A CRITICAL LOOK: ALL IT TAKES?

A brief, critical look at what it takes to be a Real American in 2017


I keep reading posts which suggest that all it would take to make the world non-racist would be for (fill in the oppressed individual by color, ethnicity, nationality, or faith) to work really hard. Get that work ethic between their teeth and go for it.

World’s Tallest Native American statue

Do you think the Jews in Germany didn’t get that? They had that ethic work sewn up — until they were locked in cattle cars and carted off to be gassed and burned.

Dark-skinned people from around the world are sure their efforts will be rewarded in America if they are patient and hard-working. It’s the American way, or always has been. Immigrants have always worked their butts off because they are America’s true believers. They know this is the way to make a place for themselves and their family here. That’s how we built our nation and while we longtime citizens may have lost our faith, they have not.

(AP Photo/Preston Stroup) President Franklin Roosevelt, speaks on the 50th anniversary of the erection of the State of Liberty in New York, on Oct. 28, 1936. He declared that, “To the message of Liberty which America sends to all the world must be added her message of peace.”

The irony of making our problems the fault of immigrants is astounding. We are immigrants, unless we are Native Americans. Hating immigrants is like hating yourself. If we didn’t come to this country on our own, then our parents, grandparents, or great grandparents came. By plane or boat. Some had a little money, many had nothing but themselves, a few skills, and a whole lot of hope.

Immigrant families are already doing their best to fit in. They know how hard it will be, but they keep trying. Oppressive or not, these are determined people. They’ve put it all on the line and they won’t give up without a fight.

When white men complain they are oppressed, I’m pretty sure they have no idea what they are talking about. There’s a big difference between “not getting everything you want” and “oppression.” These guys don’t see a difference.

If  you’re working on the assumption that Those Other People need to behave like you to get what they deserve and you find that a satisfying answer, think again. They need to be much better than you. You can make mistakes and show up at work with a hangover. They can’t. You got the “go ahead” nod at birth, not because you’re better but simply because you had the right mom and dad. You got that advantage without education or effort. You keep it for a lifetime, no matter how much you screw up.

He formed the minute men and brewed beer. What a guy!

For others to have a chance to merely be your equal, they need a better education than you, perfect manners, and a willingness to never step out of line — for any reason. Could you do it? Do you do it?

A lot of people who think they are absolutely not racist, are. Not in a “grab the Nazi sign and lets terrorize people” kind of way, but in their assumptions that the world belongs to them by some sort of natal right. They mange to deal with people who are “different” as long as they aren’t too different. As long as they wear the same clothing, abide by identical rules, speak the “right” way … and behave the way we all know we should, but usually don’t. And don’t live in the “wrong” neighborhood.

Union soldier

Meanwhile, let’s keep those statues of the South’s proud racists standing tall so that our youth will better understand history.  What do you imagine they will understand by seeing statues of people willing to die to support slavery?

Just in passing — do you know anyone who learned history from a statue? For me, it was books and museums.

DOING WHAT YOU LOVE, LOVING WHAT YOU DO – BY ELLIN CURLEY

My mother was a psychologist and my father was a psychoanalyst. They both practiced as therapists. It seemed like the greatest profession and I grew up wanting to be a therapist too. You get to help people but you can be your own boss and set your own schedule. I always thought I would go to medical school, like my Dad, and become a psychiatrist or psychoanalyst.

Unfortunately, it turned out that I sucked at science. After my first year in college, I realized that I would never get good enough grades in the sciences to get into medical school. So I followed my interests and became an American Studies major, with a minor in history. Toward the end of my college career, I announced that I would become a therapist by going to social work or psychology grad school.

My father went ballistic. He was actually famous in his profession. He was devastated at the thought that his daughter would not go to medical school. ‘Just’ being a therapist, without a medical degree, was unthinkable for any daughter of his. I would have been an embarrassment.

Like a young, insecure idiot, I bowed to his wishes and gave up my dream. I realized I could go to law school if I just took the LSAT exam. So that’s what I did. I basically chose a career based on where I could go to grad school — with the least amount of hassle. I was interested in the law, but not excited. I had no idea what it meant to be a practicing lawyer, day-to-day.

I made it through law school, still not really motivated to practice law. It turned out that the only kind of law I was really interested in, found intellectually challenging, was litigation, or trial practice. But litigators had to put in crazy, unpredictable hours and my husband was already doing that. I wanted children and didn’t think I could handle a demanding career, a demanding husband, running our lives and bringing up kids. I don’t thrive on stress and hyperactivity – they sap me and overwhelm me. I ended up being overwhelmed anyway, at home, with a bi-polar husband and one child with psychological and learning issues.

So I opted for a small, general practice law firm in New York City. I did contracts, trusts and estates, some leases, etc. I was bored out of my mind. Lots of paperwork and endless bureaucracy to negotiate. Not stimulating or gratifying in any way. I couldn’t wait to get pregnant so I could quit and become a stay at home Mom. Being a Mother was the one thing I was really excited about.

It turns out that the day my son was born, two months prematurely, I found my ideal career. I loved being a Mom and managing a home for my family. I worked hard, with no weekends off and few vacations. I was never bored. I always felt challenged by whatever phase my kids were going through. I was happy and satisfied with my life style.

I never looked back or regretted my decision to leave the law for motherhood. The decision I regret was appeasing my father and not pursuing the career I really wanted, in whatever way I wanted. Had I found a career I loved, my life would have played out differently. I could have worked part-time as a psychologist while my kids grew up, like my Mom did. (At that time, part-time work or job sharing was almost non-existent in law firms). I would also have had a career to go back to when my kids left home. It would have been nice to have a job I loved to fill the empty nest years, in my 50’s and 60’s.

What is depressing to me now is that I gave up the chance to fulfill my dreams of being a therapist. And I gave it all up to assuage my father’s ego. I wish I could go back now and tell my 21-year-old self to stand up to my Dad. To just go for the life I wanted. What makes it worse is that my Dad and I had a very limited and strained relationship. He was not really involved in my life. Except to step in and put the kibosh on my career choice.

I loved my job as a home maker and Mom. But I could also have loved my job as a therapist. And, I would have never felt I missed out on a big part of life.

TRUMP SHOULD BE IN SPECIAL ED – BY ELLIN CURLEY

My son spent middle school and high school in Special Ed classes. He suffered from ADD, hyperactivity, learning disabilities and psychological issues. He needed all the help he could get.

So does Donald Trump. Trump’s behavior reminds me of many of my son’s symptoms. He, like my son, could benefit from some of the strategies taught in Special Ed.

People with ADD (Attention Deficit Disorder) have trouble organizing their things and their thoughts. My son could actually put full sentences together, so, at 12, he was way ahead of our President at aged 70. Trump would have needed extra remedial help, even in Special Ed. But, my son did have trouble staying on topic, in speaking and in writing. His writing was jumbled, random thoughts strung together. He couldn’t organize logical paragraphs. Sound familiar?

Trump’s tweets and speech are really word salads attempting to form sentences and meandering, disjointed words masquerading as coherent thought. Trump would fall at the high-end of the disability spectrum for his thought processes and his ability (or lack) to express himself. And we’re talking middle to high school levels.

In terms of behavior, my son was hyperactive. He couldn’t sit still or pay attention for more than a few minutes at a time. His teachers had to help him reduce his class material down to a couple of pages of bullet points so he could study and pass tests. In the school system, this is considered a disability.

Who’d have thought that our President would require his staff, just like the Special Ed staff, to reduce all presentations to him down to one page, even security briefings! And for Trump, that one page has to be double spaced, in big letters, with lots of graphs and maps.

Another symptom of ADD and hyperactivity, is restlessness and jumping from activity to activity, topic to topic. Trump is known for this. He frequently gets bored and turns on Cable TV News. He goes off topic all the time, with world leaders, in speeches and in interviews, as well as in tweets. It’s hard to figure out what he really thinks about anything because he doesn’t stay on topic long enough to get an intelligent position across. Of course, he may not have one on most issues, so this point may be moot.

My son had other behavioral issues that are associated with ADD and hyperactivity. He didn’t always understand how people would react to what he said or did. He had terrible impulse control and had trouble reading social cues, so he would blurt things out in class, out of turn — all the time — then not understand why other kids made fun of him. He would say inappropriate things and be surprised when he got a negative reaction.

I don’t need to point out all the times that Donald Trump has exhibited these traits. I do need to point out that these are considered issues severe enough to warrant removing a child from mainstream classrooms and giving them remedial help in Special Ed.

My son also had emotional issues. He had trouble dealing with failure and setbacks. He was also very sensitive to criticism and slights. He had to be praised a lot and needed to have frequent, even small, successes to build his confidence. He would often have meltdowns. But. At his worst, he never, ever was as mean or vindictive as Trump is during his twitter rants against people who disagree with him.

If my son had exhibited behavior half as nasty and over-the-top as Trump’s behavior regularly is, the school psychologist would have been called in for a consultation. My husband and I would have been read the riot act by the psychologist and told we needed to teach our son self-control and acceptable social limits.

My son has worked hard over the years and, as an adult, has mastered most of his childhood issues. He’s trained himself to write clearly and well. He writes for work all the time. He has harnessed his energy and focus and can now concentrate on and absorb long papers for his job. It might take him longer to read and write than other people, but he gets through it. He has also matured. Now he can now handle disappointment and opposition and his social skills are well above average.

With effort and special help, a kid with a lot of issues managed to conquer them and become a compassionate, thoughtful, sensitive, responsible adult. So, for the sake of the country and the world, can we PLEASE set up a Special Ed Department in the Oval Office?

SUBTLE AND NOT SO SUBTLE – POETRY

National Poetry Month, Rich Paschall


There seems to be a day, a week or even a month for just about everything.  It is quite interesting the types of things for which mayors, governors and even presidents are willing to present a proclamation.  Did you miss One Cent Day April 1st?  No joke, it is a day to commemorate the history of the penny.  I guess it is not worth much anymore.

Certainly you did not miss out on the fact that April 1 is also Sourdough Bread Day.  No Foolin’!  The stuff has been around a long time.  I guess it deserves an entire day, especially when you consider some of the other things that get a day.  Perhaps I should make a point to buy some, or not.

Poetry gets all of April.   That’s seems fair when you consider the vast amount of poetry in the world that most students try to avoid reading.  Maybe it is as good a month as any to push this literary format to the front of the classroom, library, den, coffee-house or wherever you might find verse lurking in the shadows.

The celebration of a poetry month was introduced in 1996 as a way to increase awareness of the genre in the United States.  President Clinton issued a Proclamation on April 1 of that year, declaring “National Poetry Month offers us a welcome opportunity to celebrate not only the unsurpassed body of literature produced by our poets in the past, but also the vitality and diversity of voices reflected in the works of today’s American poetry.”

As libraries, classrooms and bookstores put up posters of famous poets and feature collections of poetry, consider how much poetry you know?  You don’t think you know any?  How many song lyrics do you know by heart?  I guess you know a lot of poetry after all.

In the 1970’s I would turn over album covers (you know, the cardboard sleeve that records came in) in order to see if the lyrics were printed on the back.  There seemed to me to be a lot of thoughtful lyrics on a variety of social and emotional issues.  I loved reading the poetry as much as hearing the music.

When I was in graduate school, I took a class in Poetry Writing.  I thought I was good at it and wanted to see if I could learn some tricks to writing better poetry.  I learned there are no real tricks.  Either you are good at it and are willing to spend time working on it, or you are not so good and do not want to invest the time in a genre that is only pushed forward one month a year.

My professor of poetry writing did not like my first effort for the class.  I thought it was the kind of thing he wanted, apparently not.

Subtle Sounds

They hang softly in the distance.
They tell of something somewhere,
but not here.

They reveal that life goes on,
while deafening silence moves in to share my space.

Like seasons, they run in cycles.
Just as Spring moves to Summer and beyond,
sounds move to silence and beyond.

They have come to my life. 
I know they are there,
yet I can only see
and not hear.

Don’t bother to analyze it.  I am not sure what it means either, and I wrote it.  Of course that was 35 years ago, but I do recall the professor’s disdain. By the end of class I was able to write something he liked.  I believe he never realized the work was as much a commentary of his class and usual criticisms of poems, as it was the fulfillment of an assignment. Since April 2nd is Peanut Butter and Jelly Sandwich Day, I suggest you go grab a PB&J sandwich and enjoy the following.

Word War

The mood is tense.
Words are fighting for meaning.
These stressed soldiers cry out
but are not understood.

General Vague evaluates the conflict.
The consonants are not alliterating,
the end words not rhyming,
and the images “not working.”

Major Disaster declares the stanzas hopeless.
The transitions are lost,
the punctuation missing,
and the verse running free.

Private Joke laughs to himself.
He sees the experts
with no answers.

FEUD: BETTE AND JOAN — PECULIAR MEMORIES

Garry has written his own version of this story, though it’s completely different. And a little bit the same. For him, it’s Hollywood. For me, it is memories.


In 1962, I was 15 years old, at the beginning of my senior year of high school. The school I attended was a giant of a school in Jamaica, Queens, New York. Five stories high (including the bell tower which was where the choir worked), it was shaped like a giant H. Most of the classrooms were on either end of the H with offices, bathroom, closets and all that stuff along the hallways.

There were no elevators. I suppose it never occurred to the designer of high schools that anyone might have a broken leg or something like that.

Jamaica High School was administered by the New York City Department of Education, which closed the school in 2014. The school’s landmark campus, located at the corner of 167th Street and Gothic Drive, remains open. It is now officially known as the Jamaica Educational Campus. It houses four smaller separately administered public high schools that share facilities and sports teams.

It was September 1962 when I noticed a big lump on my ankle. Pretty big. Hard, and it didn’t hurt. At all. Nothing to indicate it was from a bump or a fall. I ran my hand up and down my leg and thought about it. Probably nothing. At 15, everything is no big deal. But, because I also knew my mother had long and ugly bout with cancer (cancer? kids don’t get cancer!), I called her.

“I’ve got a lump on my leg,” I explained. “Here.” She ran her fingers over it.

“Does it hurt?”

“No.”

“Not even a little bit?”

“Nope. Just a lump. I was going to forget about it, but … you know. What do you think?”

“I think we need a doctor,” she said and promptly arranged for me to see the chief resident surgeon at NewYork Presbyterian Hospital. I should mention it was a great hospital. Compassionate, caring and very concerned for its patients. My mother had excellent taste in hospitals, something that would eventually serve me well as time caught up with me.

What Ever Happened to Baby Jane? is a 1962 American psychological thriller-horror (and very camp) film produced and directed by Robert Aldrich, starring Bette Davis and Joan Crawford.

I was in the hospital in the middle of September. The surgeon — Dr. Waugh, I believe … many years ago and names slip away with time — said I had a tumor. What kind of tumor, he didn’t know and couldn’t know until surgery. If it was benign, they would just remove it and off I’d go into the world, none the worse for wear. If it was the other kind, I would likely lose my leg. The whole leg. I was not happy about that, but at least he didn’t mince words or make me feel like a moron.

A week later, I was in surgery. It wasn’t cancer. Benign but a really big tumor. It had wrapped itself around my tibia and femur. It had crawled up the leg and was in the process of pulling apart the two bones. So not cancer, but also, not nothing. They could not simply remove it. There was too much of it, so they took out a piece of my femur and replaced it with a very hard plastic bone. Packed the leg in whatever that stuff is they use and for two weeks, I slept with that leg on a huge pack of ice.

No getting out of bed for anything. At all. I was not to use that leg for a full six months because the implanted bone needed to set. The nurses used to hang out with me in the evening. They were my pals when I watched Invasion of the Body Snatchers. They checked under my bed to make sure there were no pods waiting for me. Then, it was time to go home.

With crutches.

My high school was gigantic and there was no way I could attend school until my leg finished healing. The school called the home teachers unit. There were, even back then, a lot of students who couldn’t attend regular school. Some had emotional issues. Others had physical problems. Some, like me, were having a temporary setback — broken legs or broken something or other — and needed someone to help them stay up to date. I doubted my absence would make that big a difference, but I worried if I didn’t take the exams as expected, I wouldn’t be able to graduate on time.

I got a teacher.

Are you still with me? Because it gets more complicated from here on.


My new teacher had other students. One of them, a young woman, lived nearby. She was schizophrenic, but also a nice young woman and a talented artist. My teacher thought that I would be good for her. She didn’t have any friends, being out of school. Thus we were introduced.

Mary was seventeen and I was fifteen. For fifteen, I was mature. As a mature person, I was still fifteen. I liked Mary, though she had the strangest eyes. She would look at me and it was as if she were seeing through me. Her pictures looked like that too.

One night, just after What Ever Happened to Baby Jane? was released, she suggested we go to the movies. I have never been a fan of horror movies. Not even the terribly fake, silly ones with giant lizards and moths. I would get nightmares, so I wasn’t allowed to go to any of them. It was the screaming in the night thing. It ruined everyone’s sleep.

Photos of Bette Davis & Joan Crawford, The ‘Feud’ characters in life

Mary wanted to see it. Said it would be a hoot. I was amenable. I figured I was not a tiny kid. I could watch a horror movie. I’d be fine, right? Of course I would.

I didn’t go to movies often. They were expensive. My allowance was enough so I could get to school and come home. If I walked rather than taking a bus, I could save the 15 cents each way. If I did it a lot, I could hoard enough cash to go to a movie and even have a coke. Since I hadn’t been going to school at all, I had money saved. We went to the movies.

I was uncomfortable. It wasn’t as icky as things with giant lizards, but bad enough. Yet, the night wasn’t over. Mary said: “There’s this wonderful place I like to go at night. It’s really cool. Wanna come?” What teenager could turn down a great invitation like that?  We went.

It was a nice little grave yard. My friend Mary danced through it, her scarf flowing in the breeze. Then, she ran about, gently kissing the tombstones. She was happy.

SUMMING UP

Garry and I are watching Feud – Bette and Joan. It’s about the making of that particular movie. Garry rather likes it. He knows it’s not a great movie. Probably not even a good one, but he likes it anyway. He knew a lot about the feud of the co-stars because he is into movies big time. This show has juicy bits above and beyond his own juicy bits. Also, he had done a piece with Gary Merrill (one of Bette Davis’ husbands) who had a son in Boston politics. Garry had a few juicy stories of his own.

I merely repeated I didn’t much like the movie, though I admitted I’d seen it in 1962, so I could change my mind. Garry finally asked me what I had against it? “Really,” he said. “It’s just a campy movie with two feuding actresses.”

I explained I had a different take on it. “Didn’t I tell you this already?” I asked him. I was sure we’d told each other everything. How could I have omitted this gem? But I had.

When I was done (and this is not the whole story … there’s more), he said: “You should write that.” And now, I have. This was one of the evenings I can clearly remember — fifty-five years later.

There’s no moral to this story, except that my feelings about What Ever Happened to Baby Jane? are uniquely mine.

SCHOOL. WAS. DULL.

I always find myself defending school to kids. They complain it’s dull. That there’s nothing in it that “grabs” or fascinates them. I find myself trying to explain that school … well … wasn’t fascinating. That wasn’t the point.

School was dull. I remember being the one who had a book in my lap so when no one was looking, I would read. I love science today, but in school? In elementary school, junior high school, and high school? It was boring. I remember in high school I had a double period of botany beginning at eight in the morning. When I was, in any case, half asleep. The class went on for two endless hours. We had a teacher who knew her stuff, but could not speak in anything but the most droning voice. She’d start to talk and I’d black out. Completely. Gone.

I did not do well in the class. A pity. I was actually interested, but she was better than a sleeping pill. Twice as good, really. Nothing I ever took knocked me out as well as she did.

Social studies which would today be what? Social science? History? Some weird version of both? It consisted of everything that wasn’t English, math, or science. What we called “the rest of the stuff.” I was a passionate, ardent, enthusiastic reader.  I loved history and the world. But social studies? With those stupid work books where you would answer a question and then you had to color the pictures. Seriously? Color the pictures? I flunked coloring.

English was dull, too. We had to read books that were of no interest to anyone. I suspected the teachers found them duller than dirt too, but it was in the curriculum and that’s what they were supposed to teach. They did. We yawned. I drew pictures of horses in my notebooks. Sometimes, when I got tired of horses — I never got the feet right — I moved into castles. I was better at castles.

If they let us write something, I was definitely good at that. But being good at it didn’t make it interesting. My previous summer vacation wasn’t the stuff to brighten my week.

The teachers droned on and on. Those of us who intended to go to college hung in there. It never — not once, not for a split second — crossed my mind that I should drop out and work at entry-level jobs for the rest of my life merely because I was bored at school.

For me, going to college was exactly the same as going to heaven. I would go to college because as a child, there wasn’t another choice. I knew I could learn. I never doubted my ability to think. I was sure once I made it to the top — to college — the rest would follow.

I did learn a lot of things in college, but really, I learned most of the stuff which eluded me in school — math, science, statistics — while working.

When you are working, you learn things that make sense. You discover science has a reason. Numbers in context are not random forms on a piece of paper which you jiggle around until you either get the answer or sit there with empty eyes wondering what this is supposed to mean. I did stuff at work I had found impossible in a classroom. It wasn’t my fault. It was their fault. They taught the material so poorly no one who didn’t have a special thing for it ever figured it out. What a pity for everyone. Worst of all, they meant well. They did the best they knew how.

College had its share of drones and bores … but there were enough insanely wonderful teachers who opened whole new worlds for me. Out of all the courses I took, there were maybe a dozen teachers who were inspirational. It was enough.  For each year, there were at least one or two each semester. Plus, I was in an environment where learning was a thing everyone did. We wanted to learn. We needed to learn. We chose it.

We had managed to stay awake long enough in lower levels to get to this higher one and we weren’t going to toss it away. I know many people dropped out into the world of free love and acid and all that, but most of us stayed. If we were going to mess around, we were going to do it outside of class. We hadn’t gotten this far to ditch it for weekends of fun.

We never properly explained the whole school thing the way it should be explained to our kids or grandkids. We’ve told them “Oh, it’s not that bad.”

Except, it really is that bad. Sometimes, it’s even worse than that bad. School comes with incredibly boring teachers, but also with brutal, cruel classmates. That is very bad. Whether they are teasing you because of your color or because you are smart and they aren’t … cruelty is cruelty and kids are cruel. You don’t stay in school because it’s fun or because the quality of education is uplifting. You are there because you know in your brain and your guts that this is what you have to do if you want to have a real life.

If you also get wonderful, inspiring, enlightening teachers, that’s much better. But even if they are duller than you, duller than your dullard friends, you need to be there.

School is the work of childhood. It’s the “why of the how” of growing up.

WHY STUDY HISTORY? REFLECTING ON THE IMPORTANCE OF THE PAST

Posted on January 29, 2017 by Sean Munger in Authors, Books, History /

Al Mackey, the Civil War historian who runs the excellent Student of the American Civil War blog, has today put up a very thoughtful and incisive piece on a book written by another one of our blogging colleagues, Dr. John Fea. Dr. Fea’s book Why Study History? is a clarion call for our times, when understanding of the past–or even appreciation of why understanding the past is even useful–is under serious attack. The themes Dr. Fea talks about in his book, and which Mr. Mackey echoes, are similar to those I recently dealt with in my own article about the dangers of “Fake History.” Please read the whole article at Al’s blog, or, better yet, buy Dr. Fea’s book!

This is an excellent book by John Fea, Associate Professor of American History and Chair of the History Department at Messiah College. Professor Fea is also a blogging colleague, blogging at The Way of Improvement Leads Home, which is also the title of an earlier book of his, subtitled, Philip Vickers Fithian and the Rural Enlightenment in Early America. There he posts the normal history blog posts as well as personal reflections on current events, religion, politics, and the academic life, as well as videos. He also hosts a podcast that has already been featured on this blog.

In my opinion, everyone who would like to be a serious student of history needs to read this book. Professor Fea gives us an accessible primer on how to do history, from the obligatory “What Do Historians Do?” to “What Can You Do With a History Degree?”

So what is a historian? ” ‘In my opinion,’ writes Pulitzer Prize-winning historian Gordon Wood, ‘not everyone who writes about the past is a historian. Sociologists, anthropologists, political scientists, and economists frequently work in the past without thinking historically.’ ” [pp. 1-2]

Is history simply the past, or is there a difference?… [CONT’D]

Read the entire original article here: Why Study History? Reflecting on the Importance of the Past.