Pandemic Diary #75

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February 1, 2021

“it’s not important what we cover in the class; it’s important what you discover.” On this point of view, to be truly educated means to be resourceful, to be able to “formulate serious questions” and “question standard doctrine, if that’s appropriate”…. It means to “find your own way.” — Walter Lewin professor MIT

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I am a product of the 60s and 70s California school system. It was not good. Primarily, I was bored, so I began to read on my own. I had always been a reader, I was the nerd in class that had the biggest stack of books on her desk when the class returned from a trip to the library, that habit has not changed, it has simply gone from stacks on my sixth-grade desk to stacks all over the house.

For this reason, I have always been up on subjects many find inconsequential They are probably right, but it doesn’t stop me from buying a book or two, or five, whenever I want to learn about a subject.

What I have discovered over the last few years is that our education system is not doing enough to encourage people to learn outside of the classroom.

Reading entire books with a narrative is left to English classes, and those are most often books that were taught 50 years ago. While the classics are terrific, updating today’s reading, even in the English class, would do a lot to bring critical thinking about today’s world back into the mix. While I think that reading Fahrenheit 450 is a wonderful thing, why is Uncle Tom’s Cabin relegated to an AP class?

A textbook is just that, a textbook. Filled with facts. When I was in school one received a better grade on a test if one memorized the dates in the book than if one understood a concept that wasn’t as easy to test. There is nothing wrong with textbooks, but they are reference books, boring, staid, and written from a standpoint that has been in use for way too long, white, patriarchal, and outdated.

This screed is not to attack schools, textbooks, or present-day education, I just want to see people read more. The last four years have taught me that not only do people not read but they watch TV that skews to their viewpoints and are incapable of having thought-provoking conversations because they only know one side of the subject.

Reading takes you down complicated paths that are meant to alter your perception and make you realize that so much of what is occurring in the world can not be described in a single issue concept. Life, social structures, and all that makes the world go around are far more complicated than that. More often than not, there are more than even two sides to an issue.

What occurred on January 6th has yet to be written in the history books. How it will be written will be interesting. Dutch historian Pieter Geyl wrote, “History is an argument without end”. This is why the future will learn of the insurrection on our capitol and form their opinions based on what they read. How do we want history to remember that event?

I find Pieter Geyl‘s position on this subject extremely thought-provoking. He questions how two of his friends, highly educated scholars, could view WWI so differently. Scholars have written tomes on this subject, and I do not believe anyone has a simple answer, but for purposes of this discussion, let us chalk it up to “we are human”, and how we interpret history is affected by many things.

‘History is always written by the victors’ is actually a toss off line in a very bad B movie. The true origin comes from Herman Göring who is reported to have said, “Der Sieger wird immer der Richter und der Besiegte stets der Angeklagte sein,” which more or less translates to: “The victor will always be the judge, and the vanquished the accused.” To expound on the better known misquote, I would add that school history books are written by committee, so the message is scrubbed clean of any meaning before it ever gets to print.

This is why I read. I do not want just one version, I want to hear all the sides. I am human, I will form an opinion, but it will be formed by what I bring to the table. I bring my personal background, what I have learned before I came to the table, along with where I live and how I see life. We are all entitled to our opinions, I just want to make sure that what you bring to the table is not a one-issue answer because you read it on Facebook.

There is no right answer, history is about constant reinterpretation, ambiguity is part of learning history, which is why just learning to memorize dates is a ludicrous way to teach the subject, but I digress.

The U.S. is an amazing country whose history is being formed and molded every day. We have immigrants whose stories need to be woven into this fabric. We are being educated by the Black Lives Matter movement, giving me hope that changes will occur regarding the misguided way that the history and ramifications of slavery are taught. We also have a white supremacy problem in this country that wants us to revert to nationalistic tendencies and even worse, fascism.

As philosopher George Santayana is purported to have said, “Those who cannot remember the past are condemned to repeat it.”

I prefer an old New Yorker cartoon that says “those who don’t study history are doomed to repeat it . Yet those who do study history are doomed to stand by helplessly while everyone else repeats it.”

So go out and buy a book, go to your library, borrow something from your neighbor, but how about making 2021 a year where we learn more from books than social media?

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The following is a letter from A Velocity of Being by Anne Lamott

Hi You,

I really want you to hear what I am going to say, because I think it is the truth. Okay? I’ll make it fast.

If you love to read, or learn to love reading, you will have an amazing life. Period. Life will always have hardships, pressure, and incredibly annoying people, but books will make it all worthwhile. In books, you will find your North Star, and you will find you, which is why you are here.

Books are paper ships, to all the worlds, to ancient Egypt, outer space, eternity, into the childhood of your favorite musician, and — the most precious stunning journey of all — into your own heart, your own family, your own history and future and body.

Out of these flat almost two-dimensional boxes of paper will spring mountains, lions, concerts, galaxies, heroes. You will meet people who have been all but destroyed, who have risen up and will bring you with them. Books and stories are medicine, plaster casts for broken lives and hearts, slings for weakened spirits. And in reading, you will laugh harder than you ever imagined laughing, and this will be magic, heaven, and salvation. I promise.

Okay? Deal?

Love you,

Anne Lamott

Trivial Things

San Francisco weather: 58 Degrees with rain

NYSE DOW compared to one year ago: +1735

COVID cases in the US: 26,769,174

Deaths from COVID in the US: 452,294

OED word of the day: garden pot — A watering can

Days since Shelter In Place was initiated: 322

Reading: Ain’t I a Woman: Black Women and Feminism by Bell Hooks

My Black and White Picture of the Day

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Something Silly From the Internet:

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My travel blog www.PassportandBaggage.com and my www.ArtandArchitecture-sf.com blog are quiet due to the Pandemic. I need to write, so here I go.

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