Or lost in the hallways.

The windows go all the way to the ceiling. Very tall. To open or close them, Miss O’Rourke uses a long hook on a pole. I wonder why they don’t have normal windows like at home. Our windows open by turning a crank. Anyone can open them. Even me.PS350001

Teacher is pretty old. She’s got frizzy grey hair and glasses. She dresses funny. She talks loud and slow. Does she think I’m stupid? Everyone in my family talks loud, but no one talks slow.

Now it’s nap time. We are supposed to put our blankets on the floor and go to sleep, but I don’t nap. I haven’t taken a nap ever or at least none I can remember. Anyway, I don’t have a blanket. My mother didn’t know I was supposed to bring one. I also don’t have a shoe box for my crayons. All the other kids have them. I wish I had one because I feel weird being the only one without a blanket and no shoe box.

Worse, I don’t have crayons. I wish I had some because the ones in the big box in the classroom for everyone to use are broken, the colors no one likes. My mother didn’t know I was supposed to bring crayons either. She’s busy. I just got a new sister who cries all the time and mommy didn’t have time to come to school and find out all this stuff all the other kids mothers know.

So I sit in a chair and wait, being very quiet, while every one is napping. I don’t think they are really asleep, but everyone goes and lays down on the floor on a blanket and pretends. It gives Mrs. O’Rourke time to write stuff in her book.

It’s a long day and I have almost a mile to walk home. My mother doesn’t drive and anyway, she doesn’t worry about me. She knows I’ll find my way. It’s just that the walk home is all uphill. I’m tired. Why do I have to do this? I could have stayed home and played with my own toys.

By the time I know the answer, I will be 19 and graduating from college. Even after I know the answer, I don’t understand the question. I read so much on my own — that’s where I really learn everything.  School will forever be where I sit around doing everything slowly so other kids can catch up with me.

Except for math. And French. But who needs that stuff anyhow? I’m going to be a writer. Unless the ballerina thing works out.

HERE’S TO US … WE MADE IT!

I’m not one of those people who romanticizes the 1950s, but there are some truths worth remembering and revisiting.

I grew up in a very different world. Play meant using imagination. It mean physical activity. Jump rope, hide and seek, tag, Stick ball (no one owned a real bat). Stoop ball, jacks. Building a “fort” or climbing a tree. Cowboys and indians. Toys were simple, not electronic. Getting a new doll was a real thrill. She never needed a reboot, unless you count having to find her lost shoe.

If you were having a hard time with the bullies in school, you got up, got dressed and went to school. It didn’t mean you weren’t scared. I was plenty scared. It simply wasn’t a parent problem … it was mine. Yours. Ours.

Marilyn - Senior YearYou didn’t get a lot of pats on the back for “trying hard.” You might get an “attaboy” for doing exceptionally well, but you were expected to do your best. Nothing less was acceptable. Doing your best was your job. You took it seriously.

You learned your lessons in elementary school so you could go on to junior high school and then high school. You had to do well in high school because if you didn’t, you couldn’t get into college. We all knew — with 100% certainty — if you didn’t go to college, you wouldn’t go to heaven.

My son commented the other day we are raising — speaking of my granddaughter’s generation — a bunch of weenies. We are protecting from them everything, effectively from acquiring the coping skills they will need to survive when mommy isn’t there to bail them out.

I said this to my granddaughter too, because she needs to hear it:. No one gets a free pass. Even being rich doesn’t guarantee bad stuff won’t happen, that you won’t get sick, lose a loved one, a child, or for that matter, your own health. Nothing prevents life from happening. Pain is part of the package. Learning to deal with adversity is called “growing up.” If you don’t learn to fight your own battles, when you get “out there,” you won’t survive.

Just about every family has some members who didn’t make it. The ones who never got a real job, formed a serious relationship, accomplished anything much. If they happen to be our own kids, it makes us wonder what we did wrong … and usually, we have a sneaking suspicion the problem isn’t what we didn’t do. It’s what we did too much.

I don’t think we should be mean and uncaring. Nor am I an advocate of corporal punishment. But I think it’s important to recognize we didn’t get strong by being protected from every pain, every hurt. We didn’t get everything we wanted the moment we wanted it. Or at least I didn’t. If I got one really cool present, that was a big deal. Now kids get so much, it’s meaningless. They don’t appreciate anything because there’s always more where that came from.

P.S. 35

So, in memory of the good times, the bad times, the hard times, the great times. The schoolyard battles we fought and sometimes lost. The subjects we barely passed or actually failed and had to take again. The bullies who badgered us until we fought back and discovered bullies are cowards. Getting cornered in the girls’ room by tough chicks with switch blades, wondering if you can talk your way out of this one.

Being the only Jew, Black kid, Spanish kid, fat kid, short kid or whatever different kind of kid in a school full of people who don’t like you. Getting through it and out the other side. Being the only one who used big words and read books when everyone else was watching American Bandstand. Being the klutz who couldn’t do those dances and never had the right clothing or hairdo.

Then, finally, getting to college and discovering the weirdos and rejects from high school were now the cool people to know. Magically, we were suddenly part of the “in crowd.” Metamorphoses. No longer were we outsiders. What had made us misfits were now the qualities that made us popular. And eventually, successful.

The fifties and early sixties were not idyllic. Especially if you weren’t middle class, white and Christian. Yet it was a great time to be a kid. Not because we had more stuff, but because we had more freedom. We had time to play, time to dream. Whatever we lacked in “things,” we made up for by having far fewer rules. We were encouraged to use our imagination. We didn’t have video games, cable TV, cell phones and computers. Many of us felt lucky to have one crappy black and white television with rabbit ears that barely got a signal.

We learned to survive and cope, and simultaneously, learned to achieve. We weren’t scared to try. We screwed up enough to know if it didn’t work out, we’d get up, dust ourselves off and try again.

When we got out into the world, for at least a couple of decades, we had a blast.

Here’s to us as we limp past middle age into the laughingly so-called golden years. We really had great lives. We’re still having them.

Image

Daily Prompt: We Can Be Taught! – GREATNESS

Greatness comes in many forms. From your best friend, to your husband and fourth grade teacher … the fireman, police and soldiers who protect you … the men who invent our world … the people who fight injustice. So  much greatness, too much for one post … this is a small start.

Lips that touch liquor …

Once upon a time, Americans had national fit of self-righteousness and decided alcohol was the root of all evil.  To rectify the perceived problem, the nation rose up on its collective hind legs and passed the 18th Amendment to the Constitution. This amendment established a legal prohibition of recreational alcoholic beverages in the United States. The separate Volstead Act specified how authorities would actually enforce Prohibition including defining “intoxicating liquor” for anyone who needed an explanation.

VotedDry

The folks who needed an explanation were not your average Jill or Joe. Jill and Joe knew how to get drunk just fine, but apparently lawmakers, politicians and gangsters-to-be needed clarification. The gangsters needed to know what they had to do to cash in on this opportunity and the others, how to persecute people in the name of the law. Many beverages were excluded for medical and religious purposes. It was okay to get drunk as long it was accompanied by an appropriate degree of religious fervor or if you could get a doctor’s note.

That left a lot of room — a barn door-sized hole — through which an entire generation strolled. Many people began drinking during Prohibition who had never imbibed before and whereas previously, alcoholism had no social cachet, during prohibition it became fashionable. As with most things, making it more difficult, expensive and illegal made it more desirable and sexy.

Regular folks, society leaders, and criminals all basked in the glow of joyous illegality. A whole criminal class was born as a result of prohibition. If that isn’t clear proof that legislating morality doesn’t work, I don’t know what is. It didn’t work then and it won’t work now. Whether the issue is booze, drugs, abortion, prayer, same-sex marriage, or term limits … law and morality don’t mix.

prohibition-6

Passing a law limiting how many times you can elect a candidate rather than letting you vote for any candidate you want isn’t going to improve the quality of legislators. You’ll just wind up voting for a bunch of clowns and opportunists who don’t give a rat’s ass about government while dedicated potential candidates won’t bother to run because there’s no future in it. Making drugs illegal, especially marijuana, has created an entire drug culture — exactly the way making booze illegal created an entire criminal class.

There are no fewer gay people because we made their lives difficult any more than segregation made the world safe for stupid white people. Illegal abortions kill not only fetuses, but their mothers too. You may not approve of abortion, but do you approve of forcing women to risk their lives to not have babies they don’t want?

How is that better or more moral? This kind of knee-jerk “lets solve social issues by making bad laws” causes a lot of pain and suffering. And as often as not, you end up legislating your way into a vast sea of exciting new problems you didn’t have before. Throughout history, laws designed to force everyone to do what someone else deems “right” have failed. Monumentally and spectacularly failed. You’d think citizens and lawmakers alike would notice this recurring theme, but remarkably, we seem unable to connect the dots.

If you never drank before, bet this picture could change your mind.

If you never drank before, bet this picture could change your mind.

We haven’t learned anything at all, probably because no one is aware history is repeating itself. Many of our citizens apparently don’t know any history, so how could they?

Prohibition agents destroying barrels of alcoh...

Prohibition agents destroying barrels of alcohol

The 18th Amendment was ratified on January 16, 1919 and took effect a year later, on January 17, 1920. Immediately, the demand for liquor increased. Producers, suppliers and transporters were turned into criminals, but drinkers were not prosecuted. What could go wrong with that? The entire justice system — courts, cops and prisons — was buried under a landslide of booze-related busts. Organized crime went from being a minor group to a major social force. Progress?

Having achieved results way beyond the wildest dreams of the amendment’s creators, prohibition was repealed in 1933 via the Twenty-first Amendment, the only time in American history an amendment was repealed.

Every time I hear someone on Facebook declare how we need a constitutional amendment to solve a political or social problem, I contemplate how successfully we got rid of alcohol in 1920. No one has had a drink since! The next time someone tells you history is meaningless, tell them without history, they are meaningless. They won’t understand what you mean, but a bit more confusion can’t hurt them. Saying it might make you feel better.

American Mythology

Every nation revises history. They leave out the bad bits  – slaughters of the innocent, unjust wars against minorities and civilians. They invent heroes, turn defeats into victories.

This (attributed to ) originally appeared duri...

American history is no different. It’s relatively easy to make our history match our myths when such a large percentage of U.S. citizens haven’t learned any history since third grade. There’s some question about how well third grade lessons were absorbed. Recent studies show a troubling pattern of ignorance in which even the basics of history are unknown to most of our natural-born citizens. Ironically, naturalized citizens are far better educated. They had to pass a test to become citizens. The rest of us got a free pass.

College students don’t know when we fought the Revolution, much less why. They can’t name our first president (George Washington, just in case you aren’t sure). Many aren’t clear what happened on 9/11.  I’ve been asked which came first, World Wars I or II — indicating more than ignorance. More like deep stupidity.

Getting the people excited enough to take up arms is hard work.

All over Facebook, morons gather to impress each other with the vigor of their uninformed opinions. They proclaim we fought the Revolution to not pay taxes and keep our guns. Saying that’s not how it happened is insufficient. I lack the words to say how untrue that is.

Why did we have a Revolution? How come we rebelled against England rather than peaceably settling our differences? Wouldn’t it have been easier to make a deal?

Yes, it would have been easier to make a deal and we tried. Unfortunately, it turned out to be impossible. We fought a revolution when we exhausted every peaceful option. Petitions and negotiations failed, but we kept trying, even after shots had been fired and independence declared.

We didn’t want war with England. There were lots of excellent reasons:

  • Our economy was entirely dependent on trade with England. Through English merchants, we could trade with the rest of the world. Without them, we were stuck with no trading partners or ships
  • We were ill-equipped to fight a war
  • We had no navy, no commanders. No trained army. We barely had guns
  • Our population was too small to sustain an army
  • We had no factories, mills or shipyards
  • We relied on England for finished goods other than those we could make in our own homes, including furniture, guns, clothing, cutlery, dishes, porcelain
  • We needed Britain to supply us with anything we ate or drank (think tea) unless we could grow it in North America.

All luxury goods and many necessities came from or through England. We had some nascent industries, but they were not ready for prime time. It wasn’t until 1789 we built our first cotton-spinning mill — made possible by an Englishman named Slater who immigrated from England and showed us how to do it.

Our American colonies didn’t want to be Americans. We wanted to be British. We wanted the right to vote in parliamentary elections as equals with other British citizens. The cry “no taxation without representation” (remember that?) didn’t mean we weren’t willing to pay taxes. It meant we wanted the right to vote on taxes. We wanted to be heard, to participate in government. Whether or not we would or would not pay a particular tax was not at issue. Everyone pays taxes — then and now. We wanted seats in Parliament and British citizenship.

King George was a Royal asshole. His counselors strongly recommended he make a deal with the colonists. Most Americans considered themselves Englishmen. If the British king had been a more flexible, savvy or intelligent monarch, war could have been averted. We would be, as the Canadians are, part of the British Commonwealth. There would have been no war. A bone-headed monarch thought a war was better than compromise. He was a fool, but it worked out better than we could have hoped.

We declared war which many folks here and abroad thought was folly. We almost lost it. We would have lost were it not for two critical things:

  • British unwillingness to pursue the war aggressively
  • French ships and European mercenaries.

Without French assistance and hired mercenaries from central Europe, we would have been squashed by the British who were better armed, better trained. They had ships with guns, trained seamen to man them. We didn’t.

Near home, in a ritzy Boston suburb.

Just as we considered ourselves English, albeit living abroad in a colony rather than in England, British soldiers and commanders were not overly eager to slaughter people they considered fellow Englishmen. They didn’t pursue the war with the deadly determination they could have … and if they had? Who knows?

Did we really win because the British were inept and couldn’t beat an untrained ragtag rabble army? That’s our story and we’re sticking to it. I doubt it. There is considerable argument on much this affected the course of the war. I side with those who think that the British found it distasteful to shoot people with whom a short time before they had been friends and with whom the hoped to be friends again. And of course, many British soldiers had family in “the colonies” and vice-versa. It was a painful fight, rather like a civil war.

Many British citizens sympathised with the colonists including a goodly percentage of troops. Sympathy ran high even in the upper echelons of British government. Many important people in England were none too happy with King George. So they did as they were ordered, but without enthusiasm. No one in the British government — or high up in the army — believe the colonies had any chance of winning. They were convinced we’d work it out by negotiations eventually. Many felt the fewer people killed in the interim, the fewer hard feeling would exist afterwards.

And then there was one huge miscalculation. The British did not expect the French to show up. As soon as the French fleet arrived, a few more battles were fought and the British went home. Had they pursued the war with vigor from the start, we wouldn’t have lasted long enough for the French to get here, much less save our butts.

The mythology surrounding the American Revolution is natural. Every nation needs heroes and myths and we are no exception. But as grown ups, we can apply a bit of healthy skepticism, read a couple of books. Learn there’s more to the story than the stuff we learned when we were eight. Like, the second part of the Revolutionary war known as “The War of 1812.” Part two of the Revolution which we lost fair and square when the British burned Washington D.C.

We did not win the Revolution. We survived it. Barely.

Andrew Jackson’s big win at New Orléans in 1814 kept the British from coming back. The battle took place a full 10 days after the war ended. Losing it would no doubt have encouraged the British to return, but the Battle of New Orléans was not decisive. The war was over by then. No one had a cell phone, so they didn’t know, which is why I contend the course of history would be really different if cell phones had been invented a few centuries earlier.

Only crazy people think guns and killing are the solution to the world’s ills. Guns and killing are the cause of most of the problems. It horrifies me such people gain credence. It used to be considered a normal part of good citizenship to have a basic understanding of history and government.

Surrender of Cornwallis at Yorktown

Surrender of Cornwallis at Yorktown (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

There is no better form of government than ours. There are others perhaps as good, but none better, none more fair, none that offers more protection to its citizens. Whatever is wrong with our system of government is wrong with the world, not just America. Intelligent people don’t throw away the good stuff because someone lost an election, or a jury brought in a bad verdict.

We have the good fortune to live in a nation of laws. They don’t always work the way they should, nor does justice always prevail, but the laws exist. We have elections. We transfer power from one administration to the next without battles, riots, bloodbaths.

An educated citizenry and a free press are our best defenses against tyranny. As long as you can complain openly and protest vigorously against your own government, and those people on TV and on the news can say what they will about the government — whether or not you or I agree with them — we are living in a free nation. That’s a rare and wonderful thing.

Ignorance is the enemy of freedom. It allows fools to rush in where angels would never dare. Support education. Encourage your kids to read. Let’s all read. Knowledge benefits everyone.

Daily Prompt: Back to School to Get My Doctorate in Life

I admit it. I’ve had all the education I want. Definitely all I need. I got most of it by reading books anyhow and I still read, so I’m always learning. What’s left?

Do I wish I’d done better in long division? Why?

Do I wish I’d studied harder? No, I did okay.

Do I wish I’d gotten that Ph.D.? I wanted a doctorate in comparative religion. I doubt it would have improved my life, so not really.

Waiting-NK-9

If there had been a degree program in for life? Somewhere I could have learned how to navigate the slings and arrows of outrageous fortune? Not keep falling over cliffs? Or going from the frying pan to the fire? Get the process of living right the first time? Because I could go for that, especially if I got to look at my script before I had to play the role. I can’t imagine any other degree that would have been particularly helpful. But yeah, okay. I’d take an advanced degree in life.

Or have I already earned one? Maybe that’s a big yes. I think so. Definitely. Maybe.

For The Promptless – Qualia – Sounds of silence

Qualia (single form, quale) is a term that refers to the individual, conscious, subjective elements of experiences. Examples of qualia are the pain of a headache, the taste of wine, or the perceived redness of an evening sky.  In other words, qualia refers to “the way things seem to us.”

One year, I had a terrible case of flu. My ears were totally clogged. Garry took out his hearing aids and kept turning up the television until we could both hear it.

“That,” he said, “Is my world. That’s how much I can hear.” I have never forgotten. Which is good because it’s all too easy to forget if it’s not your problem.

The world is most silent while snow is falling. Otherwise, it is never really still.

The world is most silent while snow is falling. Otherwise, it is never really still.

It’s interesting how many people seem to think a hearing loss isn’t a “real” disability. Is it because it’s invisible? I can’t walk well or much, can’t lift, ride a horse or bend and am usually in some kind of pain ranging from “barely noticeable” to “wow that hurts” and none of them are visible except by x-ray. I once had a woman in the post office lash into me because I had a handicapped pass and she didn’t think I looked handicapped. It’s years later and I’m still angry. How dare she make such a judgment?

People make those judgments all the time about Garry. They assume if they call to him and he doesn’t answer, he’s a snob. Rude. Ignoring them. If I’m on the scene, I take them aside and explain that Garry cannot hear them, that they need to make sure he sees them and knows they are talking to him. I consider it one of my important jobs in our relationship because it’s hard being out there in a hearing world when you can’t.

Mostly I can hear. Usually. Most things.

I depend heavily on catching the nuances of human speech to interpret the true meaning of spoken words. Garry used to be able (with the help of hearing aids) to do that and it was important in his work as a reporter. In courtrooms, while interviewing people, it’s not just what they say, but how they say it.

I am forever asking Garry if he heard “that” whatever “that” is. Sometimes “that” is me. He will often act like he heard me even if he didn’t. Sometimes, he didn’t hear me or notice I was speaking  … or only heard a part of what I said but thinks it was everything I said. And then, there’s the “what?” factor. How many times can you say “excuse me, can you repeat that” before you feel like an idiot? I’ve been in places where I couldn’t understand people because of their accent or background noise. The answer is three.

You can ask someone to repeat it three times. After that,  we all give up.

Human speech is all there is to hear. Music, soft and loud. That funny noise coming from the car’s engine, the scratching of a dog accidentally locked in the bathroom (oops). Garry can’t hear the birds singing or me if I yell for help from down the hall. He won’t hear if I fall … so I had better not.

He also won’t hear the warning beep of the truck backing up. Or the sound of the water in our pipes to warn him someone’s using the shower. The little grinding noise of a hard drive going bad or the alarm clock ringing. All the little noises that form the background, a tapestry, the sounds of life. They are not there for him.

What does silence sound like? When you hear noise, but none of the soft sweet sounds? The explosion, but never a murmur?

To be in that silence always. It’s a different world.

Getting My Goodies

The articles in newspapers and online keep appearing, “proving” it’s Liberals who creates classes. It’s all our fault. My fault. I’ve done it by sucking the economy dry with all the benefits I get, all my entitlements. In the view of conservatives and most of the GOP, if we were all conservatives, there would be no classes. All men (but not women, I suspect) would really be equal.

It worked brilliantly for Louis XVI, so it ought to work in the U.S.A., right?

fat catsI have a flash for conservatives trying to prove the unprovable. Classes didn’t start here. They existed long before this country’s birth. Before there was even the concept of democracy, before elections or political parties. To say anything else is absurd and displays a level of willful ignorance that’s hard to accept. Well, hard for me to accept, anyhow. But then again, I’ve read a few books, know a bit of history. It’s obviously warped my point of view.

Reality Check

Classes exist in the United States because:

  • Some people have a lot and too many others have little or nothing
  • Our shameful legacy of slavery, genocide and oppression of all non-white and non-Christian people
  • Laws are not enforced equally and never were.
  • Classes exist. Always have, always will.

10-18-11-Class-Warfare

This quote from a popular columnist in the Washington Post makes me grind my teeth. Apparently facts, history, logic and reason are irrelevant:

The real tension in America today is not about black versus white but about liberalism versus conservatism.

Liberalism is about government as a political agent, not as a protector of individual freedom. By it’s very nature, liberalism creates political classes – whether based on race or gender or business interests. Those that get the goodies are happy. Those that pay for them are not. Tensions and animosities get worse, not better.

In the end, we all suffer because giving politicians more power means less growth and prosperity.

Things will never get solved until we finally take “e pluribus unum” seriously – that American diversity can only be finally united through one set of values, under God (Note: Whose God? Yours? Mine?), that enable freedom, one set of true (Note: Define true, please.) values for all.

RACIAL DIVIDE WORSE UNDER OBAMA - Star Parker: It’s time to take ‘e pluribus unum’ seriously Published: 11/02/2012

Really? I thought it was about poor versus rich, haves versus the have-nots. You know, the way it’s always been throughout history. Or have we decided that anything that didn’t happen before the last presidential election no longer counts? Shall we exclude all history that fails to agree with this single point of view?

Get the goodies? What goodies? Wait a damned minute. To what goodies do you refer?

You mean the Social Security and Medicare for which I paid for more than 40 years? I thought this was my money coming back to me as promised. My husband and I during our working years paid more in taxes than most people earn. Than most couples earn. We paid without complaint because that’s the way it is. And shockingly, we paid without complaint because we could and knew there were plenty of people who had nothing. We never minded sharing the wealth. How weird is that, eh?

class warfare 2

Are they referring to free public education? Paved roads? Medical care so I don’t have to worry I’ll die for lack of money to pay the doctor? What other goodies do I, or anyone else, get? You mean food stamps so really poor people and their children don’t starve? Those goodies? How about educational programs to help people develop skills to earn a living wage? Are those the goodies creating classes in this country?

What piece of the government’s infrastructure should we eliminate? How about student loans? State colleges? Hell, let’s just get rid of all free or subsidized public education. We can follow China’s fine example and put those lazy six-year olds to work in factories. Let’em eat cake, I say.

Let’s return to those Dickensian days of yore when only the wealthy could afford an education. Bring back workhouses, eliminate child labor laws, ban labor unions, dump the 40 hours week and go back to the good old days when the boss had all the power and working people no power or legal recourse. Let’s reset the clock to restore the dominion everybody by the rich and privileged few.

GOP-class-warfare

I am so tired of hearing about my entitlements. My husband and I worked our butts off for 40 plus years. The little bit we get back now will never equal the amount we contributed, but I’ll shut up about the unfairness of that if you’ll shut up about my “entitlements.” As a matter of fact, please, just shut up. Your silence would suit me well.

Until you have walked in my shoes, or better yet, until you have lost your shoes and had to walk barefoot and hungry, shut up.

Generational Differences

Okay, I’ve got to hand it to you, WordPress. You got me thinking. That’s always dangerous. The world would probably be better off if I stopped thinking about Things and started watching reality television.

It’s the whole issue of manners and communications. How many folks are clueless when it comes to what’s appropriate under what circumstances? This is pretty much a no-brainer for my generation. It’s not that we’re so smart. It’s just we were raised in a different world.

We had the benefit of growing up when there were clear rules about social behavior. There were standards for professional communications. How to talk to superior officers, bosses, and colleagues. We learned this stuff in school. We learned it at home. We learned it in our friends’ homes. You called your teachers “Mrs. Whoever.” That’s also how we addressed our friends’ moms and how they addressed our parents. That’s how we addressed everyone older than us.

Cover of "The Graduate"

It’s one of the funny parts of watching “The Graduate” with Dustin Hoffman. He may be sleeping with Mrs. Robinson, but he never calls her by her first name. That would be impolite.

The generations who grew up after us lived in a world without rules. They didn’t believe they needed to respect their elders simply because they were elders. They heard a different message: everyone is equal. But the thing is, we are unbelievably far from equal. It’s not about race or ethnicity, color or sex, although these factor into the equation. It’s about money and power. Which is what it has been about since time and history began. Everything else is built on that bottom line. It’s how society really works.

In my generation, we all knew this before we left high school. You don’t treat your boss like your buddies. It has nothing to do with whether or not the boss deserves your respect. Nice if he or she does, but In the course of a career the odds favor your working for any number of people who are unworthy of your respect.

As long as they sign your pay check, you will treat them with respect, tact, and care. Because not only does your salary depend on it, so does your reputation and any career you hope to have. Your boss may very well be as big an asshole as you think he or she is, but you don’t say so. And if you’re smart, you don’t say it behind his or her back either because another rule of the real world is that whatever you say will get back to whoever you said it about. Those chickens always come back to roost, every damned time.

You will need all the good will and recommendations you can get as you fight your way through the working world, so you don’t squander it, don’t blow your world up by gossiping, backbiting, and behaving like a brat. That’ll get you fired without a recommendation and trust me, you don’t want that.

And if you join the military or work in law enforcement or a fire department? Anything remotely military in structure? Mouth off to your superior officer and watch what happens. Maybe you shouldn’t really do that. Not a good idea.

75-OfficeHDR-CR-2

To me and people my age, all this stuff is self-evident, that all men may have been created equal, but some are much more equal than others. No one had to tell us not to start a memo to the boss with “Yo, Boss man!” We knew that. We made other mistakes, but we always recognized who had the power. And who didn’t. We knew when to fight and when to duck and cover. We knew we needed to earn our way and needed to behave correctly to have a chance of success.

But our kids? Who aren’t kids anymore? Many of whom have grown up kids of their own? They don’t seem to understand this stuff. Unsurprisingly, neither do their children. I don’t understand what they don’t understand. Do you?

School days: Boredom and Fear in Equal Measure

Childhood is a challenge. We romanticize childhood as a time of innocence and play, but childhood isn’t necessarily easy.

Many of us struggled. We had problems at home we couldn’t or wouldn’t talk about, social issues grownups dismissed, and lived with bullying tantamount to torture. Even today, with the attention these issues get in the press, things have not really changed. Bullying is as much a problem today as it was when I was a child. Teachers still ignore it and parents dismiss it. Kids continue to avoid talking about bad things that happen at home.

Awareness is not a cure. Publicity does not change what happens at home or in the schoolyard.

I was a very bright, precocious child. I was by no means the only smart kid in the school, but I probably had the worst social skills, was the most inept at sports, and talked like a 40-year old. Among social outcasts, I was an outcast. I lived in books and imagination.

I learned to read more or less instantly and spent the next six years trying to stay awake while being invisible.

I was either bored to tears or terrified of being sent out to the schoolyard. In third grade, I hid in the cloak room in the hopes no one would miss me. I found a stack of books and read them in the semi-dark by the light of one dim bulb.

The teacher was furious. I had read all the readers for my grade and all the grades to come through sixth grade. I would have read more but they found my hiding place and made me come out. The principal called my mother to complain I had read all the readers. My mother pointed out I might benefit from a more challenging curriculum. She reasoned if I could read all the readers in an hour, the work was too easy. They didn’t get it.

They wanted my mother to punish me for reading too much. She didn’t stop laughing for days. She thought it was hilarious and retold the story at every family gathering. I didn’t think it was nearly as funny because that teacher hated me after that and made third grade a special Hell. It wasn’t only other kids picking on me; my teacher was leading the charge. I didn’t understand what was going on. I just knew that no one liked me.

Eventually the teachers at P.S. 35 tired of me. I was annoying. I answered questions in class until I was told to shut up. After I was no longer allowed to participate in class, I fell asleep or snuck off to read in the girl’s room. The teachers must have had a meeting about me or something, because an agreement was reached that everyone would benefit from my absence. I was fond of arts and crafts so the solution was to send me to the art room after the Pledge of Allegiance. I spent many happy hours alone, experimenting with paint, library paste, and oak tag.

I was content in my little world of paint and glue, but I was not getting an education. I never learned arithmetic because I was in the art room gluing stuff together. The smell of library paste is deeply evocative … and I can’t do fractions or long division.

I started high school at 13 where my level of boredom reached epic heights. I was blessed by teachers whose idea of teaching was to read the textbook in a monotone. These classes were inevitably the first classes of the day when I was the sleepiest. I chipped a tooth one morning when my head fell forward and hit the desk.

I was so far ahead in English and History I was off the charts. At the same time, I fell ever further behind in maths and hard science. My pleas for help were ignored because I had a high IQ and was supposed to figure it out on my own. I suspect the world is divided between those for whom numbers are a language and those for whom numbers and hieroglyphics are the same.

Numbers did not speak to me. I was in my thirties reading Horatio Hornblower when I realized trigonometry was used to calculate trajectories and navigation. I wish I’d known that when I was trying to understand what I was doing.

Now an officially protected landmark, my alma mater was a beautiful building.

I was by no means the only lost soul in math classes. There was always a group of us who sat there with glazed eyes, wondering why we needed this and if failing it would end our hopes of going to college.

As for science, Jamaica High School was run by practical administrators. The group of us who sat paralyzed in math classes were all college-bound. It was clear we were never going to pass physics or chemistry, but needed a science credit. So they invented a science course for us. It was called “The History of Science.” We spent an entire year discussing Stonehenge. I loved it. I completed the science requirement, graduated with an academic diploma, and continued on to college.

My real education consisted of books, both those I read by choice and those my mother made me read. She made sure I read good books. “Growth of the Soil” by Knut Hamsen, a Nobel prize-winning author who authored the world’s most depressing novels stands out in memory. Then, there was Romain Rolland whose novel in 10-volumes, Jean-Christophe was an unbelievably long, fictionalized biography of Beethoven. Rolland got a Nobel prize in literature and I read his tome, but have never met anyone else who read it. I assume the Nobel Committee read it too, but I never met them.

The New York Public Library is an amazing place. The lions that stand guard in front of the building are almost as famous as the library itself.

I cut school a lot. Living in New York had benefits. A subway token could take you anywhere. I played hooky to go to the huge New York Public Library, the Cloisters, the Metropolitan Museum of Art, and the Hayden Planetarium. My mother knew, but pretended she didn’t. She could hardly approve my skipping school, but I wasn’t hanging out at the mall: I was getting an education on my own terms.

One of New York’s most impressive and beautiful buildings, inside and out, the Met is my favorite museum. The Cloisters is actually a part of the Met and houses its medieval art collection.

There were no admission charges for museums back then and New York is rich with museums. The Guggenheim was just being built, so I didn’t get there until college and it always made me a trifle seasick walking that strange corkscrew path, but the Metropolitan Museum of Art wasn’t just art: it was the history of the world in one huge building.

It was arranged as a time line. At the entrance, you started in the mummy room of a recreated Egyptian tomb where they had a couple of real mummies. The viewing room was in semi darkness and deliciously spooky. As you proceeded through the museum, each area represented a successive time period with recreated rooms full of furniture of the period and paintings, sculpture and other artifacts. You wound your way through until you reached the modern era … which is where the bathrooms were.

If you had to use the facilities, you navigated human history forward and backward, the closest I’ve ever come to time travel. If you had to go badly enough, you had a long trot through world history. I absorbed a lifetime of art, architecture, and history there. I snoozed through history classes in high school and college and still got As. No teacher or professor came close to offering comparable education. It is a fabulous museum. If you have never been there and happen to visit New York, don’t miss it.

The Cloisters on the Hudson River, Fort Tryon Park. It is part of the Metropolitan Museum of Art.

I spent days in the dusty basements of the big library, exploring the stacks and reading old manuscripts. I went to the Cloisters where I pretended I was living in mediaeval Europe. I also developed a lifelong passion for studying the middle ages and I can still bore everyone to tears with details of life in the 14th century. It’s a solitary passion.

For the last decade and a bit, I’ve watched my granddaughter fight her way through the public school system, grappling with the same issues I recall. She seems to have inherited the family gene for poor math skills. Despite a lot of talk, I don’t see much improvement in teaching methods. They are different, but equally ineffective.

Bright students are still mostly ignored. Help is given to the kids who struggle to learn, but it’s the kind of help that sounds a lot better than it is. Many kids still have no idea why or what they are doing. And schools still don’t feel any particular obligation to expend scarce resources on high IQ students who are presumed able to learn without help.

I did well enough in school. My grades were unspectacular both in high school and college. I graduated college with a 3.2 average, more or less B+ depending on how you calculate it. I did it without studying except in the few classes where a professor pushed me to really work.

I wonder what I might have achieved had I studied, if my education had been a challenge rather than a bore?

In the end, I had an okay career. Not spectacular, but pretty good. I learned in the workplace most of what I failed to learn in the classroom. My work required math and it turned out if I knew why I was doing it, I could do it. I needed context, not rote.

Our educational system wastes so much potential. Art and music classes have been eliminated. Help is reserved for problem learners and not much of that. Our schools’ aim is to create positive statistics on standardized tests, not to help students achieve their potential. Instead of increasing America’s investment in education, we cut resources and eliminate teachers. Then we wonder how come the U.S. is no longer a leader in the arts, math, science, or anything else. We get what we pay for: mediocrity.

IQ scores and standardized tests encourage rote memorization. Creativity, artistic talent, and original thinking are not part of an IQ score. You might be a musical genius, but it won’t get you through school unless you can pass standardized tests that involve no learning, just the ability to memorize facts and spit them out. Educators’ jobs are to get students to pass exams. Whether or not they learn anything is immaterial.

So much potential thrown away. It’s our future we’re tossing out. Everyone’s future.