History buff -- 10/07/08

Yes, guilty as charged.

I am interested in history.

(Hey, I've been hanging around watching it happen for sixty-five years now. I do hope that we are not about to repeat the history of the 1930s -- I missed out by a few years when that came around and I'm not very eager to see first-hand what I'd only read about and been told about.)

Today is the 437th anniversary of the Battle of Lepanto -- with a death toll for a single day of battle that would not be matched until the First World War.

I said I was interested in history. I wish schools taught history. They don't, you know, they really don't. They mostly didn't teach it when I was a kid either, so this is not a new phenomenon. We had "social studies" in grade school. What that really meant was that we learned even less history than we did science.

What did we learn? Uh, penmanship. A special penmanship teacher came once a week starting (if I recall) in third grade. We were probably part of the decline in proper penmanship in America because we learned to print in first grade and didn't move to begin learning cursive until third grade. We were taught Palmer Method Penmanship. And (I believe this came in 4th grade) we learned to write cursive in ink. If you've ever seen old school desks with a round hole in the top, that was for the inkwell. We weren't trusted, of course, to have an inkwell there during regular classes. The inkwells -- glass cylinders -- were then filled with black ink and we took out pens, dipped them into the inkwells, and practiced our cursive penmanship. And did drills. Page after page of strokes or ovals or circles... Oh, how I loathed penmanship class.

And we learned arithmetic. (I wouldn't claim that we learned mathematics in any higher sense -- especially since I am married to a math teacher) But it seems to me we all learned arithmetic fairly well -- at least it seems we could add and subtract and multiply and divide far more proficiently in fifth and sixth grade than seems true of the bulk of the seventh and eighth graders that Nancy has. And, although not everyone in our Rhode Island town is well-to-do, we do have a considerable number of college professors in town as well and a good supply of business types and professionals and our school system is considered to be one of the good ones in the state; my childhood neighborhood was, at best, blue collar, and my grade school classmates would be considered a diverse group in today's terms. I don't have any statistics, but my recollection is that a majority of the males from my neighborhood dropped out without graduating from high school (I'm really sure that more girls than boys graduated) and my memory says only three of us went to college (that's including a proprietary business school -- although I'd bet that more than one went back to school when a community college opened a couple of years later. But, most of us upon leaving grade school could do enough arithmetic to handle any adult real life calculations that did not require algebra or geometry.

By the way, I have absolutely terrible handwriting. My writing is so bad it probably makes people think I went to medical school. I was so happy when I got to high school and teachers told me it was okay to print when I had to write an essay. I actually had printing that was legible. Unfortunately, many years of keyboard use seem to have taken away my ability to print. I have difficulty writing a grocery list that I can read when I get to the store -- I have to make myself take time to try to be legible else I'll get to the store and wonder "What does that say?" So much for all those classroom hours spent following Mr. Palmer's strictures.

But I digress... my point was, I guess, that most of what I know about history is self-taught, obtained outside of a classroom environment. And that with the exception of my junior year American History class and a pair of one-semester senior year elective courses, there was very little content or value in most of the empty fluff was covered under the umbrella of "social studies." (My American History teacher in high school was very good -- he taught a good course, organized in chronological order by presidency (naturally, some administrations would receive much more time than others). That always seemed a natural organizing framework. I would suppose that English history might naturally be tied to the reining monarchs, a natural way of keeping sequences and timeline straight. (The summer I graduated from high school I read -- among many other books -- Winston Churchill's A History of the English-Speaking Peoples.)

I get very frustrated when I think about how much time in school is wasted, just thrown away on trivia, when there is so much good stuff that is untouched.

(On-going political grumbling...)

There's a presidential campaign debate between Obama and McCain coming up in a few minutes. I don't know if I can bring myself to watch it. I listened to portions of the first debate when Jill & I were coming back down to South County from our Flash class a couple of weeks ago. I was not particularly impressed or enlightened.

I did watch the vice presidential debate last week. Gov. Palin was okay -- and I'd be happy to vote for her as governor of Rhode Island. I think she might do quite well in that position. I'm not ready to think of her as vice president or president. Of course the same thing is true of Senator Biden. (My first big disappointment in Obama was that he picked a useless political hack like Biden to be his running mate.) The media, which jumped all over Palin because she got the name of the commanding general in Afghanistan wrong, saying "McClellen" instead of "McKiernan" -- totally ignored Biden totally misstating what the Constitution says about the vice president and completely inventing history in the Middle East. He claimed that the United States and France had driven Hezbollah out of Lebanon but that despite his and Obama's warning that we needed to bring NATO in there (NATO?), the administration ignored them and let Hezbollah back in to become part of the Lebonese government. What? Never happened. The U.S. and France (who? France?) never did any such thing. Nobody did that. So how could Biden and Obama have warned Bush about what to do next? Biden was inventing history that never happened and made no sense. (Perhaps this happened in that alternate history he seems to live in where President Roosevelt went on television when the stock market crashed in 1929.) How many of you heard the media carry on about any Biden's blunders in the debate? His numerous errors and stupid blatantly untrue statements were pretty much ignored. And Obama thinks that this pompous but ignorant ass is fit to be vice president? Biden is an ignorant and incompetent bag of hot air. Okay, pick who you want, but anyone who thinks Biden is worthy of any office higher than perhaps a county legislature has no business criticizing McCain's choice of Gov. Palin. (And Palin's weakness is that she didn't have the knowledge or the self-confidence to interrupt him to ask him what kind of wacky weed was he smoking to be talking such nonsense! I haven't heard anything so stupid in an election debate since Ford claimed that the Soviet Union was not dominating Poland and Eastern Europe "and never would in a Ford administration!" And Palin didn't challenge Biden on it. Yeah, well, that should have been her job. You certainly can't trust the news media to do it.)

A couple of weeks ago Virginia Postrel said "...if you held a gun to my head and made me pick one of the two major party contenders this week I'd have to go with Obama. He scares me, but not as much as McCain."

I guess that may be what it comes down to... although the Democratic campaign to block free speech (which seems to be any speech that doesn't follow the party line) is getting to be kind of troublesome... (By the way, have you noticed how fast that SNL skit from Saturday night disappeared from the Internet, not just from the NBC sites but even from YouTube and similar sites.)

previous entry

next entry

To list of entries for 2008

To Home (Index) page


Weblog Commenting and Trackback by HaloScan.com