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Lethal Education

The stories of the terrified and terrorized children of Uvalde are hitting me very hard. Sadly, this kind of assault on an allegedly "safe space" or "soft target" is nothing new. There is an age-old pattern of attacks on education and learning. The cultivation of the life of the mind poses a deep threat to a wide range of people, from the status quo to the disaffected, from those whom educational institutions spurned to those whom it privileged.

My whole life so far has been spent in educational circles. My father was a professor, and because he was a department chair, we frequently had other professors and administrators as dinner guests at our home. Conversations were exciting, erudite, playful, willing to engage controversial issues, and deeply stimulating to my young mind.

My mother says that my father had a recurring nightmare, that two male students were coming after him with guns. My mother reads this now as a foreshadowing, since my father was killed by two young men who were driving while intoxicated. But I read it differently, because of the impact that the University of Texas shooting in 1966 had on me. The specter of the man in the tall tower picking off people as they went about everyday academic activities - going to class, returning library books - haunted my eight-year old imagination for years. Perhaps it did the same for my father.

I can now see that this was a signal event for me. It may be part of what launched me on my life-long quest to understand why education would ever be restricted, and in whose interest such restrictions are formulated. The larger question, then, of why the comparatively wonderful act of learning should be so routinely terrorized, especially in our time, is what haunts me now.

A picture of my father, John A. Rycenga, from 1966. Here he is modeling the kind of intellectual I would become - casual, feline-friendly, never ceasing to learn. He died in 1968. This is one of my most treasured pictures of him, and of our dear chocolate-point Siamese, Ay-boy.

Xavier Lopez, one of the murdered school children of Uvalde. His boyish looks, the aspiration to adulthood in his posture, has made this picture resonate for me (albeit in a place of deep sorrow). He also, somehow, reminds me of my father. He is described by relatives as having been a "fun bubbly sweet young man" and a dancer, too.

Education is so often the target of violence and intimidation. Why? There are many reasons - this is not a simple question. But it is also not one I can even list the answers to today.

For now, I will simply say that my philosophy echoes that of Lydia Maria Child (1802-1880): "Of all monopolies, a monopoly of knowledge is the worst. Let it (knowledge) be as active as the ocean—as free as the wind—as universal as sun-beams!"

I will leave this post to grow with other historical examples, and hopefully no further ones in the future...but I am not naive. I fear it will happen.

Some prominent examples:

Uvalde, Parkland, Chibok schoolgirls kidnapping, Sandy Hook, Malala Yousafzai, VA Tech, Columbine, San Diego State, University of Texas.

Freedmen's Schools, Canterbury Female Academy, Irish "hedge schools," Siege of Baghdad, Hypatia, Library of Alexandria

Anti-intellectualism in general, book banning and book burning, religious proscriptions against asking questions


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