I have been reflecting on how history was taught to me. Writing about that will clarify further my responses to my recent history readings.
In 1962 I sat in assigned seats with about 25 other high school sophomores, a text similar to the one above in front of me before Mrs. L. with the same text open before her. We would have read several pages for our daily 55 minute class. She would talk over the same material. She didn’t expand on it, question it, or lead any discussion about it. She simply paraphrased the text. Every so often she would test us on our readings. The tests were usually multiple choice(The Missouri Compromise was about a. oxen, b. marriage,c. admitting new states to the Union,d. water rights.) I flew through the course, earning an “easy A” and assuming that I now knew American history.
EXCEPT–events that would prove to be seen as historic were taking place all around me. A Catholic had been elected President(he wasn’t killed until the following winter.) The Supreme Court had ordered that schools be racially integrated. Several years earlier troops had been brought into one state to enable “Negro” children to enter a high school. In May of the previous year our “advisors” to Viet Nam had increased. I learned all this from the Evening News with Walter Cronkite. I talked about these things with my friends.
But at Lincoln High’s American History class none of it was ever mentioned. In fact we only made it as far as the Great Depression before our school year ended. Mrs. L. bemoaned that “once again she hadn’t taught us about World War II.” Of course many of our fathers had already experienced it. But they weren’t talking either.
It has seemed impossible to avoid confronting rampant ignorance about the United States constantly being spouted on-line by whoever is taking the time to post. I have often felt smugly comfortable that I knew U.S. history fairly well. But some time ago, I began to question what I actually did know. I picked up the book above, The Accidental President by A.J. Baime, and began to read about the first four months of President Harry Truman’s presidency from April through August 1945.
But first a clarifying point that might help you know me a little better. In high school, “English” class freely mixed authors from various places. In other words I read American writers in “English” class. When I arrived a totally clueless college freshman in 1960, I enrolled in English 10, the introductory course at Harvard at the time. An astute reader can predict what happened. I read Chaucer to Eliot(remember Eliot was still fairly “modern” in 1960.) Not an American author anywhere. To read them I would have had to take English 70. And I hadn’t. Accordingly I had to learn a great deal of English, not American, history.
My English major continued apace, as I read the War Poets, 19th Century English novels and so on. My reading of English history went along with the literature. I learned about monarchs, laws, enclosures, Prime Ministers, struggles with Ireland, political parties and so on. The same astute reader will now understand a problem about my knowledge of United States history.
The only time I formally studied American history was in 1962/1963 when I was 15. Keep that in mind as I begin to share my readings in the next several posts.
After I finished reading Emma Donoghue’s new novel Haven(August 23, 2022) I made the mistake of reading reviews of the book. That helped me know that I should recommend it to my readers with all due diligence. No it does not have a riveting plot. Yes it is about three monks in the 7th century, not a very elaborately costumed time for the men. No it is not simply an indictment of the Catholic Church, nor can it be reduced so tidily to any set meaning. No it is not a primer on “getting back to nature.”
Haven is a meditation on vision, authority, discernment, obedience, and community. I am still thinking about it some days later. Three men set out to establish a monastery on an empty rock off the coast of Ireland. The rock is the setting. The monks are the characters. Any contemplation is the reader’s job. I take to contemplation easily, so the book found in me an ideal reader. Most reviewers didn’t take to it.
You know yourself best. Let me know if you do read it and what you think about it. Thanks.
It has been a difficult month and I am enormously grateful for the outpouring of support I received from so many of my readers after our dog Emmy was killed. We have never been without a dog or in anticipation of a dog during our long marriage. I have always had a dog. We are amazed at how much structure a dog provides our life, from feeding to exercising to bringing in at night to getting up in the morning. We intend to get another dog, but not until next spring.
August also commemorates the death of my beloved sister Patsy. I quietly thought of her this time instead of writing a post. Then a week ago my husband contracted Covid. He has been ultra careful, always masked, vaxed and double boosted. It has knocked him out though it was tempered some what by the anti-viral available to people our age. We have to be apart for a total of 10 days, him in now finished five days of isolation followed by forthcoming five days of masking at home. Our doctor says he remains contagious for these days and we are hopeful of preventing me getting the virus too. Since no one is keeping track any more of cases, I can only go on personal experience. In the last 10 days eight careful people I know have gotten Covid. Astonishingly contagious variant.
Most of August has found me reading a great deal. In future writing I will share some of what I have learned from it.
Peace as fall comes to New England this September.