Things I wish I Learned

I spent 15 years as a student in the US public education system. I had, what I consider, to be the best teachers this country could offer. I mean it. But many things I learned since I graduated college have led me to question the very system that I grew up in.  What I wish I learned, and why it wasn't covered in public school are two different topics. This article is dedicated to exploring the what.

The Tarahumara

When the Spaniards came to the Americas they encountered indigenous people. In central America they encountered the Mayans and the Aztecs. We all know the unfortunate fate these peoples suffered as a result of their confrontations with the Europeans. What we never learned was that there was another tribe - one who's direct descendants are alive and well today, who've kept the same practices and traditions. They survived it all.

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How did they do it? Well by hiding. In his book Born to Run, James McDougall chronicles his adventures in discovering this long lost tribe. While I don't intend on summarizing his book, I do intend on saying....what the fuck? This is nothing short of mind-blowing. Why wasn't it in any of our books. And when it was discovered, why wasn't it added?

To me, there are several lessons that can be brought forth in teaching about the Tarahumara. For one, it's a lesson in biology. Here are the amazing endurance athletes that can run for hundreds of miles at a time. While the rest of us wonder if human's were meant to run, here are people doing it regularly, with ease and no concern for their "aching joints". Their entire culture is centered around it. Think about that the next time you're sitting on the couch. 

Another is gender equality. This book talks about evidence that suggests men and women are closer in closer in strength the longer you increase the distance in a race. The point is not that one gender is better than the other, or that girls or guys shouldn't act a certain way. It's simply thought-provoking in that it challenges our assumption of what people evolved to do. If we evolved to run long distance, then men and women have basically the same ability. 

A third, and even more powerful lesson I think, is in history. We missed an entire peoples in our books! It's understandable, because they hid so well that the entire world didn't know about their existence until recently. It's a lesson in how, even with our advanced understanding, we still don't know jack - in fact we don't know what we don't know....and it's exciting to learn about it. History books aren't the end, they are the beginning. This is a perfect example to show young, impressionable minds that this is the case. 

However interesting the Tarahumara are, we needn't miss an entire epoc of history to find something we missed about our history. 

Martin Luther King and Rabbi Herschel

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We were all taught in school about Martin Luther King Jr. His various consequential contributions to the civil rights movement are well-known, as they should be. He was a great man, and a great American, and we can all learn from his example of activism in a time of systematic persecution. He really stood up for what's right, and that's why we have a national holiday dedicated to the man. What is lesser known, however, is that at one point Dr King wrote an open letter to clergy asking them to join him in his cause. In comes Rabbi Herschel.

Rabbi Herschel read the letter and found it to be a calling. He answered the call by grabbing his Torah (literally) and joining Dr. King in a march. How incredibly powerful! What an image and a concept - that fighting for civil rights can and should be a cross-cultural endeavor. That it isn't always black vs white, that we can and should be in this together against the forces that seek to keep us divided and weak. In addition to this realization I felt a strong sense of pride. 

I am Jewish. To know that a leader among my own people took part in Dr. King's march was honestly a great feeling. It changed my perspective of one of the most significant, if not the most significant part of my country's history in the last 60 years.  

One of the lessons it taught me was that what we miss, is often right in front of us.

General Smedley Butler

I first learned about this book from a Facebook post a friend of mine shared. He shared this quote:

I spent thirty-three years and four months in active military service as a member of this country’s most agile military force, the Marine Corps. I served in all commissioned ranks from Second Lieutenant to Major-General. And during that period, I spent most of my time being a high class muscle-man for Big Business, for Wall Street and for the Bankers. In short, I was a racketeer, a gangster for capitalism....During those years, I had, as the boys in the back room would say, a swell racket. Looking back on it, I feel that I could have given Al Capone a few hints. The best he could do was to operate his racket in three districts. I operated on three continents.

— General Smedley Butler, War is a Racket
 General Smedley Butler

General Smedley Butler

I was intrigued with the quote so I bought the book. You can find my review on War is a Racket in the reviews section of this web site. In short, it was mind-blowing for me. Here was the most decorated soldier in US history, speaking out against war. What made this worse, was that when I did learn about General Butler, I learned him to be only a war hero - winner of not one, but two medals of honor. I went to military school, so I learned that I was supposed to emulate this man. That I was supposed to hold all of his military accomplishments in the highest regard. He was talked about as though he was General Patton - revered for his machismo. 

This is why I was all the more surprised when, a full decade after college, I accidentally learned that he was an anti-war activist. General Butler  grew to not only understand his experience in a completely different light, but who also actively spoke out against the very conflicts in which he participated. The great irony of what I learned, vs the actual man, was that if you told him his actions would be taught in school as the embodiment of what is right in this world. General Butler would clearly disagree. He would wonder why the most profound actions of his were left out of teachings.

So, why were these and other crucial facts and stories left out of our curricula? That's another topic, for another day. Stay tuned!