THE TIME HAS COME TO SAVE THE WORLD – Marilyn Armstrong

So here we are, 100 years later, and it’s happening. Again. Or is that “still?”

We didn’t understand what happened last time the world decided to blow itself up — and we aren’t seeing it now. Depending on my mood, I blame it on poor education, international lack of honesty about how great nations became “great” nations. And, of course, greed.

God is dead and greed rules us. When saving a few pennies is, to a corporation, worth destroying a family’s livelihood and future, the world will continue to be a toxic muck.

So here we are again. Or, as I said — still here because maybe we never really left.

Lying to the public and each other with a determined willingly to believe the unbelievable because the lies make us feel better. Or less bad. Whichever.

Do we have to destroy ourselves before we look at our culture, our society, our world, and say “This is not the way? Let’s be better.” We need to be a lot better because there’s an awful lot to do. We better get to it.

THE MYTHOLOGY OF AMERICA FOR AMERICANS – Marilyn Armstrong

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 a 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. First of all, there was no America to be part of … and secondly, 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 which taxes we paid. And how much.

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. 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 okay.

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 battleships with guns and 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 how it would have worked out?

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 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 they hoped to be friends again. Many British soldiers had family in “the colonies” and vice-versa. It was a painful fight, not unlike a civil war.

Many British citizens sympathized with the colonists including a goodly percentage of troops. Sympathy ran high even in the upper echelons of the British government. Many important people in England were none too happy with King George. So they did as they were ordered but without enthusiasm.

Then there was a 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.

This is why our current government is more than a mere miscalculation, a bad election. It’s not something we’ll “pull out of” after which everything will go back to normal. I’m not sure we have a normal to go back to.

It’s not only how the evil underbelly of America has been exposed for all to see. It’s also that the planet is under attack. Americans — and everyone else — need to fix it if we want to continue to live here.

We need to be very careful about how we move “forward.” We have to tread carefully. We have to work with our allies and our non-allies because everyone needs to put their shoulders to the wheel to keep our world livable.

We used to have the good fortune to live in a nation of laws but I’m not sure this is a nation of laws anymore. I’m not sure what we are. I’m not sure what the world is or whether there will be a world in another 100 years. Or for that matter, in another thirty.

Ignorance is the enemy of freedom. And our current government is the enemy of education, learning, and truth.

CHILDHOOD CAN BE ROUGH! – Marilyn Armstrong

Childhood is a challenge.

Many of us struggled, had serious problems at home and lived with daily bullying at school. With the attention these issues get in the press today, things have not changed much. Bullying is as much — or more — of a problem as it was when I was a kid. Teachers ignore it. Parents dismiss it. Kids won’t talk about their problems because they (rightly) believe it might make everything worse.

These days, it’s all about awareness, as if knowing there is a problem is the same as solving it.

Awareness is not a cure. Positive public relations hype in the newspapers and television and social media does not make any difference to what happens to a child at home or in the schoolyard.

This is P.S, 35. It’s still there, but I’m not.

I was a precocious child with limited social skills. Inept at sports, lost in math. Among outcasts, I was an outcast. I was bored in class, terrified in the schoolyard. In third grade, I hid in the cloakroom hoping 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.

Punish the child for reading too much!

My teachers were furious. It turns out during my cloakroom hours, I had read all the readers for the next four grades. I would have read more except I ran out of books.

The principal called my mother. They made her come to school so they could complain I had read too much. My mother pointed out I might benefit from a more challenging curriculum. She reasoned if I could read all those readers in about an hour, the work was way too easy. As far as she was concerned, the school completely missed the point.

They wanted my mother to punish me for reading too much which my mother felt hilarious. She didn’t stop laughing for days. She retold the story at every family gathering.

I didn’t think it was nearly as funny because that teacher hated me. It made the third grade a special kind of Hell.

I started high school at thirteen. Although I was blessed by a few teachers who made learning exciting and fun, most of my teachers felt reading a monotonic reading of the class textbook was education. I chipped a tooth one morning when I fell asleep and hit my mouth on the desk.

Jamaica High School

I was off the charts in English and history while falling rapidly behind in math and hard science. I was in my thirties — reading Horatio Hornblower — before I realized trigonometry had an actual purpose. It was used to calculate trajectories and navigate! A revelation! Pity I didn’t know that when I was supposed to be learning it.

I survived school and had a life. We keep telling our kids that childhood is the best of times. It can be and maybe for some kids, it is. It wasn’t for me and it wasn’t for most of the other children with whom I grew up.

REMEMBERING HIGH SCHOOL – Marilyn Armstrong

I had no choice about what high school I’d attend. In New York, unless you were going to one of the four or five special schools for performers (that’s where “Fame” came from, the New York School for Performing Arts) or the few for math and sciences and there were a couple of others, but I don’t remember them anymore, you went to your local high school.

In my case, Jamaica High School. Built to hold 1200 students, it housed nearly 3,000 when I was there. It’s closed now. I think they have turned it into some kind of museum.

Jamaica High School

It was five stories high with the choir loft at the top — five stories of stairs to climb and no elevators. I was in a cast my final (senior) year, so I had to be homeschooled for nine months. They sent an actual teacher to the house. I learned absolutely nothing at home but to be fair, there wasn’t much to learn that I didn’t already know, at least from a studies viewpoint. Most of the learning took place in earlier years. But homeschooling did let me meet some interesting and odd people.

Music was always with me. I was a serious piano student. It had nothing to do with high school since I studied privately. I was in the chorus, not the choir. I didn’t think my voice was good enough or strong enough for the choir. My alto voice was okay, but I would have had to study to make it better and stronger. I was so wrapped in piano, I didn’t have time.

That, and of course, writing.

I was always part of the “junior genius” crowd, but my grades didn’t reflect it. I coasted. I did well in things that I liked, not very well in others. I still won two national merit scholarship as well as the Westminster Scholarship (based exclusively on test results — NOT my grades).

They wouldn’t give me the money because my father earned too much. I never understood how they could do that. I thought I had earned it, but even after I got married, they STILL based it on my father’s (not my husband’s) income. Times have changed, but I was furious then and remarkably, I’m still annoyed.

High School, really

It didn’t make as much difference in 1963, though. Colleges were surprisingly inexpensive. Hofstra, where both Garry and I went, was for him just $17/credit and for me, just $42/credit. Now, it’s very expensive. Unimaginably expensive.

I wanted to study music. It wasn’t what I was best at. I was always a better writer, but I loved music. The piano also wasn’t the right instrument for me, but I didn’t know that until years later. I was tiny when I started studying and still tiny when I reached my “full” growth. The piano was big and my hands are little.

It never occurred to me until I was years into college that I could change instruments. By then, I was drifting back to what I was good at — writing. I never worked as a professional musician because I wasn’t good enough. I was good, but the difference between “good” and “good enough” in classical music is gigantic. Good gets you gigs at a piano bar. Good enough gets you concerts. Better than good enough and maybe — if you are lucky — the world is yours.

I didn’t want to teach piano and certainly didn’t want to play in local bars, but I thought maybe I’d write a great book. I sort of did, but I sort of didn’t. Define “great.”

They didn’t teach instruments in my high school. They didn’t even teach them in college. You still needed a private teacher and my teacher was miles away and I didn’t drive. I did what I could on my own, but I needed a teacher.

We didn’t have a senior prom in High School. It was canceled because no one signed up to go. Nor were there parties to celebrate unless they were small and private. The school was divided by race, class, where you lived, what your extracurricular activities were, and whether you were Jewish, well-to-do-white, poor white, Black, Hispanic or Something Else.

My grades weren’t great, but my IQ was ridiculously high. I’m still not sure what that means in terms of the life one lives. Most of the super smart people I knew, in the end, lived fairly normal lives. The people who made billions were not necessarily the ones with the highest IQs, either. They were the ones with the most determination and focus, something tests don’t measure.

Hofstra in 2014

Nonetheless, I won the two big merit scholarships. There was a ceremony in our auditorium where the Principal pointed out that MOST OF US deserved the award, with an evil eye sent to me and my best friend Heidi — another under-achieving winner.

I think the people who miss high school are people who had a special relationship with it or someone in it. For me, it was something I needed to survive until I got to college. I really enjoyed college, though. It wasn’t just studying. It was social and spiritual and the people I met there are still my friends today.

I admit I didn’t try terribly hard. Most things came to me easily. I had a great memory (unlike now). The hard work came after school. At work. When I had to learn Systems Analysis in two weeks. I needed to know them to do the work I did — so, I learned them. I thought my brain was going to explode.

Little Theater – WVHC 1963

Long after college days were done, one of my bosses was a Ph.D. in Higher Mathematics from M.I.T. I commented that I hadn’t really had to study in school. He laughed. He said that was the thing about M.I.T. Everyone there had been able to go through school without studying. At M.I.T., you studied or you dropped out. It turns out, there ARE schools where you really have to study. I suspect when you get into hard sciences and math, that was also a different story. History is a lot easier to remember than physics.

I was lucky insofar as not only did I grow up in an area full of every kind of person, but my mother urged me to get to know them. She wasn’t just a liberal in-name. She meant it. I don’t think she thought I’d marry someone of a different race, but doubt she’d be surprised.

She knew I dated men of various hues and aside from occasionally pointing out that babies from mixed marriages might have a hard time, she didn’t say anything else. It took me a long time to be comfortable as the only white person in a group of darker people — until I realized no one cared except me, after which it was much easier.

It’s funny looking back into the early sixties. All the things we were striving to do seem to be in the process of being undone. I’m not sure where we are going or with whom we are going. I’m hoping I live long enough to live the difference.

BEING AGAINST FORCED BUSING DOESN’T MEAN YOU OPPOSE INTEGRATION – Garry Armstrong

I was in the middle of what I honestly call the Boston busing fiasco. On center stage, it played as a racial divide between Boston’s white and minority communities. It played well in the media – especially national and international media where they didn’t understand the local sentiments. The local news stations did a little better — when they tried.

Boston was sarcastically labeled as “The Athens Of America” in this period.

Boston busing – Opposing busing didn’t mean you opposed integration – Boston Globe

The key which I discovered by listening to students and parents – white and minority — was lack of quality education. Busing poor, low-income kids -Black and White – didn’t solve the problem of inferior education. Old, outdated textbooks. Antiquated curriculums. Teachers disenchanted by the lack of respect in pay and regard. Oversized classrooms where teaching was a mission impossible.

Time and again, I heard the same complaints from communities that reportedly were “racially divided” by Federally-mandated busing.

Students were transported from substandard schools in one community to substandard schools in another community. Few bothered to mention this. Most said it was a racial divide which was a cheap way to deflect the ball dropped by courts, legislators and local politicians who saw this as a way to build their constituencies by playing the race card instead of dealing with the fundamental issue: the lack of quality education in Boston’s low-income communities.

After I heard the anger over lack of quality education which was repeated over and over by white and Black families, I went with that as the core of my reports.

Truth be told though, I usually led stories with the standard visual images of angry crowds shouting racial epithets, school buses being stoned, and students threatened. Those images were overemphasized and inaccurately interpreted by national and international journalists and commentators.

I often tried to explain things to the network reporters, but they blew me off, labeling me as a local unable to see the big picture. It was exactly the opposite. They didn’t see the picture and they weren’t looking for it, either.

Many local politicians and community leaders – who really knew better — preyed on their constituents for votes instead of trying to calm the firestorm which often turned violent. We in the local media played the violence up, too because it brought in big ratings and that’s what our bosses wanted. If you wanted your job, there was no escaping the error.

Real efforts to explain the education issues were left to minority affairs shows which aired while most people slept.

Although I was proud of my body of work and earned an Emmy for coverage of that era, it was a bittersweet honor. Had I been able to cover it honestly, it would have been a different story.

There’s certainly no excuse – 50 years later – for Presidential hopefuls to use busing as a political tool. Again, they are ignoring the real issue of that volatile period in the name of getting some votes from people who weren’t here and don’t understand what really happened.

Shame on all of them!

You might find reading today’s Boston Globe’s article:
OPPOSING FORCED BUSING DOESN’T MEAN YOU OPPOSE INTEGRATION by Kevin Cullen -July 1, 2019

BUSING FAILED. IT’S ABOUT TIME WE SAY SO – Marilyn Armstrong

Watching the Democratic riots (aka “debates”)  the other night, I was surprised that Biden didn’t tell the real truth about busing. Because this is a subject with which we are intimately familiar here. Garry covered Boston’s busing crises and has an Emmy for his work. He interviewed white families, black families, every family. He interviewed politicians, teachers, and the kids who got bused.

I think by the time he was done with the story, he had interviewed almost everyone in Boston. Everyone had an opinion, but the most pointed ones were from the families who were directly affected by busing and the kids who were bused.

Because you see, the outcome has been clear for years: BUSING DIDN’T WORK.

Not one state exceeded 49%!

Educators and other organizations have done study-after-study about it. It did not improve race relations or education. It absolutely failed. However well-intentioned the idea, busing kids long distances to schools which did not welcome the students and where they would not make friends or get a better education didn’t solve any problems. It probably created new ones.

The real issue?

We need to invest in our schools. Money. Schools need money. Teachers need salaries. Schools need better textbooks and materials. Laboratories, computers. It’s not about better cafeterias and larger playing fields.

It’s about better learning.

Moving kids of different races, so you can say you have somehow achieved diversity, is nonsense. I’m surprised Biden didn’t bother to point it out. For that matter, I’m shocked that Kamala didn’t point it out either. I’m sure she knows as well as we do. Should Biden have supported busing despite not believing in it? Because it was the currently “right thing to do”?

I think not, but then again — I’m not a follower of trends or fads, no matter how well-meant.

Our school issues — local and national — are ruined by lack of funding. By an unwillingness of states, towns, and the federal government to spend enough money to make our schools what they ought to be. To pay teachers what they are worth. To make teaching an attractive profession.

Whenever a government runs short of money, the first thing they cut is education. They refuse to buy quality textbooks or even school supplies. The result is a nation full of stupid, ignorant people. Maybe some of them would have been stupid and ignorant anyway, but I’m sure the lack of education didn’t help.

Rebuilt Uxbridge High School. I’m sure the classrooms are nicer, but is education better?

It’s time to start questioning the idea that diversity automatically improves education and thus physically moving children from one school to another is in itself solving some educational problem. It isn’t.

In effect, what happened is anyone who could afford it sent their children to private schools. Since both sets of schools involved in Boston busing were in poor neighborhoods — no accident — the result was non-education for everyone.

If we don’t invest in education, we’ll never have educated students of any color. Bad schools produce poor education. If schools are sufficiently bad, the result is uneducated students.

We talk a good game per education in the U.S., but we don’t live it. We don’t contribute to it. So while we worry about college debt, how about we put a little of that concern into worrying about teaching kids to read and understand what they are reading? Teach them some real history, not the crap they get in their old, out-of-date (and probably never accurate even when they were new) textbooks.

EDUCATION AND HOMEWORK – Marilyn Armstrong

FOWC with Fandango — Homework

This is a little rant about schools, educational funding, underpaid, exhausted teachers, outdated textbooks, and overpriced colleges lacking state and federal backing.

In the years since I graduated from college in 1967, I’ve been watching what was a mediocre school system get much worse. I see legally required fancy buildings which offer little real education. Each year, it gets worse. Do we care about education or is it just something we like to to talk about? Do we want our kids to be able to compete in the world?


I pretty much never did my homework. To be fair, back in those golden olden days, teachers didn’t check to see if you did it either. You might get tested on it at some point later in the term, but if the information was covered in class, I’d remember it. Back then, I had a great memory. I prided myself on not having to write down phone numbers. I could remember all of them.

Photo: Garry Armstrong

Now, no matter how often I use a phone number, other than my own and my son’s, I have to look it up. I may not remember it long enough to not have to look it up a few times while trying to make the call. Time. It does its thing. I have maybe 15 seconds between getting information and it disappearing like the breeze in the trees.

I swear kids these days get homework intended to make up for not getting taught anything in school. Apparently, they are supposed to learn on their own what their teachers are too tired, bored, or incapable of teaching.

Leslie commented the other day that there are some great movies that could be used in the classroom. There are, absolutely. Inherit The Wind. On The Waterfront. The Lion In Winter. A wide variety of well-done historical documentaries and movies. But they aren’t used.

Harvard – Photo: B. Kraft

What they are getting is dry, dull textbooks, many of which were out of date when they were written fifty years ago. I never cracked a textbook. I just read on my own and I had a mother who loaded me down with books and a library that was a mere mile away. I remember toting home the maximum limit of books they’d let you borrow in a week. Ten books. They were heavy books, but I was young.

High School, really

For a country that supposedly values education, this country has a  strange way of showing it. Every year, when we begin to run out of budgeted money, states and the feds cut school budgets.

You can’t make a great country from a nation of ignoramuses. Yes, if your parents have the money, they might be able to send you to a superior school and if the child is smart enough, he or she might really benefit from a better education. But there are also a lot of private schools that are essentially “pay tuition for good grades.” Send your kids there. Pay the fabulous tuition and they’ll get grades which should get them into college.

Hofstra in 2014

Colleges have gotten smarter, though. They test incoming kids to make sure they can read and understand what they’ve read. They make sure they have basic maths skills. They check science education. This isn’t to make sure they are brilliant, but to make sure have a basic grasp of English. To see if they can understand the concepts of what they’ve read because — as an English professor I know has pointed out, many kids not only don’t read but can’t.

They don’t know grammar because it isn’t taught in public schools and hasn’t been since before I started school in 1951. They don’t know the parts of speech, have no concept of punctuation, and can’t do anything resembling research because when all of the preceding is true, how can you research anything? If you don’t understand what you’ve read, you can’t move forward.

Let me state for the record this is not the fault of the kids. It’s OUR fault for allowing education to become so bad in so many places and so expensive everywhere else. Only the brightest and most individually motivated youngsters manage to rise above the system.

I know not every child from every family is going to be a scholar, but shouldn’t every child have that opportunity? If they have the smarts and the interest, shouldn’t it be possible?

P.S. 35, Queens

Loading them up with eight hours of homework while loading them down with 50-pounds of boring, timeworn textbooks is a total educational cop-out. The schools I went to weren’t fabulous, but the teachers knew something. They encouraged us. If we showed promise, there was always a teacher who’d give us a nudge, suggest we try a little harder and get better.

These days? Working (briefly) as a substitute I was appalled at how listless and bored the students were. They were thrilled to have someone in the classroom that could talk to them about anything. I was told that usually, all they did was read the textbooks until the bell rang. I’d have collapsed from boredom.

We wonder why they spend so much time on the phone or iPad or computer? That’s how they learn. But what are they learning?