A World without Heroes

Atlas holding up the world

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A World without Heroes

Copyright © January 18, 2015 Douglas W Jerving.
All Rights Reserved.

I went to school in the age of Dick and Jane books. That was what we learned to read from in the early sixties in public schools. (Thankfully the little school I went to still added phonics!) So what idiot decided that cats say "MEW" instead of "MEOW"? I have never heard a cat say mew, as if it were a calf. ("Cow says 'MOO!' " according to the 1980's toy Sit and Say.) I guess the Progressive education system that was pushing the "Look-Say" method of reading decided that mew was easier to learn, and meow was too complicated. Well, yeah, if all you are teaching kids is whole word recognition similar to Chinese! Meow has to be interpreted phonetically!

"Run Dick, run. See Dick run. Run, run, run!" "See Jane jump. Jump Jane, jump. Jump, jump, jump!" "Hear Spot bark. Bark, bark, bark!" That crap stunted growth more than cyclamates! (Google that one if you don't know what I mean.) I can't believe I grew up on that garbage! And I don't mean the cyclamates.

I think what saved me from cultural and practical illiteracy was my Grand-Mothers' (both of them) insistence on reading better stuff. My Grandy on my Dad's side was part of a long history of progressive educators (John Dewey was their mentor). That side of the family has been teachers and principals and school administrators for more than three quarters of a century. Many of my cousins have been indentured to this present day in the public schools. Somehow my Grandma recognized the failure of promoting the Progressive agenda. At least she was not inclined to use her grand-son as one of its’ guinea pigs. She gave me all the Dr. Seuss books, and subscriptions to several child-geared magazines. Those tools, because they were gifts, and I had to wait for them, encouraged me to read. That was at least a step in the right direction.

My blue-collar it’s-a-hardknock-life Granny on my Mom's side never believed in childhood as some sort of mysterious separation from real life. Even Robert Louis Stevenson was a bit shallow in her mind. (Still is in mine. Thankfully she never gave me the syrupy suicidal poetry of Edna St Vincent Millay.) She gave me essays by Ralph Waldo Emerson, and poems by Henry Wadsworth Longfellow, and so on. And she expected me to read them. From her I got books like Twenty Thousand Leagues Under the Sea by Jules Verne. I was encouraged, at ten or eleven, to read Hawaii by James Michener. By twelve and thirteen I was reading sociological studies about American communalism and texts on chemistry, and the poetry of Robert Frost, Carl Sandburg, e.e. cummings, and the Romantic poets Shelley and Keats, and later, Robert Browning. I read Irving Stone’s excellent biography of Michelangelo Buonarroti “The Agony and the Ecstasy” in my early teens. By thirteen I was already becoming a poet myself, writing my first long sophomoric plays in iambic pentameter, most of which I stupidly destroyed when I became a “fundamentalist” Christian in my early 20's.

Which of these served me best? (Or did they both serve me well?) The progressive educator Grandma who gave me Dr. Seuss or the hard-nosed blue collar pull-yourself-up-by-the-bootstraps Grandma who expected me to read Edgar Allen Poe at 12 years old? As harsh and piebald as that old biddy on my Mom's side of the family was, she is the one who made me into the writer I am today. She knew that hard discipline with hard love brought out the potential greatness within the child. Just before she died, my aunt led her to Jesus as her saving grace. I am sure that she is standing near my other Gramma, both rejoicing together in what ever part they both played in making me a bit more who I am today.

I hope that I honor them both. In their own ways, they both broke through the chains of cultural and intellectual illiteracy. They brought me to "a world without heroes" (as George Roche said in his book by that title). That is a world where the gods of our states and their religions are overthrown; where the “Idols for Destruction” (Herbert Schlossberg’s term, taken from the Old Testament of the Bible) are finally put to the torch. A world where Ulysses is not just the ancient Odysseus, nor the all too modern failure depicted by James Joyce.

Possibly Alfred, Lord Tennyson described Ulysses best, as a man who against all odds determines to serve his generation even while the vast majority of them are incapable of understanding his mission. A world where the child becomes a man, and a man does what he must do to make the world work, first for himself, then for his children, and then for the rest of society, despite the gods. So help him God.


Doug Jerving is the publisher of the NewEdisonGazette.com. You may contact him at dje@newedisongazette.com.


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