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​History Is Going Critical

Gadfly | September 17th, 2022

By Ed Raymond

Our Society is Facing Several Nuclear Options in These Critical Times

I always had my senior English students at Fargo Central High School read and discuss “The Strange Death of Louis Slotin,” because for the rest of our human history we were going to live or die with atoms.

It had little to do with literature, but a great deal to do with life. Canadian physicist Louis Slotin at the Los Alamos nuclear facility in New Mexico, in 1946, was showing his colleagues how to bring an exposed core of a nuclear weapon nearly to the point of criticality. It was a tricky operation called “tickling the dragon’s tail” by scientists. The weapon’s core was sitting on a squat table, just a dull hunk of metal with a nub of radioactive plutonium sticking in the middle.

Slotin was the world’s expert in handling plutonium. He had assembled the atomic bombs used at Hiroshima and Nagasaki. He was using a screwdriver to move the parts closer together—when the screwdriver slipped and the parts went critical. Radioactivity hit his body. He died nine days later.

Accidents happen. We are in a period of time when policies are critical and accidents or policies may destroy our democracy. If we don’t know our factual critical history we may repeat mistakes and die.

We presently have forces who want to insulate children from lessons about racism and our history, making students ill-equipped and dangerous to our future. To quote a teacher: “When partisan politicians ban the teaching of our country’s full history, children are purposely made ignorant of how American society works. And the costs of this ignorance in American democracy will be borne by us all. Lies and omissions about our history are essential to Jim Crow subjugation when it was taught that Black people were inferior.”

The “slippery slope” is a slipping screwdriver. Education bans will kill democracy.

This True Story Will Help Your Children Understand Why “Black Lives Matter”

Ellen Craft was born in Clinton, Georgia, in 1826 after her Black slave mother was raped by her White slave owner. When Ellen was eleven she was separated from her mother and sent to Macon, Georgia as a wedding present for her White half-sister. When Ellen was twenty she married William Craft, an enslaved cabinet maker who belonged to another White household in Macon. William was twenty-two and was the only member of his enslaved family left in Macon because his mother, father, and a brother and sister were sold at different times to other Southern White owners. Because of his skills, William was hired out to others and was paid for his work, sharing his wages, of course, with his owner, who took the major share. Although enslaved, the married couple had privileges such as slave passes allowing them to visit other towns.

The couple did not want their children to be sold from them if they had any, so they came up with a plan to escape to the North. In his later memoir, William described their plan: “Slaveholders have the privilege of taking their slaves to any part of the country they think proper. As my wife Ellen was nearly White, I might get her to disguise herself as an invalid gentleman, and assume to be my master…in this manner we might effect our escape…with little difficulty I went to different parts of the town, at odd times, and purchased things piece by piece, except the trousers which we were forced to make, so when we fancied we had everything ready, the time was lived by the flight.”

Ellen cut her hair short, dressed in men’s clothing, wore a top hat and spectacles, and applied material to her face that looked like whiskers. As neither had been taught to read or write (It was against the law to teach Blacks), they bandaged Ellen’s right hand so she could not sign anything. They put her arm in a sling. They made up a story about going North to see a special doctor about the hand.

It took many weeks and traveling by trains, carriages, and steamboats to reach freedom in Philadelphia. They later moved to London, England, for 20 years, had five children, moved back to Savannah, Georgia, after the Civil War and opened a farm school for newly freed Black students.

William self-educated and wrote a book, “Running a Thousand Milesfor Freedom.” Think of the talent and skills the couple needed to pull off their great escape from slavery, survive, and become leaders in a very early civil rights movement.

To the MAGA cult and the North Dakota Legislature: Do you think this history should be banned? Will this testament to enslaved Black human beings harm your lily-White children? History cannot be changed by slipping screwdrivers and screwy bans.

It Takes More Than a Village to Educate Everybody in a Society

It takes everybody, particularly in the 21st century, including the states and federal government.

Reagan and Bush sponsored recessions after giving big tax cuts to the rich, and started our decline in the number and rate of college graduates. States failed to fund all levels of education and Congress passed many laws requiring the education of the mentally and physically handicapped but failed to adequately fund special and higher education.

We used to lead the world’s 37 most developed countries in the ratio of college graduates in the 25-34 age range. We have now fallen to 14th in that category with a 42% rate. The Organization of Economic Cooperative Development (OECD) averages 38% and South Korea leads the world at 65%.

If American parents have not been to college, only 29% of their children go to college. That’s one of the lowest levels in the OECD. We rank 28th in the percentage of four-year-olds in early childhood education.

Here’s the key to why we have such a huge college debt: Across all OECD countries, 30% of the expenditures on higher education comes from private sources, while in the U.S. 62% does. U.S. teachers spend up to 1100 hours a year teaching—much more than most countries.

We are still one of the most educated countries if we include all ages to 64. We are at 42% and only Canada (51%), Israel (46%), Japan (45%), and Russia (54%) have higher rates in 25-64 levels.

The main problem is we are growing at a lower rate of 1.3% compared to 3.7% in other OECD countries. Over the years we have never learned that financing for all who wish to go to college is a public and common good. As an example, I used the old GI Bills of 1944 and 1947 to earn a master’s degree in education.

Today, Trumplicans and Trump seem to glory in universal ignorance. Remember when the most poorly educated president in U.S. history said he loved the poorly educated? Millions demonstrated this fact by voting for him twice.

For those seeking to keep the country White and the rich richer, I suggest you read an analysis of the Hasidic Jewish private religious schools that have only one interest in educating their young: preservation of their religion.

In 2019, New York insisted that students in Hasidic schools take standardized tests in reading and math. More than 1,000 students took the tests. Everyone failed. The Hasidic religion has built scores of private schools to specifically educate Jewish children in Jewish law, prayer, and traditions. Many hours are spent teaching religious lessons in Yiddish.

These schools do not offer much English, math, history, or science.The same thing happens when you ban books, restrict the curriculum, restrict comments by teachers, eliminate lessons regarding history of racism, and preach against homosexuality and the LBGTQ community.

Bernie Knows What’s Missing From the Table and Biden Has a Slippery Hand

When has Biden talked about economic inequality, the top issue in the country? Never. He keeps slipping around it, talking about other issues. He talks about Delaware being the leading tax haven in the U.S.!

Bernie has a firm hand on the screwdriver: “Let’s be clear. The most important economic and political issues facing the country are the extraordinary levels of income and wealth inequality, the rapidly growing concentration of ownership, the long-term decline of the American middle class and the evolution of this country into oligarchy.”

There is the main issue in one sentence, but it hardly ever makes the daily news release of the Democratic National Committee.

Bernie Sanders has the evidence and repeats the facts: (1) three multibillionaires own more wealth than the bottom 160 million Americans, (2) 45% of new income goes to the top 1%, (3) CEOs of major corporations make a record-breaking 350 times what their workers earn, (4) half of Americans live paycheck to paycheck and millions struggle to buy food, (5) half of older Americans have no personal retirement funds, (6) 55% of seniors make an income of less than $25,000, (7) over the past 47 years 90% of the wealth has been redistributed to the top 1%, (8) during COVID, while thousands of workers died, 700 billionaires added $2 trillion to their bank accounts, (9) meanwhile we have the highest rate of child poverty of any developed nation, (10) we are the only major country without paid family and medical leave. And we still have hundreds of other issues that must be resolved.

Is a College Degree to Make a Buck or Is It to Have a Productive, Joyful Life?

The opinion page of the “free market” Wall Street Journal emphasizes that a college degree is necessary to make more bucks than the other guy. There is virtually no mention of college life and how art, music, literature, philosophy, debate, personal relationships, and parties can help mold a productive and very enjoyable life. For me, working in people’s mouths, organs, and other orifices all day to make a buck would have been the ninth circle of Dante’s hell. But I’m glad somebody loves it.

In 1965 at the 200th anniversary of the Smithsonian founder’s birth, LBJ remarked: “Learning respects no geographic boundaries. Partnership between government and private enterprise can serve the greater good or both. The spread of learning must be the first work of a nation that seeks to be free.”

A rural Nevada White teenager put it in more simple terms, testifying against book bans, restrictions on teachers, anti-trans laws, and censorship before her district’s school board: “Discussions based around our country and society’s true history are absolutely not making me, as a White person, feel attacked or guilty. In fact, being able to talk about hard topics such as racial inequality and slavery allowed me to feel proud of how far our society has come and hopeful that we can continue to progress.”

This teenager has answered the question: “Why do we have public schools?”

In an education meeting in Charleston, South Carolina, which led the country in the number of slaves sold in the Charleston slave market, a Black history teacher told the truth in a committee meeting: “If we do not teach about slavery, then there is no way that you understand why the Civil War was significant. And if you don’t understand that history, then the civil rights movement doesn’t make sense. So, I’m going to keep teaching the truth. It’s malpractice, an injustice, if we don’t.” She is another who knows why we have public schools in a democracy.



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