Lessons Of An Earlier Time

I have had this school book on a shelf for years, but never examined it. My father had ended up with it after the death of his mother. And somehow, at some point, I ended up with it:

[Photo by me, 2019.]

Seeing it, I thought again of this issue. What is going to become of our Kindle (and other e-readers) books a couple of generations down the road? Will a twenty year old born “50 years” from now even be able to access a “2019 tech” produced e-book? Or will our current tech have become so out of date and changed so much that those in “2089” will simply be unable to read them?

My mother-in-law needed a new mobile phone – nothing fancy, just one that makes phone calls. (I know, right? Just making calls? Did phones once do only that?) So I dug up a c.2005 flip mobile phone I had laying around and inserted her SIM. It was in 2005 the cutting edge of technology, but today – just about 15 years later – it’s an utter dinosaur. I found on it a bunch of photographs we had taken in 2006-2008, and do you think I can figure out how the heck to get them off of that phone? Its Bluetooth is so out of date, it won’t pair with a current phone. It won’t email them. It did not have Wifi capability. Its mobile data generation is – seriously – GPRS. It has no USB port, so I cannot even wire it to a PC.

As I explained to my mother-in-law in terms I thought she could better understand: “It’s like trying to take glass plate photographs snapped in 1860 and retrieving them by inserting them into a 1960 Polaroid camera.”

Anyway, also speaking of another century, back to that history book:

[Photo by me, 2019.]

It belonged to my father’s aunt, so my great aunt. She was born around 1910. That’s her name: “Carrie.” (On the pic, I whited-out her surname, which is also there my real surname.)

And, yes, she attended in the late 1910s New York City’s P.S. 145 in Brooklyn, I believe – as she apparently wrote in very large letters and numbers! LOL!

[Photo by me, 2019.]

Not pictured, the copyright year is 1913.

One hundred and six years ago.

[Photo by me, 2019.]

Notice that: Uh, oh, I think I am in possession of a book I perhaps should not be? LOL!

Don’t want the New York City Board of Education coming for me!

[Photo by me, 2019.]

They do NOT write U.S. history books for U.S. schools in that style any longer. By 2019 standards, it would be considered MUCH TOO “Euro-centric” and self-congratulatory, and not nearly “critical” enough. From what I have skimmed of it for this post, the book also clearly conveys the impression that the United States of America is – WITHOUT A DOUBT!!!!!! – the best country in the entire universe.

Today’s Brooklyn’s P.S. 145 offers also to teach kids in a “dual language” setting. That would have been utterly unheard of in my great-aunt’s “1916.” English, and English only, would have been the language of instruction in the 1910s-1920s.

It is worth also noting here that public (meaning “state”) U.S. schools were then still a relatively new thing. One of their primary functions was to try to begin to “assimilate” into the “U.S. mainstream” the children of the huge mostly non-English-speaking immigration – especially from Southern and Eastern Europe – that had entered the U.S. since the 1870s. Specifically, they were supposed to help “Americanize” the U.S.-born children of those immigrants.

My great-aunt was one of those immigrant kids of a century ago. While her mother had been born in the U.S. (around 1890) of German parents (who insofar as I know arrived in the U.S. in the 1850s), her father was an immigrant from southern Italy. He had arrived in the U.S. as a lad in the late 1890s and only ever spoke, at best, weak English. (I don’t remember him, but he knew me when I was an infant. He died when I was around age 2.)

[Photo by me, 2019. A famous writer gets a mention: highlighted by me on the photograph, top right.]

In short, those New York City immigrants’ kids were going to learn – in English! – about, for example, 19th century U.S. philosopher Ralph Waldo Emerson. Period.

He may get a brief mention, but I doubt that most under-14s in U.S. schools in 2019 learn too much about Emerson and others mentioned there.

Oh, but given a few lines notice – top right, I marked on the photo – is a fiction writer of whom I am rather fond… and his books are still widely read and even relatively recently adapted for Oscar-winning films.

[Photo by me, 2019.]

Scary, huh?

And, yes, you do need to know all of that for the exam. LOL!

Notice this too:

[Photo by me, 2019.]

The book finishes its chronology with Woodrow Wilson’s taking office as U.S. president… in early 1913.

[Photo by me, 2019.]

The final chapter on “recent events” has the Spanish-American War of 1898 as a MAJOR recent event.

Today in U.S. schools that war would only get a very brief mention… if it is mentioned at all. And chances are that mention would be almost entirely negative.

The longer view of history is difficult to predict.

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I took these photos on August 30, 2018.😕 It can't have been 18 years ago?🤔 But it is, of course.📆 🇺🇸 You likely have your own memory. 18 years ago today, about 4pm UK time, I was sitting at my desk at a London university. My then boss (and office mate) looked up from his PC and muttered at me something like, “Robert, do you have the web open? Go to CNN…” 🇺🇸 I headed home a few minutes later. There was no getting through to New York by phone. I remember standing before the TV in the middle of our then Enfield lounge and just staring at the BBC and the hellish images coming from the city of my birth.😳 🇺🇸 I think we all knew that this would mark a dividing line in our lives: what happened before it, and what would happen since. 🇺🇸 #memories #memory #throwback #USA #neverforget #911Memorial #Manhattan #NewYork #September11 #history #travel #writers #authors #England #expats #socialmedia

A post shared by R. J. Nello (@rjnello) on

The other day of course marked 18 years since the destruction of the World Trade Center in Manhattan and the attempted destruction of the Pentagon building in Washington, D.C. by nineteen foreign Islamic-supremacist-minded maniacs who, evidently armed with box cutters, had first attacked flight attendants and other passengers, and then flight crew, and roughly simultaneously seized control of four early-morning passenger aircraft departing Boston Logan, Washington, D.C. Dulles, and Newark, NJ, airports, and suicidally crashed three of them into those buildings, killing some 3,000 people.

One wonders what our history will have to say about that by 2101?

2 thoughts on “Lessons Of An Earlier Time

  1. I love the way you’ve woven together your family history, ideas about history generally, and the very material book – the photos are great and I enjoyed reading this a lot, even as someone with very little knowledge of US history. Thanks for sharing.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. History is, to me, not about “them,” it’s about “us” too – all of us. We live it now as they – “great people” as well as “ordinary” ones – before us lived it: it is now merely our turn. If you have enjoyed that post, I have accomplished my goal! Thanks for letting me know.😊

      Liked by 1 person

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