Eunice: The Kennedy Who Changed the World by Eileen McNamara
My rating: 5 of 5 stars
At one time, there were many Eunice Shrivers, only without the money and clout that she possessed to get things done on a grand scale. Opinionated, forceful, unconcerned with appearance and other superficialities, and possessed of a moral voice and certitude, she steamrollered all who got in her way. I have never been particularly interested in the Kennedys, or Special Olympics, but I was intrigued by an NPR interview with the author. I'm glad I acted on it. This is an engaging biography, and given Eunice's reluctance to reveal her soul (typical of so many women of her generation) could not have been an easy project. Given how much she had to juggle, both context and subject material, McNamara does a deft job of keeping the reader engaged. Her book is a porthole into extraordinary privilege, and the good that can be done by those who, like Eunice Kennedy Shriver, do not take that privilege lightly. Her legacy is all around us, the recognition of the full humanity of those with intellectual disabilities.
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Some months ago, I brashly offered to write a blog piece for an Atlanta audience about fake news during World War I. I had referred very briefly to Great War propaganda in Don’t Know Where, Don’t Know When, and had included a section on this topic in my new WWI program for schools. My interest had deepened with having learned recently that A.A. Milne (of Winnie the Pooh fame) was among the writers the British government had employed during World War I to concoct fake news, and feed it to American newspapers in an effort to draw American sympathies toward the Allies. I certainly included this fascinating bit of trivia in my program, followed by a rhetorical question for the kids and teachers: If propaganda was this sophisticated more than a century ago, what must it be like today?
And now we have an answer that took even the most cynical by surprise, in the form of the Cambridge Analytica/Facebook scandal.
Schools have been urged in recent years to shove aside other subjects in favor of STEM. There has already been a backlash against this educational trend, of course, from the passionate advocates of art, music, and theater, who saw their subjects sidelined in a rush to STEM. This prompted a hasty rewriting of the acronym, giving us STEAM (A for Arts, in the American sense).
I suggest that, in that case, we might as well add the humanities (English, history, and philosophy) which gives us SHTEAM or, to put it in more familiar language, education.
Early in my grad school career, I mentioned to a fellow researcher that I had no idea why I was studying religion when I had set out to study immigration, except that this new subject was where the documents had led me. "It will be personal," she said. "It's always personal." I agreed that she must be right, but it took me a while to figure out why.
Of course we learn most avidly when we can connect what we learn about the past to our own lives today. But the connections aren't always obvious.
Charles Dickens knew poverty and child labor. He knew these things.
Raised in a middle-class home, he was educated, not merely schooled, because his early schooling was mediocre, like most of the limited formal education available in the early 19th century. He owed much to the learning that comes by osmosis in a literate household. Above all, he read voraciously.
And then, disaster.
Lady Bird, the new movie written and directed by Greta Gerwig, is getting fantastic reviews for its depiction of a teenage girl in her last year of high school, in the unpromising setting of Sacramento, CA. And so it should. But I am not an unbiased reviewer, and so this is not a review. This Brit, like the titular main character, came of age in Sacramento.
"Very well,” Mrs. Jenkins said, fetching a small hardbound book from a cupboard.
She began flipping through the pages. “Just remind me that we must stir
the soup that’s on the fire so it does not burn, and meanwhile we will make a
cake. Hmm. . .Let’s see. . .I rather fancy this one.” She pointed to a recipe, and
held open the book on the table, so they could both read it together:
To make a fine feed or faffron-cake.
You must take a quarter of a peck of fine flour, a pound and a half of butter,
three ounces of carraway seeds, six eggs beat well, a quarter of an ounce of cloves
and mace beat together very fine, a pennyworth of cinnamon beat, a pound of
sugar, a pennyworth of rose-water, a pennyworth of saffron, a pint and a half of
yeast, and a quart of milk; mix it all together lightly with your hands thus: first
boil your milk and butter, then skim off the butter, and mix with your flour,
and a little of the milk and stir the yeast into the rest and strain it, mix it with
the flour, put in your feed and spice, rose-water, tincture of saffron, sugar, and
eggs; beat it all up well with your hands lightly, and bake it in a hoop or pan,
but be sure to butter the pan well. It will take an hour and a half in a quick
oven. You may leave out the seed if you chuse it, and I think it rather better
without it, but that you may do as you like.
“What’s a feed or faffron-cake?” Hannah asked, pointing to the words with a
I was delighted to be interviewed last week for a blog run by the American Council of Learned Societies, an umbrella organization of humanities groups.
Find it hard to get kids interested in history? Here are some questions I regularly ask myself when attention wanders...
Am *I* interested in this? If the answer is no, then it’s harder to excite the kids and teens. What would it take to get *me* interested? Can I at least watch a documentary or (better) read a book? If I teach history and never learn more about it, and not just what’s on the curriculum, I’m making life harder for myself and my audiences.
Watching on TV as hundreds of avowedly racist young men carried torches through a college campus, gave the Nazi salute, chanted anti-semitic and racist slurs, and flaunted swastikas through the streets of Charlottesville was profoundly shocking and disturbing.
This is a good time to revisit questions that nag at the backs of our minds: How does history help? What does teaching about long-ago people and events have to do with the present?
Academic & Public Historian, Middle-Grades Author (The Snipesville Chronicles), Practitioner of Non-Boring History, Mother. AnnetteLaing.com