Monday, May 15, 2023

Just a Little Respect

The other day, I saw yet another post on social media calling Joe Biden "senile," and saying he had dementia. I see this kind of stuff way too often, and yes I know, people on both sides love to throw around insults about politicians they dislike. But there's something about the word "senile" when applied to an older politician that really irritates me. I mean, just because you don't like someone's policies, or you don't like how they communicate, does that mean the person is "senile"? Really?

So, I went on Twitter and tweeted the following: "As someone who's 76, works full-time, writes articles, & does public speaking, I wish folks who don't like Joe Biden would stop saying he's "senile." Many 80 year olds are as mentally sharp as younger folks. Aging doesn't automatically mean senility."

Evidently, my Tweet struck a chord. Much to my surprise, more than 14,200 people saw it; several hundred of them "liked" it, and it even got a bunch of re-tweets. I also got some comments from folks who have relatives or even colleagues in their 80s who are still working (whether for money, or as volunteers); until several years ago, one of my colleagues was in her early 80s and she was as dynamic and mentally sharp as someone 30 years younger. 

See, this isn't about Joe Biden. Frankly, I don't care how many folks can't stand him, or how many think he's amazing. What I do care about, and I've said this before, is getting rid of the stereotypes we still use about so-called "senior citizens." If a young person forgets to do something, or forgets the lyrics to a song, it's usually treated as no big deal; we all have days like that, don't we?  If an older person does it, well it's a "senior moment," or maybe it's proof that their memory is starting to fade.

But is it? Agreed, folks who are 80 are rarely able to do what they did at 20. But should that be the standard by which we measure older people? Isn't there some middle ground between "nimble and agile like a 20-year old" and "ready to go into assisted living"? Truth be told, not everyone ages the same way. Me, I hope to keep working for as long as my health permits-- I enjoy being useful and keeping my brain active-- and I'd like to believe my brain is still functioning just fine! But yes, some days, when I forget some little thing, I have to remind myself it's nothing to worry about... because our culture is constantly reinforcing the message that older people can't keep up, or they no longer have much to offer.

So, where did we get the belief that just because someone has reached a certain age, that means they can no longer contribute?  I know some 30 year olds who are still not living up to their potential, and I know some 80 year olds who are far exceeding society's expectations. So, whether it's Joe Biden, or Donald Trump, or Bernie Sanders, or anyone else in their late 70s/early 80s, don't arbitrarily assume the person is "senile" when they say or do something you disagree with. 

I understand that on social media, folks love to sling insults, but this one is especially hurtful, since many of us DO worry about whether we'll eventually have dementia. (Most of us won't, but it's still a fear a lot of us have.) That said, I'll keep on hoping for less name-calling and more respect for older people, because if you give us a chance, we might still have some wisdom we can share, or some knowledge we can offer.  

Sunday, April 30, 2023

Why I'm Still On Twitter

It was sometime in January 2008, and I was teaching at Emerson College in Boston. A couple of my Journalism students asked if they could "follow" me on Facebook, but I had to admit to them I wasn't on social media yet. In fact, I had no plans to be on it at any time soon (I think the late, great Betty White once called it a "giant time-waster," and that's how it certainly seemed to me). 

But my students reminded me that as a radio consultant (which I still was at the time), I needed to be available to my clients, some of whom were certainly on social media by then. And so it was, in February 2008, that I finally joined Facebook.  A few months after that, in August 2008, I joined Twitter. As time passed, it turned out to be a good way to keep in touch with people-- not just clients, but friends, former and current colleagues, and... Rush fans. Lots of them reached out, and I was happy to hear from them. 

To my surprise, a growing number of folks (including my Emerson students) wanted to follow me on Facebook and Twitter-- I eventually added Instagram, but I don't use it very much. Anyway, for some reason, I've ended up with close to 5,000 followers on Facebook; and as I'm writing this, I've got more than 8,800 followers on Twitter. (I don't have, and never received, the famous Blue Check Mark-- Twitter verification turned me down twice, saying I wasn't well-known enough, there were no hashtags about me, etc. It was disappointing but somehow I survived).    

I was concerned when I heard Elon Musk was buying Twitter-- I had nothing against him, and even during my years in radio, I never met the guy. But he kept referring to himself as a "free speech absolutist," and I was worried that he might allow certain voices back on the platform (Neo-Nazis, for example) who had, in my view, been justifiably banned by the previous owner. I also had noticed that while he claimed to believe in free speech, he seemed quite willing to block anyone who was critical of him or disagreed with his views. (He seemed to have shifted from generally libertarian views to more hard-right perspectives.) I can respect whatever his views might be, but I was worried about whether he would impose them on the rest of us.

Today, many of the folks I used to follow, journalists especially, have been made to feel so unwelcome that they left the platform. I miss them-- Twitter used to be a wonderful way to reach out to reporters with story ideas, or share information. Elon declared war on sites like NPR, for reasons that make no sense to me. He also has posted some bizarre conspiracy theories. He removed the Blue Check Marks from folks who had earned theirs under the previous ownership (even the Pope lost his); and he tried to monetize what used to be a way to verify whether people were who they said they were, rather than imposters or bots. And yes, he did let some folks back onto Twitter who I wish were still not permitted.

But I haven't left, and I have no plan to leave at any time soon. Twitter is still a wonderful way to organize donations for teachers via Donors Choose. It's still a wonderful way to reach out to Rush fans. When I blog about Rush, which I sometimes do, or participate in a webcast about the band, I get the most response from folks on Twitter. Meanwhile, I play Wordle with my followers, I comment on current events, and sometimes I post about what's going on in my life. I've made some good friends on Twitter; those relationships matters to me. So, as crazy as things may get, and even though I don't like what Elon has done to Twitter, I intend to stick around and keep posting. To those who read my Tweets, thank you. I look forward to continuing to communicate with you, now and in the future!

Saturday, April 15, 2023

An Attitude of Gratitude

Geddy Lee's new book is finally coming out in November, I am told. I've been asked by several Rush fans if I'll be in it, and I've replied that I honestly have no idea. Given that it's a memoir, whatever Geddy thinks is especially important about his life will be included. If I had to guess, he'll focus on family stories, his childhood friends, his upbringing, his mentors-- in other words, the factors that made him who he is today. And yes, of course, he will write about his career-- and what it was like to be a rock musician in a very popular band.  

If I do get included, that will be wonderful. But if I don't, I won't be disappointed at all. Here's why. Ever since I first met the members of Rush in mid-1974, they have always been courteous to me, and they have always been appreciative for my role in their career. Over the years, individually and as a group, they thanked me many times for championing them: for encouraging radio stations to play their music, and sticking up for them when critics would say bad things about their newest album (some of the reviews were brutal...and I couldn't understand that at all). I spent a long time trying to get the judges at the Rock & Roll Hall of Fame to change their minds and induct the guys. Meanwhile, I led the effort to get Rush a star on the Hollywood Walk of Fame. Geddy, Alex, and Neil knew about it all. And they expressed their appreciation every time they saw me.

At the Agora Ballroom in Cleveland, at a live concert in December of 1974, just before Geddy sang "Working Man," he gave me a shout-out. Sometimes, during a magazine or newspaper interview, one of the guys would mention how I had helped get them noticed in the USA and how I got their music on the radio; even ten, fifteen, twenty years later, they would take a moment and thank me. They didn't have to do that. But that is the kind of people they were. And still are.

That's rare in rock and roll; in fact, it's rare in lots of professions-- especially in business, and in politics. So much has become transactional. It boils down to: "I'll be nice to you because I need you to do me a favor. And once you do it, I'll forget you exist." I've seen that behavior more times than I can count. But I've known Rush for nearly five decades, and that is not how they have ever been. There are many folks who have known them for years and can attest to the fact that the guys in the band have never acted like the stereotype of a rock star. They were always three nice guys from Toronto, before they were famous, while they were on their way up, and after they achieved fame. Success never went to their head.    

When I was at the after-party at the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame in 2013, Geddy's mom (of blessed memory) was there. She had watched with pride as her son and his band-mates were (finally) inducted, and when she saw me, she called Geddy over and asked if he had thanked me for what I had done for the band. Geddy kind of rolled his eyes, but then he said something like, "Yes, Ma, I've thanked her many times." Geddy's mom raised him right-- she raised him to express his appreciation to people who were kind, and even years later, that's what he has always done.         

So, if I'm in Geddy's book, I will certainly be pleased that I was included. But if his memoir goes in an entirely different direction, I'll be pleased about that too. Since 1974, we've kept in touch. I saw him when he was promoting his book about the bass (here's a photo from when he came to Brookline, a few minutes from Boston, to a wonderful independent store called the Booksmith in 2019). And if there's a book tour for the new book, I'll look forward to seeing him then. But for now, I hope the book is everything he wants it to be, and says exactly what he wants it to say. And I'll be happy for him either way. Rush and I have shared a lot of history, and I have so many good memories. And knowing the guys for so many years is another thing I'm grateful for.  

Friday, March 31, 2023

The Importance of Telling the Stories

I never met Eunice Randall. I wish I had, because she was the first female radio announcer in Massachusetts, and one of first in the United States. She may have been on the air as far back as late 1919, but we can definitely place her on the radio throughout the early 1920s, doing everything from reading bedtime stories to the little kids, to reporting the news headlines, to playing the latest hit songs. She also repaired the equipment when it broke (which it often did), and if a guest didn't show up (all radio was live back then), she and one of her colleagues at the station would sing duets. 

Thanks to her niece, I have a few photos, some of her writings, even a rare recording of her, re-enacting the first show she ever did; she was barely 21 the first time she went on the air, and I wonder if she was nervous. I also wonder what it was like to be the first-- at a time when there were no other women doing what she did, a time with no female role models, when many men did not believe women belonged anywhere except in the home. (In fact, when Eunice first got on the air, women still didn't have the right to vote.)  

This photo is one of my favorites. It was taken at station 1XE in Medford Hillside, Massachusetts, in 1921. It was staged for the newspapers, but it wasn't too far from reality: early radio studios were far from glamorous, and you had no idea who was listening, since not everyone had a radio yet; plus, given the early technology, signals faded in and out. But anyone who did receive 1XE must have been amazed when they heard her voice. (By all accounts, including fan letters, she became very popular.) 

Eventually, Eunice left radio. She worked for one of the utility companies, making technical drawings. She kept up with ham radio, long a favorite hobby of hers. She married a fellow ham, a guy she had known for many years. After retiring, they moved up to Maine. She died in 1982. But when I was on the air, I never knew she existed; and back then, few if any media history books mentioned the pioneering women broadcasters from radio's early years. So, I never got a chance to thank her. I never got a chance to ask her what it was like being there at the beginning.

But I am glad I found out about her in the mid-1990s. Having been the first woman on the radio at my college station in 1968, I had searched for years to find out the names of the first women at other stations. Once I finally found Eunice, I searched for living relatives, and found her niece. And that's when I promised I would make sure Eunice was never forgotten again. I've kept that promise. And I championed her (posthumous) induction into the Massachusetts Broadcasters Hall of Fame. Her niece was there to see it.

On June 8, 2023, it will be my turn to be inducted into the Massachusetts Broadcasters Hall of Fame. I am being given the Pioneer Broadcaster Award, and I'm the first woman to win it. It's partly for my long radio career; it's partly for what I did in discovering and championing the rock band Rush; but it's also partly for my many years as a media historian, researching and telling the stories of the once-famous but now often forgotten reporters, sportswriters, and broadcasters, the men and women who have contributed to our lives. 

I don't know if anyone considers me a role model. I don't know if I'll be remembered in the future. But I do know that it's humbling and gratifying to see my accomplishments validated by my peers. Many people along the way said I'd never succeed. And yet, here I am, about to join some of the folks I admire most in the Hall of Fame. And I promise to keep researching, and keep telling the stories, because there are so many more that deserve to be told. 

Wednesday, March 15, 2023

I'd Wager You've Heard About This

According to all the local newspapers, as well as local TV & radio, this past Friday was a BIG day. It was the day when online sports betting finally arrived in Massachusetts-- or as Associated Press reporter Steve LeBlanc referred to us, "sports-crazed Massachusetts." And evidently, the timing could not have been more perfect. "Massachusetts sports fans raced to their cellphones to begin placing bets, as the state allowed online sports wagering just days ahead of next week’s start of the NCAA basketball tournaments."

He wasn't exaggerating. According to Channel 4 in Boston, more than 400,000 fans in Massachusetts signed up for mobile sports betting accounts after the launch. And the Boston Globe reported that "over the first weekend of mobile wagering, Massachusetts bettors invested far more time placing bets than did those in similarly sized states." And the Worcester Telegram reported that "In-person betting began at the end of January, but mobile betting is expected to quickly become the dominant method of sports wagering here."

And then came the barrage of ads. Endless radio, TV, and online ads. Ads that showed excited, happy people (including many people of color), all betting on their favorite sport from the comfort of their couch. And not just betting on which team will win. Betting on outcomes within the game, like choosing a certain NFL football player and betting that he will score a touchdown, or betting that a certain NBA basketball player will score more three-pointers than he did previously. The possibilities are endless, and all the ads make it seem like so much fun. 

But the hard-sell is making me nervous. I understand the state of Massachusetts, along with the casinos, and the sports betting companies like FanDuel & DraftKings, will make lots of money from in person and online betting. And some of the fans may make a few bucks too. But let's be honest: most will not. And rather than being fun and exciting, gambling can quickly become addictive. I'm always amused when I see companies that advertise booze saying in their ad to "drink responsibly"-- okay fine, if you're a casual drinker, you probably will; but it's an addictive product, and some folks will be doing the opposite from drinking responsibly. And the more they use the product, the more the companies that provide it make a profit. Ditto for gambling-- I see the disclaimer about "if you think you have a problem, you can call this hotline for help." But few addicts will admit they have a problem. They'll just keep gambling, hoping to win back what they lost.      

I'm not trying to be a curmudgeon. But I admit I'm one of those folks who fails to see the benefit of gambling. Yes, I've bought a scratch ticket now and then, and I won $40 bucks in a slot machine in Vegas once-- but I've also seen folks who spend their entire paycheck buying scratch tickets, or who get to the slot machines and lose every cent they have. Yet, we're encouraging folks to bet online, and telling them it's safe and easy. And as much as various government officials insist that teens won't be allowed to bet, and that protections are in place to keep online betting from being abused, why do I think it won't take long before some folks (including teens) will find ways around the guardrails?

Like I said, the hard sell is making me nervous. It's also taking away from the joy and the beauty of sports. If everything is reduced to a transaction (bet on this play, bet on this outcome), how do you just relax and enjoy the game? I truly don't understand why folks can't spend some time cheering for their favorite team without turning it into a bunch of opportunities to place another bet. I'm sure there are folks who are reading this and think I'm totally wrong, so please explain to me what the benefit of online sports betting is. To me, the downside is more worrisome than any upside. But I'm willing to bet that some of you will disagree...

Tuesday, February 28, 2023

Why Governor DeSantis is Wrong About Women's Studies

Growing up in the 1950s and 1960s, I didn't learn much in my history classes about women. In fact, about the only women whose names were mentioned were either the wives of famous men (like Martha Washington, Abigail Adams, or Dolly Madison), or the occasional woman who did something noteworthy in a traditional role, like Betsy Ross, who sewed the first American flag (today, most scholars believe that's a myth, but again, it was one of the few times we learned about a woman who did anything). I didn't know that even in the 1800s, there were women journalists or women doctors or women in business or women who kept their name when they married. 

And because Black History Month was not a thing yet, I never learned about Rosa Parks or Linda Brown (one of the plaintiffs in Brown vs. the Board of Education), nor the many Black women who were instrumental in the burgeoning Civil Rights Movement. And I had no idea there were several important Black female journalists who covered politics-- nobody taught about Alice Dunnigan or Ethel Payne back then. Similarly, it wouldn't be till much later in the 1960s when second-wave feminists like Gloria Steinem and Betty Friedan got mentioned, although usually not in a favorable way (the overwhelmingly male press corps was quite scornful of the Women's Movement). And I was warned by numerous folks that I'd never get a husband if I seemed to be one of those "women's libbers" (as feminists were called back then).

These days, there are many schools and colleges that provide a more expansive view of history, teaching about the many women who contributed to our country's progress. It is no longer unusual for students to learn about women scientists or astronauts or politicians or athletes-- and yes, women in media too. There's even Women's History Month, which made its debut in 1987. And just because we spend some time paying tribute to important women does not mean that important men are forgotten-- it's not an "either-or," and it shouldn't be.

Meanwhile, in Florida, as part of his ongoing assault on public education, Governor Ron DeSantis (a graduate of both Yale and Harvard) now wants to ban Women's Studies at all state colleges and universities. He says that studying gender (as well as studying race) is too "woke," too liberal, and too ideological. And he believes that students who major or minor in Women's Studies aren't getting a real degree, so he intends to remove this area of study entirely. Of course, considering that he claims to be taking this stand on behalf of "freedom," one might ask how banning courses and eliminating majors and insisting that certain topics must not be studied is "freedom." It certainly sounds tyrannical to me: it's using the power of the government to thwart any subjects you disagree with. But then, I guess he knows better. After all, he's very popular and the voters who chose him seem to like what he's doing.

But I think he's missing the point. I grew up at a time when education was very conservative, when so many issues were never discussed at all, and when the accomplishments of women and minorities were either marginalized or erased. I don't think my education was any better because of what I wasn't allowed to learn. And I'm not persuaded that going back to those days (and those attitudes) will make the next generation of students any better off. As a professor, and as a former adult learner, I can honestly say there's a genuine benefit to studying gender, or race, or ethnicity, or political philosophy. And there's nothing wrong with being exposed to a wide range of views, some of which you might agree with, and others you might not. Students need to learn to think for themselves-- they shouldn't have politicians thinking for them. 

As I write this, it's the start of Women's History Month. I see this month as an opportunity, just like Black History Month was: a chance to say thank you to some folks who have been written out of history, and to help write them back in. Today's students need to know about how we got here, and part of that process is knowing the women who stood against the dominant views of their era and made a difference. They are not all from one ideology or one race or one religion. They are many and they are varied, and we really should study what they did because some of them are quite inspiring. In other words, there's still a lot we can learn from Women's Studies. And while Gov. DeSantis may think it's a waste of time, I think it's quite the opposite. In fact, I invite you to join me as I do my little part, paying tribute every day on social media to a woman I believe is worth remembering.


Wednesday, February 15, 2023

The Photo I Forgot About

I'm often asked to do free-lance writing, and I was working on an article about Boston radio in the 1960s. That led me to various newspaper databases, and eventually, I ended up on a database I'd never used before. I found some interesting stuff (although not what I was seeking), but before I went on to something else, I typed in my name, curious to see if my college radio experience got written about anywhere. No, I didn't think I was especially important in the greater scheme of things, but given that I was the first female deejay at Northeastern University, I thought that maybe someone (other than a reporter at my college newspaper) might have written something. 

I didn't find any articles that I hadn't already seen, but I did find this: a photo taken in October or November of 1968, evidently intended to go with an article written about my debut at WNEU Radio.

I had no idea this image even existed. I had seen a photo of me in the WNEU studio, sitting at the console, next to a turntable, surrounded by 45s (remember those?); but I did not recall this photo-- which was taken in the station's record library. It brought back memories I hadn't thought about in more than five decades.

I was 21 years old, and a senior at Northeastern. I had fallen in love with radio as a kid, found (to my disappointment) that women were not welcome on the air, and then, fought to get a chance to prove the doubters wrong. I didn't have many friends at Northeastern, but once I got on the air, I started getting fan mail. And when I was in the record library, surrounded by so many amazing albums, I felt at home. I was not only a deejay at WNEU but also the station's music director, and I loved it.

In some ways, those were the happiest days of my life. I felt that I had found my calling. I wasn't that fond of school, where the expectation was that I'd be a teacher; back then, girls were supposed to become teachers, nurses, or secretaries, but while those were good choices for some folks, I knew in my heart that I was supposed to be a deejay. And when I went to the WNEU studio to do my show, or hung out in the record library, I knew I was where I belonged.

Not everyone shared my view. Much to my frustration, the radio industry still wasn't hiring many women. It would take me nearly 5 years to find a full-time radio gig, at a small suburban AM station called WCAS in Cambridge, Mass. But by the end of 1973, I was on my way to WMMS in Cleveland, much to the shock of my parents. I had never really left Boston before, but this was my chance and I intended to take it. Many of you know what happened in Cleveland (and in my radio career). But that's a story for another day.

In this long-forgotten photo, I look confident and at peace. I generally didn't feel that way; but when I was on the air, or when I was listening to new music, I knew this was where I belonged. It gave me hope that maybe my life was finally going to get better. After so many years of being mocked because I was different, I was finally getting some acceptance, and even some love. I remember it well. And while the story would have its share of ups and downs, on this day, the future looked bright. I knew that radio was where I wanted to be, and finally, I would get my chance to be there.    

Tuesday, January 31, 2023

Megyn Kelly and the Disappearance of Courtesy

I've never met Megyn Kelly. But based on what she said a couple of days ago, she seems to believe I'm a fraud. Agreed, she didn't say this about me. She said it about Jill Biden. But I certainly felt Ms. Kelly's disrespect, and I was not amused.

What caused Ms. Kelly to take to Twitter and express her outrage about the First Lady was this: during the Eagles-49ers playoff game, the play-by-play announcers, noticing that she was in the crowd, referred to her as "Dr. Jill Biden." This offended Ms. Kelly, and she said so, accusing the First Lady of being nothing more than a "wannabe" with a "fake title." She concluded her tweet by suggesting to the First Lady, "Get a real MD or just work on your self-esteem."

Okay, I understand. Ms. Kelly is a partisan, a former Fox News commentator, and she dislikes the fact that Joe Biden is president. I'm fine about that-- she has every right to her opinion. I can also understand that she might be criticizing Joe Biden by proxy whenever she criticizes his wife.  But the scornful dismissal of Jill Biden's degree, and Ms. Kelly's annoyance that the announcers used the First Lady's preferred title, was uncalled for. 

Like Jill Biden, I got my doctorate later in life: she was 55, and I was 64.  Hers was a doctorate in Educational Leadership from the University of Delaware; mine was a PhD in Communication from the University of Massachusetts.  Like Jill Biden, I studied nights (and worked days) in my quest for the advanced degree. I promise you, it wasn't easy doing it that way. If you have an adult learner in your family, or if you are an adult learner yourself, you know that when you've been out of school for a while, it can be challenging to go back. I've read some online critics who claim the Doctor of Education isn't a "real" degree; but I know some folks who have one, and they worked hard to get it. They don't deserve to be mocked, by Megyn Kelly or anyone else.

To me, it's about good manners. I grew up in the 1950s and 1960s, and perhaps I'm hopelessly outdated, but I was always taught to be polite when speaking to others. For example, I was taught that you called professors "Professor." You didn't call them by their first name. Nor did you call priests or rabbis or ministers by their first name: you used their title. Ditto for a wide range of other folks, including your boss. Now, agreed, once you got to know them, if they gave you permission to use their first name, it might be okay. But it was their decision, not yours.

Thus, I'm not bothered if Jill Biden wants to be called Dr. Biden; it's her decision, and it reflects the degree she worked hard for. When my students are addressing me for the first time, I'd expect "Professor Halper" or "Doctor Halper." To me, it's just courtesy. I understand that we're in a more casual era now, and first names are more common: in fact, I often let my students call me Donna, if they ask. But if I were at an academic conference, I would want to use my professional title. And why not? Nothing pretentious about it. Nothing fraudulent or fake. Like Jill Biden, I worked hard for that degree (took me nine years before I finished), and I'm proud of what I accomplished. Lots of folks told me I was "too old." But I proved them wrong. And I see no harm in using the title that reflects all the research I did, and all the effort I put into it writing my dissertation (which was 365 pages long). 

So, my advice to Megyn Kelly is learn some manners. Jill Biden is not asking for anything unreasonable. She's simply asking to be called by her academic title. If that makes her happy, why should anyone be upset about it? She has a real degree from a real university. So do I. So do many folks with Ed.D and PhD degrees. We aren't claiming to be medical doctors. We're just saying that our accomplishments are valid, and deserving of respect. And Megyn, if you can't be proud of us, could you at least try to be courteous? We earned our degrees, so please call us by our title if that's what we want.


Sunday, January 15, 2023

Omissions and Corrections, or Why History Matters

When I was in high school, I don't recall learning anything about the Civil Rights Movement. Our American history books in the late 1950s/early 1960s focused mainly on U.S. presidents, famous military leaders, and some men whose inventions changed society (like Thomas Edison, or Alexander Graham Bell). We studied one or two women (Clara Barton and Betsy Ross come to mind) and while slavery was mentioned, not very much time was spent on it; the same was true about the "Indians"-- they were presented in the Thanksgiving story, and never appeared again. 

I came from a family of readers, and being Jewish, I knew about the Holocaust; but that wasn't taught in school either. The emphasis, as I recall, was on all the good things the U.S. had done. The fact that there were influential members of the government who insisted on restricting the number of Jews (and other immigrants) who could come here was never discussed. Truth be told, a lot of things were never discussed-- and besides, it was not an era when discussion was encouraged. Teachers taught, students took notes, and that was how it was done. Perhaps the goal was to avoid controversy, or perhaps the goal was to make sure we all turned out sufficiently patriotic. In either case, I only found out later how much was omitted from the typical history course.

I was reading an article in an educational publication recently that noted the steep decline in college students majoring in history. In numerous colleges, history is no longer required, and many students avoid studying it-- after all, who cares about what happened a century ago? How can that help anyone get a good job? Historian and author Mike Maxwell explains the rationale for this attitude: "The present system of American education emphasizes “21st century skills,” especially skills associated with the STEM subjects of science, technology, engineering, and mathematics. Learning about events from the past has limited currency in this results-oriented educational environment."

Add to this unfortunate belief a bunch of self-serving politicians who have been demanding that history be taught a certain way-- reminiscent of how it was in the 1950s: no discussions of current events, no discussions of racism or sexism or antisemitism, nothing that would make any students feel "discomfort." In fact, no mention of any mistakes America ever made (to do that, said one politician, would teach students to "hate America"). These politicians, many from conservative states, insist that teachers are "indoctrinating" students, and there are now laws in some of those states that tell teachers what they can teach and how they can teach it.  

As many of you know, I'm a media historian. My expertise is in the history of broadcasting, as well as baseball history, women's history, and the history of rock & roll. I understand that there are numerous perspectives and points of view (and debates) about a wide range of issues; but I don't think avoiding them is the answer. Nor do I think going back to how things were taught (or not taught) in the 1950s is helpful. There are so many stories that still need to be told, so many events that need to be re-evaluated, in light of new information that we now have. Enforcing one "correct" way to look at history means important lessons will not be taught, and important conversations will not occur.

Frankly, I'd like to see changes to how history is taught in many schools-- not to make it partisan, and not to "indoctrinate" (which rarely occurs, by the way, but sounds wonderful for politicians to use in speeches, since it generates outrage from potential voters). I'd like to see history taught in a way that energizes students, a way that makes them curious about what it was like to live in that time, and what we can learn from how our ancestors handled the problems they encountered. Knowledge of history alone may not help someone get a job, but ignorance about history can make one more easily manipulated by folks who want to mislead, and much less able to decide what is factual, or what lessons from the past we can benefit from knowing.

So, I hope those who continue to minimize the importance of history will think again. As the philosopher George Santayana wrote, circa 1905, "Those who cannot remember the past are condemned to repeat it." I see a lot of history repeating itself, and I see a lot of efforts to pretend past mistakes never happened. History contains some wonderful and positive lessons, about people who overcame obstacles or created something that made everyone's life better. But it also contains some lessons about times when we could have done better. Let's bring history back to life. Let's tell the stories (all the stories), write the people who were erased back in, correct the myths... In other words, let's embrace the study of history... because where we've been matters... as we try to figure out where we're going.