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    Mothers attempting to balance parenthood and academics.

Long Distance Mom: Lies My Teacher Told Me
August 26, 2010 - 8:27am

Geez! Tuesday was the first day of school for my teenagers and my alarm did not go off! Either that or I had turned it off and rolled back to sleep.

I was in Florida at the beginning of this week, both to get my teenagers off for their first day of school and also to vote. I have assessed that it is statistically more important for me to vote in the state of Florida than it is in Illinois where my university job resides (but Blagojevich has me questioning that decision...)

My son Nick woke me up frantically in my bedroom, “Mom! It’s after 7!”

For some unnatural reason, my children’s high school starts at 7:30AM, and we all try to wake up by 5:30. That means it’s 4:30 AM for me, since I spend most of my working hours in Chicago central time. I was so looking forward to having a relaxed, organized time with my kids this last weekend and arriving triumphant for their first day of high school with well-dressed, showered, and prepared children who had finished their summer reading.

Alas, the reality of my commuting lifestyle set in around the time that my smoothie spilled as I screeched out of the driveway, landing smack inside my purse. (Only a woman, perhaps, can feel the tragedy of a smoothie spilling inside one’s purse…) After cursing, speeding and driving erratically, it also became clear that neither of my children had actually finished their summer reading yet.

But at least my son seemed to want to finish his assigned book...

Nick’s summer reading has renewed my belief that our public school system occasionally makes some good decisions, or at least hires teachers who still do. Nick is finishing James Loewen’s, “Lies My Teacher Told Me: Everything Your High School History Textbook Got Wrong” (1995), a nonfiction assessment of twelve leading high school history textbooks that the author reviewed while at the Smithsonian Institute. Loewen identifies and then overturns textbook exaggerations and historical untruths ranging from Christopher Columbus to “Gone with the Wind.” Howard Zinn has said that “every teacher, every student of history, every citizen should read this book." (You can read the introduction and table of contents online).

I glanced through one chapter that outlines the history -- both in artwork and writing -- of abolitionist John Brown, and the textbook interpretations of his armed insurrections at Pottawatomie and Harper’s Ferry. Many textbooks describe Brown as a “terrorist” and show pictures of him as a wild-eyed man with a long beard, particularly in southern textbooks. Loewen’s analysis of these images is clear and challenging, and he develops a debate about terrorism and justifiable treason, rather than pronouncing the “truth” of the event. The book is clearly appropriate for my son’s AP course in American History and he is excited about reading it — or at least I thought he was....

After a disappointing ride to school, I went home to clean out my purse and then to vote in the Florida primary. By 3:00 PM, the kids had forgotten about their hectic morning and were more upset about their class assignments and the absence of friends in classes. My daughter, Katie, had learned that her literature teacher was quizzing her the next day on their summer reading book, Kashmira Sheth’s “Keeping Corner”--another cool reading choice. This book is about Leela, a young girl from India, married at age nine, widowed by twelve, and witness to Ghandi’s teachings about freedom and equality for women in 1918.

Like her Mom, Katie needs to do some fast-paced work in order to be ready for the first week of school. I got the children a snack, dropped them off at band practice, and left to catch a plane back to Chicago, wishing that I had had more time and patience to delve into their summer reading books with them.

On the way to the airport I heard on the radio that Kendrick Meek was leading billionaire Jeff Greene in Florida’s Democratic primary for the Senate. If Meek wins the election in November, he will become Florida’s first black senator.

It sure feels like the first day of school…


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