Fixpoint

2019-11-27

Early history of me, part 6

Filed under: Ego, Historia, Paidagogia, Vita — Jacob Welsh @ 18:22

Continued from part 5

Another eventually-successful parental negotiation involved my music studies. While my violin skills had advanced substantially from ages six to twelve, both solo and in orchestra, and I enjoyed performing, I had never quite accepted the burden internally, and the rigors of daily practice continued to grate. It probably didn't help that my parents weren't demonstrating much musical discipline themselves. If you want to raise a Wolfgang Mozart, it helps to be a Leopold Mozart, y'know?

At the same time, I'd dabbled a bit with the piano, because it was there, and it called out to be tackled properly. I convinced them to let me switch; we found a local teacher (at greater expense, if I recall, for having to look outside the organization) and I pursued the study with vigor. Unfortunately this only lasted about two years until we couldn't seem to make time for it among the increasing demands of school.

Some words about extended family would seem in order to round out an overview of my childhood. There was one set of grandparents surviving, my mother's side, who had retired about an hour north (a seemingly interminable drive at that age) in Gettysburg, Pennsylvania.(i) We'd visit every month or two. I liked them better than my parents did, probably due to less historical baggage on one hand and their inclination to spoil me on the other. When I slept over I'd be able to watch cartoons and play with Grandpa's Mac (with color display!) for hours. They had an affinity for the Arab world, having spent their careers as professors at the American University of Beirut. "Sittou" as we called her was the only churchgoer (Lutheran) in the clan, while Grandpa was a kind of tolerant non-believer. There was an uncle with family that I'd usually see at the grandparents' place.

On my father's side there was an elder aunt and family in Maine; due to the distance we'd see them yearly, at least in the good years when we could afford the vacation. They had picked up the tab on a coastal summer cottage that had been in the family a few generations; I remember with great fondness the change of scenery, climate and pace afforded by these trips; the smell of pine forests and ocean.

While all sorts of details could be relevant to the story of childhood, I will close this series with one that made a distinct mark on me and my generation: the events of the morning of September 11, 2001 and subsequent descent into war on an emotion. It was a school day in the sixth grade. The administration's first reaction was to say nothing, but by lunchtime a growing list of names was being called to report for early pickup, and rumor spread: "the country is under attack!" The superficial facts became clear soon enough, if not the interpretation. Following my parents I was skeptical of the official narrative; LaRouche had even spoken of the possibility of a "Reichstag fire" i.e. false flag event, before it happened. Whatever the Bush/Cheney administration's negligence or even complicity may have been, things played right into their hands. There was an upswell of patriotic fervor, with the songs, "United We Stand" posters and "Fight Terrorism" bumper stickers. I noted the blue skies vacant of contrails as civilian flight was suspended in the following weeks, and the later conversion of airport "security" from this quaint thing with X-ray machines to the complete exercise in humiliation that the inmates now take for granted. As the war whoops escalated, the average low-information voter didn't seem to perceive a difference between supposed Saudi hijackers, Taliban, or Saddam Hussein. Someone had to pay and it didn't much matter who. It marked the beginning of an end of innocence, both in the culture as a whole and my relationship to it.

  1. Perhaps most famous for its battlefield, regarded as the turning point of the American Civil War. [^]

2019-11-26

Early history of me, part 5

Filed under: Ego, Historia, Paidagogia, Vita — Jacob Welsh @ 17:13

Continued from part 4

Lest I paint too bleak a picture of a flat landscape in the public school system, special-needs options started to be offered around the fourth grade for those afflicted by working brains, namely honors classes and once-weekly programs with pompous acronyms whose meaning nobody remembered like FUTURA and SPECTRUM. These provided welcome relief, but remaining surrounded by a crowd that was none too interested in that whole learning thing, and probably resentful of being subjected to it, was still draining. And even in the honors classes, I found the ever-expanding homework burden full of silly, pointless or repetitive drudgery. Around the eighth grade I chose to drop my "straight-A" record to make more time for my interests outside school, which by that time had gravitated toward computer programming.

I sometimes complained to my parents about the situation. Why not the local private school where my friends from the organization went (by financial support from extended family)? Why not home-school? Such entreaties would be dismissed in the "yes, but" style.(i) While they did help pressure teachers and administrators into better supporting me, questioning the system itself was off the table. I see it as a kind of passivity from assumption of helplessness, lacking adequate consideration of what might have been possible or weighing of longer-term costs among proximate ones. When high school came around, there was finally a more serious option of a full-time magnet school;(ii) the proximate cost was being in the next county over with a lengthy bus commute. They rejected this on the first pass, hoping the local situation would improve. To their credit, they came around once it clearly wasn't improving and I got in as a sophomore transfer; unfortunately this meant having missed out on a number of freshman bonding experiences.

To be continued

  1. That "well, yes, but..." was a phrase often cited by LaRouche regarding the avoidances of potential recruits. [^]
  2. Thomas Jefferson High School for Science and Technology. [^]

2019-11-25

Early history of me, part 4

Filed under: Ego, Historia, Paidagogia, Vita — Jacob Welsh @ 17:31

Continued from part 3

There was none of that IV drip of brain sugar known as television in the household. My parents were quite concerned with the developmental effects of screen time, especially of that aimless and passive sort; movies and video games were fairly restricted as well. As intended, this directed my entertainment desires to books. My father's reading to me became a cherished evening tradition, and I eagerly took up reading myself as I became able, with interests tending toward fantasy adventure and a bit of science fiction.

While I loved the family time, a sore spot for me is the amount of time spent being not-raised by not-them. Like many - I'd venture to say most - American kids of this era I was "institutionalized", with daycare from an early age (around one year, if I recall) feeding right into preschool, kindergarten, then school proper. I'm not too clear on how this compares to global or historical norms, but my understanding is that the crowded environment makes individual attention difficult and the constant change in caregivers disrupts bonding. "Because I said so" and "life's not fair" are the typical explanations I remember from the preschool authorities. While the unfairness point is perfectly true, I see its usage more as code for "I feel overworked and underpaid and can't be bothered to help you think through your kiddie problems." Not that solving one's own problems isn't important either, but I don't know... how much reflection or social finesse can you really expect from four-year-olds, especially if it hasn't been well modeled? The typical justification for this outsourcing is Money; the only difference in my case is that it was the Mission.

I don't well recall if or how I expressed myself about the preschool environment at the time, but as time went on the deficiencies of the cookie-cutter approach of the school system became evident. One story (handed down as I didn't recall it myself) was the third grade teacher asking, "What solid has the same shape on every side?" An eager me: "Actually, there are five:", proceeding to rattle off the 'hedrons with correct pronunciation that my eighth grade geometry teacher later wouldn't manage. Teacher: "Yes Jacob; but the third grade answer is the cube." Peer: "That's right Jacob, this is third grade!!11" Me: "That's right. Third grade, not kindergarten." Then in the sixth grade, there was that "science" teacher who earnestly believed the moon orbited the earth every 28 hours and criticized me as "argumentative" (something my parents were delighted to hear).

To be continued

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