I recently heard yet another politician offer an asinine comment about what it was like in the "Old Days." He rambled on how America was so much better when we had a barter economy. When we traded chickens, we raised with our old country doctors. It reminded me once again of the importance of learning history. I know, so often people, especially teenagers, will pooh-pooh history.
"The Declaration of Independence was signed on July Fourth 1776. Big deal, many say. Why should I care and so what.
To an extent, they're right, what's so important about the Declaration? Well, other than it's a national holiday, the date truly is not important. What is important is what they signed, and why. Another pundit recently said, "The Declaration was written by the finger of God." Seems a bit of a stretch; if that were the case, wouldn't she or he have said something about abolishing slavery?
These days, so many pundits and politicians wax nostalgic for a bygone era that truly never existed. They summon up images of an America in which dad worked, mom took care of the home and kids, healthcare was inexpensive, God was in the schools, which is why they were good, crime was under control, and there was no racial strife. Then, supposedly, feminists, liberals and all enemies of our way of life destroyed everything.
Here's what that world was really like.
My grandparents were born in the 1880s, out in the central section of Massachusetts, and they never paid their doctor with a chicken! In their world, medical and dental expenses were rather modest, but then so was the science. There were no MRIs or CAT Scans back then; no micro surgery to re-attach severed limbs, no life-saving operations to help people survive a massive injury, and few medications, even penicillin hadn't been developed. There were few handicapped people because so few people survived terrible accidents. There was no OSHA to make sure working conditions were safe, no ban on child labor, no minimum wage, no healthcare or retirement funds and there sure wasn't any compensation for those injured on the job or a pay cheque for the unemployed! Back in their day, America was pretty much a two-class society: you were rich or you were poor; there were very few people in the middle.
For myself, I had the classic "Leave it to Beaver" childhood I've written about it in many of my short stories. Yes, I recall many aspect of it fondly, but much I did not like! Going to the dentists for a simple filling was pure agony, and the doctor had nothing more than an X-ray to peer inside the human body. When I had abdominal pains, they had to poke and prod and do all manner of tests before finally deciding that maybe I had a hot appendix and it needed to come out. Short of cutting open a patient, for exploratory surgery, physicians had no way of knowing what was going on inside the body.
Yes, my mom was able to stay at home, but that was because my dad made a decent wage. If a woman wanted to work her options were severely limited; she could be a waitress, a secretary, a teacher, a nurse, librarian, and other such jobs. She certainly couldn't be a doctor, executive or member of middle or upper management. She couldn't even be a gynecologist, which always mystified me.
Things changed over time as chief executives boosted their pay far above the average worker, which squeezed the Middle Class. Did they have the right to do so? Absolutely, but pundits and politicians then turned around and blamed someone else for the inability of a man to support his family. Then, once the unions got crushed, the workers had no one to stand up to management for them, and thus their pay and benefits stagnated.
Yes, prayer came out of the schools, but that's not why they went south. One word sums up why they went south: parents. In my day, no student would dare get the teacher honestly mad at him or her. We knew that could result in us staying after school or, worse, sent to the Principal's Office. At the very least, a note went to our parents or a phone call. No matter, we knew we'd catch it good from our parents because they backed up the teacher and school, and they attended every PTA meeting.
The days of fear-of-parents seem passed.
Of course, the schools were also rather limited it what they did for children who didn't conform to what was expected of them. If retarded, you went to special education. Yes, we used that word in mixed company. Beyond that, there was nothing, no courses to challenge the gifted, no programs to help the kids that struggled, and certainly nothing to stop bullying.
Yes, there was little racial or ethnic grumbling. Of course, that was because anyone who dared defy the status quo got his or her head bashed. Those people that were handicapped or had mental problems lurked, out of sight. There were few reported cases of child abduction, rape, molestation and spousal or child abuse.
Such events happened, but played down. Most missing kids we dubbed runaways. Most rapes were "boys being boys." Parental or husbandly hide under the guise of discipline.
Once you know history, you know the facts of the American past. Only then you can't be lied to or manipulated by politicians. Is our past something to be ashamed of or proud of?
Both, I think.
I just get so tired of conservatives who view our past through rose-colour that red glasses and liberals who seem to want us to forever apologize for it. Our past is like any other society. Our past contains much good, some bad, but no better and no worse than any other society.
Combining the gimlet-eye, of Philip Roth, with the precisive mind of Lionel Trilling, AJ Robinson writes about what goes bump in the mind, of 21st century adults. Raised in Boston, with summers on Martha's Vineyard, AJ now lives in Florida. Most of the time he writes, but sometimes he works at Disney World to renew his fantasies and get a few dollars more. AJ writes, with insight and passion, about his family and his dog. His liberal, note the small "l," sensibilities often lead to bouts of righteous indignation, well focused and true.
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