Posted in learning together, musings

learning together: from history to current events

Rondel and I have been slowly making our way through Joy Hakim’s wonderful series A History of US, an American history narrative that manages to be both honest about our nation’s flaws and proud of her successes at a level that children can understand. We’re on the third book now, watching the 13 colonies gradually coalesce into a single nation, and so far we’ve encountered quite a few striking dualities: religious persecution and the pursuit of religious freedom; the desire for liberty and the acceptance of slavery; the mingling of cultures and traditions combined with vitriolic racism. We’ve seen people leave England to be able to practice their faith freely (as Rondel commented, when will those kings ever learn that laws won’t change what people believe?) – and then create governments equally as intolerant of dissent. We’ve seen how European settlers as a whole used and abused the Native Americans they encountered, and how they built their economic success on the backs of unpaid labor.

He’s six, it’s his first time sailing through the choppy waters of history, and a lot of it is going to go over his head or be remembered in only the most general of ways – but the concept of slavery has been probably the most jarring and concerning element to him. He asked me why one group of people would think it was ok to treat another group of people that way, and all I could say was that people do a lot of horrible things because of greed and the love of power – that people did, and still do, attempt to convince themselves that another group of people is less than human or deserving of less dignity and justice if doing so will make their lives easier or more profitable in some way. We talked about how the consequences of those horrible parts of history echo down to the present time: how difficult it is to ever fully eradicate that toxic way of thinking, and how generational disadvantages persist unless deliberate work is done to counter the wrongs of the past. We talked about the privilege that he will have as a white man, not because there is anything innately superior about being one, but because of those historical roads our nation has traveled – and how that privilege comes with the responsibility to seek justice and equity for those to whom the trajectory of history has not been so kind. Which all sounds pretty intense for a six year old, but it flowed naturally from what we were reading (especially since he is very sensitive to injustice against others) and I think it’s one of those conversations that has to be had throughout life in age-appropriate ways.

And with all of this fresh in my mind, watching Hamilton for the first time thanks to DisneyPlus, I was able to see the diversity of the performers in a way I don’t know if I would have before. The characters’ races are not historically accurate, but I honestly think it is better that way – more thought-provoking, more eye-opening. We are so used to seeing our history in the color white – which is in our present culture the color of privilege. But those revolutionaries, while still racially privileged at the time, were looked upon with scorn and contempt by the British government for being colonists and “provincials.” Many of them were poor, working their way up the ladder of opportunity in a way that wouldn’t have been possible in England; many of them were the unwanted refuse of London seeking a place to thrive in a new world; many of them professed a faith that differed from the official Church of England and had fled from persecution there. They were a motley crew, to use the expression: their government saw them as a source of profit, as second-class, rather than as full citizens to whom full rights ought to be given. In our modern culture, showing us the revolutionaries as black and brown helps remind us of those historical truths. And it beckons to its audience with a call of hope: if the second-class citizens of Britain, the outcast and oppressed, could fight for liberty and justice against a “global superpower” and succeed, then just maybe the oppressed peoples in our nation today (most prominently people of color) have a chance to establish more perfect justice and liberty for themselves as well.

So study history well. Notice the parallels between the present and the past; follow the pathways that led from then to now. Whether you’re six like Rondel, thirty-one like me, or any other age entirely, there are stories to learn, connections to make, and hope and wisdom to be found for shaping a more perfect future.

Posted in book review

{book review} lithium: a doctor, a drug, and a breakthrough

book cover for Lithium; pastel rainbow letters over a black-and-white image of a scientist at a microscope
Title: Lithium: A Drug, A Doctor, and A Breakthrough
Author: Walter A. Brown
Date of Publication: August 2019
Rating: 4 out of 5 stars

Lithium, as its subtitle suggests, tells three interwoven stories: that of the life of John Cade, the doctor who discovered lithium’s most important medical use; that of lithium itself from its first discovery as an element to its recognition as both a drug and a toxin; and that of lithium’s bumpy road to acceptance through research trials, scientists’ feuds, and governmental wariness.

Continue reading “{book review} lithium: a doctor, a drug, and a breakthrough”
Posted in musings, quotes

in memory of martin luther king jr

Today we remember the assassination of Martin Luther King Jr.

In the early church, people memorialized the martyrs by celebrating the day on which they died, because it was on that day that they were born into the fullness of new life in Christ and freed from the sinful tendencies of the flesh. In that spirit, then, today would be the appropriate feast day and memorial for Martin Luther King Jr., commemorating the death he died fighting for the freedom of his people, a fight that was both informed and characterized by his faith.

Of all the things that impress me about MLK, the ones that I think amazes me most are the tenacity with which he held to his faith in the face of the fear, antagonism, oppression, injustice, violence and hatred aimed at him by people who claimed to share that same faith, and his insistence at operating peacefully and striving for love when he was receiving all of that in return. How close he must have been to Christ, to keep living for Him in the midst of that storm of darkness! How strong his character must have been, forged in trials and infused by the Spirit Himself, to not waver on his principles or beliefs through all of his years in the civil rights movement!

I can tell you honestly that I don’t think my faith and character would hold up to the trials he faced. I can guarantee that I wouldn’t have faced those situations and people with the same combination of boldness and grace – I would have been running and hiding and hoping no one noticed me.

But his faith sustained him, his love directed him, and his courage kept his feet on the hard and beautiful path he had set out on. May we follow his example, and never by our silence, fear, or ignorance be complicit in the injustices he battled against.

MLK-Quote1

Posted in musings, quotes

when fear skews our ethics

“…a growing body of research suggested that investing in education and work for women propelled economic development and led to lower birth rates. Later in the 1967 meeting University of Chicago sociologist Philip Hauser alluded to this research when he asked the delegates: ‘Do we really know whether the classical approach of family planning propaganda and clinical services is more useful in reducing birth rates than the same effort spent on building a road into the village or constructing a soap factory where women can work or furthering education for girls?’ But population control activists tended to dismiss an emphasis on female workforce participation and education as a strategy dreamed up by unrealistic feminists. And Polgar [head of research for Planned Parenthood Federation of America] didn’t mention the alternative approach from the podium. Instead, he gazed out at the delgates and, according to minutes from the meeting, ‘urged that sociologists stimulate biologists to find a method of sex determination, since some parents have additional children in order to get one of specified sex.'” – Mara Hvistendahl, Unnatural Selection: Choosing Boys Over Girls, and the Consequences of a World Full of Men, pg 99-100

“Others talked about the necessity of an Asian pregnancy police, foreshadowing China’s system of birth permits under the one-child policy, and suggested flying planes over India once a year to spray it with a ‘contraceptive aerial mist.’ And the racist application of birth control was no longer confined to the developing world. In 1973 African American and Native American women across the American South and Southwest alleged in federal district court that they had been sterilized under threat of their welfare benefits being withdrawn. Gerhard Gesell, the judge who heard Relf v. Weinberger, concluded in his ruling that the women had been coerced. He estimated that between 100,000 and 150,000 poor American women had been sterilized under federal programs, adding, ‘the dividing line between family planning and eugenics is murky.'” – Ibid, pg 104

The idea was that families would have fewer children if they didn’t have to keep trying and trying to have a child of the sex they desired. Instead of a family having 3 or 4 or more daughters before having a son, and having 4 or 5 total children, the parents could eliminate those daughters, or most of them, and end up only having 1 or 2 children. In the 1960s, when the world was as scared of population growth as we are of climate change, that reduction in the birth rate was the pot at the end of the rainbow. But instead of choosing to support economic development and female empowerment (which has historically led to lower birth rates on its own), Western nations and foundations decided to tie their aid money to population control programs, leading to mass sterilizations, countless abortions, and the eventual skewing of the gender ratios across the world due to Polgar’s final vague and understated observation above.

Was it all just a response of fear to the specter of a world overfilled with people, starving and suffering and dying? While I think that played a role, there was a definite racial component to the issue, as the decreasing birth rate in the West combined with the economic development of the rest of the world struck fear into the hearts of white Americans and Europeans worried about losing their hold on global power and wealth. And the result of those fears, both the altruistic and the selfish racist fears, was death and suffering – for the men who underwent forced sterilizations during Indira Gandhi’s rule in India, for the women whose babies were aborted because of the one-child policy in China, for the aborted babies themselves (mostly girls), for the men who are growing up to find themselves consigned to singleness due to a shortage of women.

It is never wise to forsake the path of righteousness in response to fear. We must have a more constant moral compass than that of pragmatism and self help, or the very things that we think good, in our efforts to avoid what we fear, will end up hurting us (or others) in ways we never dreamed of, just as much or even more than the things we were trying to avoid. Such a moral compass will also help us determine whether or not our fears are ethically just – as a fear of humanity starving and suffering would be, while a fear of the global gains of other races would not. Population control wasn’t the solution for the fears of the 1960s; economic development and education accomplished the same ends without the oppression and injustice. Maybe Christianity was right when it said that children are blessings; and maybe if we worked together for the common good instead of seeking our own good at the expense of other human beings we could conquer the evils we fear without causing greater evils yet to roam the earth.