Historical fiction: Churchill and Fleming, and antibiotics

May 26, 2007

Is this old dead duck still circulating?

The story is that a poor farm kid in England Scotland saves a rich kid from drowning, and the rich family offers to pay for college for the poor kid. The poor kid goes to college, and later makes a great discovery, and that discovery later saves the life of a member of the rich family, who goes on to save the world.

Churchill in Tunisia, 1943, visiting New Zealand’s 2nd Division, with Bernard Freyberg, known as Tiny

Churchill in Tunisia, 1943, visiting New Zealand’s 2nd Division, with Bernard Freyberg, known as Tiny

In various forms I’ve seen this story, that a member of the Churchill family, or Winston Churchill himself, was saved by a member of the Fleming family, or Sir Alexander Fleming himself (the discoverer of penicillin). Then, years later Churchill has a deadly infection, but his life is saved by Fleming’s discovery.

It’s a great story, actually, but it is fabrication from start to finish, laced with famous names, our natural ignorance of some parts of history, and our desire for such coincidences to be true. It’s such a great story that the wrong, hoax version still circulates even after it is so easy to learn that the story is wrong.

The Churchill Centre, in England, has a denial that should be embarrassing to Americans and Christians — they point out it was distributed in the 1950s by churches here.

The story apparently originated in Worship Programs for Juniors, by Alice A. Bays and Elizabeth Jones Oakberg, published ca. 1950 by an American religious house, in a chapter entitled “The Power of Kindness.”

Here are several ways to tell the story is false: Read the rest of this entry »


Listen to your teachers . . . you politicians

May 26, 2007

Long-time friend John Florez erupts at the Deseret News in Salt Lake City from time to time.  Back on April 2, when the Utah legislature was still wrestling with vouchers, a budget surplus and a vastly underfunded education system, Florez had some gentle advice to policymakers everywhere:  “Policy makers must heed teachers’ views.”

      Politicians ought to listen to what the teachers think is needed to improve education. For starters, they want smaller class sizes and an environment that gives them the opportunity to do the most important thing: challenge and motivate students to learn. One wrote that after 30 years of teaching he has “…discouraged … nieces and nephews from taking up the career. What a shame when there is so much possible with all these young minds.” Another wrote that her school had a student teacher quit halfway through, frustrated because the students wouldn’t work; phoning parents resulted in getting an earful, and the principal made little effort to back her up.
The following year, the school had an opening so they phoned her “…to see if she wouldn’t try again at our school.” The reply: “Thank you, if I ever came back it would be there, but never. I have a job now with great opportunities to grow and a great working environment.”

But, John — would better working conditions really help pass the standardized tests?

Some principals and administrators of which I am aware haven’t found the sign yet, but would put it up if they had it:

The daily floggings of staff will continue until morale improves!

They wouldn’t mean it as the joke it was originally intended; or even if they did, the staff would know differently.


Girls and technology: Girl Scouts on the ‘net

May 26, 2007

Here, try this brain teaser.

Girl Scouts of America can be found on the web; some of the stuff at this “Go Tech” site could be useful in the classroom. The design appears to encourage girls to pursue the use of technology, and to open them up to possibilities for careers where women are badly needed, but too seldom go. That becomes clear with this .pdf, 14-page guide for parents, It’s Her Future: Encourage a Girl in Math, Science and Technology.

I wish more organizations would put up sites for kids to use to learn. I’d love to see some interactive sites with great depth on several topics: Geography map skills, navigation, European explorers in the 15th through 20th centuries, market fluctuations for commodities and securities (for economics), Native Americans from 1500 through the 21st century, westward expansion of European colonists in America, time lines of history, great battles, etc., etc. etc.

We are missing the boat when it comes to using computers as tools for learning. Like unicorns and centaurs standing on the dock as Noah sailed away, education as a whole institution and educators individually are missing the boat (with a few notable exceptions — pitifully few).

Where is the Boy Scout site with games and material for the boys?


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