Monday, August 6, 2012

My Answer to Someone Else's Paper Topic.

Recently, an old classmate from High School asked me to review a paper he wrote for a graduate course.  He told me to be brutal.  He knew about my writing and editing background, and I was honored that he asked.  Still the topic facinated me, so I decided to answer it myself.  So here it is- my ramblings on the topic:
"What historical event had the greatest effect on your education?"

A person’s education is the sum of all experiences that person has during their life. Some say that a person learns more from their failures than their successes. Some also say that a person cannot grow without enduring pain. There is some truth to both of these statements. However, it can also be said that a single experience can change the direction of a life, a career, an education. Think about “the person who got away” and how life would be different if they hadn’t. What if a person chose one university instead of another, or not to go to college at all? What about that one drink too many before getting behind the wheel and then…

In my life, there have been many historic or personal events that have affected me in positive and negative ways. One that had a profound impact was the explosion of the space shuttle Challenger on January 28, 1986. However, the one that affected my education the most occurred when I was quite young. In October 1972, the Washington Post wrote that the FBI established that the Watergate break-in was connected to the campaign to re-elect President Nixon. I had no idea what that meant. My father was a veteran and Republican through and through. He taught my brother and me to respect authority and to respect the government. I was six years old then.

All through 1973, Walter Cronkite would be on TV telling us about an unfolding scandal about the Watergate break-in. I learned a new term: “Cover up.” Daddy, what does that mean? He said it meant lying.

In November of 1973, I was seven. President Nixon was on TV saying “I’m not a crook.” And I believed him, because he was President, and my father taught me to respect the president. The president wouldn’t lie. But everyone on TV was saying he was involved in the cover-up, and that would mean he was lying. My father silently watched the hearings when he wasn’t working. I watched as well, and started asking questions. Lots of questions. He did his best to try to explain that maybe the president might have been part of the lies, but probably it was because the bad Democrats were trying to make him look bad. The democrats disagree with the president, so they must be bad.

In July of 1974, I learned a new term: “Impeachment.” It meant that the government would try to remove the president for breaking the law. Was it still the bad Democrats, daddy? Or is Mr. Cronkite telling us that the president isn’t really a good man?

On August 8, 1974, President Nixon resigned. By then, my father was thoroughly disgusted at the whole thing. Yes, Nixon had lied. But don’t worry, President Ford will fix everything. I was still seven, about to turn eight. It was summer vacation before third grade. I’d just learned to tie my shoes all by myself.

But the president had lied. He couldn’t be trusted. And it wasn’t just him- it was many of the people in government broke the law. The people I was taught to respect broke the laws I was taught must be followed. Why, daddy?

I’d learned a lot in those couple of years. I learned to listen closely and to ask questions. I also learned that people in authority didn’t always have the best interests of everyone else in mind. I learned to question people’s motivations and to question authority. People in authority needed to be questioned, or they may do the wrong things.

These are Harsh lessons for a child to learn, but I learned them well. Those lessons served me through my school career, as I asked my teachers “Why?” And I also learned to find answers for myself. I started reading newspapers, magazines and books that didn’t have many pictures. What is “Inflation?” Why are OPEC, and what is an “Embargo?” Why did Iran take those hostages?

I was thirteen when Reagan took office. Soon after, Walter Cronkite retired. My father watched Dan Rather as he started reporting about scandals of the Reagan administration. I questioned why this would happen, and did my own research. I questioned why Reagan sold arms to Iran, and about another Republican cover up.

To this day, I still question authority. I question motivations. I never take anything at face value. I learned to do my own research and make my own conclusions, and to defend those conclusions using facts. I also learned that while people may not agree with my conclusions, that they weren’t bad people. That this disagreement was not only the basis of learning (the fancy term is “cognitive dissonance”) but also the basis of our system of government.

Due to the pain of learning that our leaders are fallible and to question authority at such a young age, I developed my mind to seek answers. This helped me a little in high school, but much more in college, where no one was there to “hold my hand” as I completed my assignments. Later, in grad school, it served me well again as almost every class required research skills and to apply knowledge. Strangely enough, most jobs I’ve worked did not require this skill- they preferred blind acceptance of facts given by higher-ups. I’m sure I could develop that particular point far more, but it is beyond the scope of the topic.

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