Joining some celebs in thanking my teachers
Thank you, Mr. Peterson, my history teacher in summer school at Luther Burbank Senior High, who, in 1975, challenged all of us to question history and how it has been taught. He was a very tall and imposing man of Swedish descent whose thunderous voice instantly silenced us when he strolled into the classroom at 8 am sharp. And he told us something that no history teacher had the audacity to say before or since: "Forget all the economic arguments you've read in your textbooks about the causes of the Civil War. There was only one way the wealthy plantation owners could convince poor whites to fight that war for them, and that was RACISM." It was like the hammer of Thor had rained its full force of thunder and lightening on us. All we could do was stare at him. Did he, a White man, just say racism was the cause of the Civil War?
Let's put this into perspective: it was the summer of 1975, right before my junior year in high school. That history class was required by the California Department of Education for students who wished to enroll in either the University of California or State University systems, which is what I wanted to do. And it was the summer in Sacramento, California, where the daylight temperatures regularly climbed over 100 degrees by 10 am. Even worse than that, we had NO air conditioning in our classroom! We were all on the verge of passing out by the time we took our mid-morning break.
Yet, we all hung onto every word he said as he launched his very detailed lecture, with REFERENCES, as to why racism was the motivating factor in getting so many young White Southern men to fight and die for a cause in which they would never have any financial benefit, even if the South had won the war. (A note: Luther Burbank Senior High's student population was composed of mostly White students back then. Counting myself, there were only five Black kids in a class of about 25 students. I wish I could have taken a picture of my White classmates' faces at that moment. Seriously priceless.) "Watch carefully," he warned us. "Those who run this country are doing the same thing, right now. In fact, they are much sophisticated in their methods" Best history lecture I've ever had. And he was so right about the methods the plantation owners used to gain support for their cause. The plantations have been replaced by corporations.
Thank you, Mr. Johnson, one of my high school English teachers (and the best) at Luther Burbank, and a very enthusiastic young lady whose name I can't remember, but she was the student teacher in one of my journalism classes. Both of them recognized and encouraged my love of writing, which led to me declaring myself as an English major when I transferred to CSUS from Cosumnes River College.
And thank you, Professors Bertanasco, Ridley, Castellano, Mackey, and Dorman at California State University at Sacramento's English department for illuminating, challenging and sharpening my mind. They were unremittingly demanding but fair, as far as their grading standards were concerned. I remember anxiously typing my essays and research papers at 3 am because I had written three drafts two weeks earlier, and the final one was due later that day. They were old school professors, no warm, fuzzy lectures or peer writing workshops/reviews. You either did the work or you didn't. If you didn't, you received the grade you deserved. That motivated me to work very hard to earn those As.
Actually, Professor Dorman was part of the Journalism Department at CSUS, but he taught an English/Journalism hybrid class called "New Journalism" back in the 80s that blended the techniques of literary writing with journalism that forced me to set aside the old carved in stone boundaries between the genres. It was one of the most difficult classes I've ever taken at the university. However, the efforts on the part of professional writers to blend the two disciplines has created a genre now called "Creative Nonfiction", which isn't so "weird" now as it was back in the 1960s, when writers like Hunter S. Thompson, John McPhee, Joan Didion, Tom Wolfe and others were first publishing in this new style. I was so excited to be learning about this nascent literary movement. But I never expected it to grow in acceptance the way it is today. Back then, we spent a lot of time either defending Hunter S. Thompson contributions to the genre or damning it because the more traditional writers and critics felt he was nothing more than an undisciplined addict/alcoholic who was tainting the reputations hard working, "legitimate" writers in the business with his literary excesses. (Yes, I love that insane man's writings, aka drug and alcohol addled ramblings. Rest in peace, Hunter.)
Bottom line: I've been blessed with fantastic teachers, and I'm so grateful for that! And do me a favor -- think about your teachers, and thank the ones who've had the most profound effect on your development as a human being. Sure, your parents were probably your first teachers. You can thank them, too. (Thanks Mom and Dad, for lining so many of the walls of our home with bookcases overflowing with books in every conceivable category and encouraging your three children to read!)