Wednesday, November 13, 2013

The World's First Computer Programmer Was A Woman

via Women Rock Science
I can tell you the exact moment when I realized that history wasn't the story of the past, but millions of different understandings and manipulations of how things have happened since the world existed. I was a naive college student out of the suburbs/exburbs of Southwest Ohio who had never received anything less than an A in school. I got A's because that's what you were supposed to do. Things were what they were and your textbooks were true and that was that. What I had learned was right, and it covered everything important that had ever happened.

So one day over beers during my sophomore year in college, I was having one of those "serious" discussions with a fellow member of College Democrats at Miami University, a school where only 4% of the students were minorities at the time, and I said, "Maybe the reason we don't learn about significant black historical figures is that there weren't any.

Boy, was I schooled by just the look on the face of the person I was talking to. And then came the lecture. It was one of those seemingly insignificant moments at the time that turned out to be vastly influential in my life. (I've had many of those moments, trust me.)

In primary and secondary school we had learned about Martin Luther King, Jr., of course, and Rosa Parks and Dred Scott and Frederick Douglas and Washington Carver. They explained the Civil War and the Civil Rights Movement to very young minds. In Englewood, Ohio in the 1980s, they explained black people.

Does it shock you that I put it this way? Why? Is it so tough to admit that we have race issues in this country? I see so many white people state that because we have a black president, racism is over. (Yeah, people really think that.) Here's the reality: in the United States of America, the color of your skin determines where you live, what you do for a living, how much you make, your education level, and how likely you are to be arrested, among other things. They didn't teach us that in Southwest Ohio. They taught us that everyone was like everyone else. I think that's where multiculturalism fails in education. Because everyone is NOT like everyone else - we all have very different backgrounds and experiences, and such things as the color of your skin vastly influence those backgrounds and experiences. This teacher gives a student an excellent lesson that I wish I had had at that age.

Just as I hadn't realized that our history books were written from a white perspective, I didn't realize they were written from a male perspective, either. Susan B. Anthony gave us voting rights and women's lib gave us the rest of them and that was that. I certainly never felt any gender discrimination when I was a kid. After all, I was first in the class and a star athlete and it's pretty tough to discriminate against a good student. I didn't know anything about the glass ceiling or the unequal pay or the higher levels of insurance premiums that women faced in the eighties and nineties. I certainly couldn't foresee the brewing war on women that the GOP has waged in the last decade, reviving controversy on previously settled issues like contraception and abortion.

And I never knew about people like Ada Lovelace (pictured) or Hedy Lamarr (inventor of wireless communication technology). We knew Betsy Ross because she sewed a flag (sewing being viewed as a women's occupation.) We knew Clara Barton because she founded the Red Cross (nurse being viewed as a women's occupation.) When it came to male-dominated positions, we never learned about women who did great things in those fields. Marie Curie was spoken about with her husband, never as an individual. And I think we knew her as "Madam" Curie.

But you know, you can excuse a twenty-year old for not knowing that the American history taught in our schools was written by white men. You can't excuse a forty-year old.

Just because you were taught something is one way doesn't mean it is. School textbooks are rife with information that is included because of some political decision. Parents often give their children misinformation simply because they don't know the answers. Far too many minds are poisoned with that vile form of Christianity that thinks a 1600 year old book gives them permission to hate others who don't live like them. Although there is a lot of evidence showing brain chemicals and genes shape a person's behavior, there's no denying that how and what you are taught in childhood influences your behavior as an adult.

If you don't look at multiple sources of information, if you don't read multiple newspapers, if you don't talk to people of multiple ethnicities and religions, if you don't travel outside your city, state, and country, you aren't going to know how things really are. Fortunately, it's a lesson I learned early enough, but far too many people never learn it. We're seeing the consequences of that today, with people believing conspiracy theories, denying climate change, opposing gun regulations, professing a hatred for gays and Muslims and blacks and liberals, and all of those other bizarre behaviors coming from the Fox News crowd. In the end, we all suffer from the warped views of these individuals. Ask the Filipinos. Ask Sandy Hook families. Ask your neighbor.

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