About Me

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I'm a life-long New Englander, father of 4 challenging kids (I know: I'm supposed to say "wonderful", but while that'd be true, technically speaking, it'd also be misleading), and fortunate husband to my favorite wife of more than 20 years. I've got over 20 years experience breaking things as a test engineer, quality engineer, reliability engineer, and most recently (and most enjoyably) a Product Safety / EMC Compliance Engineer. In the photo, I'm on the left.

Sunday, February 12, 2012

Sgt. Preston of the Ukraine

I've been thinking a bit lately about my college days...don't know why. But I thought I'd share a couple of anecdotes about how, when I was growing up and muddling my way through my own mediocrity and our schools, America seemed to think that there were no maps made of other countries.

I don't recall taking ANY classes in geography growing up, other than 'here's a map - you fill in all the states and their capitals'. A map of the USA, of course.

Our relative ignorance of the world's shape and size really hit me twice in college.

Ignoramus 1: As I suppose happens in many schools that are largely commuter-oriented, we ("the gang" and I) had a little area that we adopted in our student center. At any given time on any given day, there could be between 1 and a couple dozen of us either lounging or crowding (as appropriate) into this corner of our student center. One of the less-well-embedded members of the gang was a giant muscle-bound, intolerant meathead. Not a bad fellow, but not one to mull over an idea that was not his own, and very phobic of non-mainstream ideas.

Our little area was one day invaded by a couple of new comers...two young ladies each with a heavy eastern European-like accent. Asked where they came from, they answered "The Ukraine". As an aside it boggles my mind that a couple of kids would literally travel to the other side of the world to get an education. Very cool stuff that.

Meathead asked if The Ukraine was in Alaska. He distinctly remembered a TV show about a mountie or something...Sgt. Preston of the Ukraine.

I've never been a geographical wizard, but I knew better than that. Allowing that meathead was making a legitimate mistake, I offered that the show was Sgt. Preston of the Yukon, and that the Yukon is attached to Alaska, though a Canadian territory. This is where meathead showed not only his ignorance, but his stupidity. He simply would not believe me. It was Sgt. Preston of the Ukraine, and that was in Alaska.

These poor girls. They didn't even look like Inuits, Canadians, or Alaskans. Apparently they were used to having to explain where The Ukraine is, because they took it all in stride. Sometimes I wonder if meathead ever pulled his meaty head out of his ass and bothered to learn anything. I hope so. Or, if we're lucky, perhaps he just didn't reproduce. Perhaps those steroids have had a positive effect on the gene pool.

Ignoramus 2: I was, while still in college, in the computer lab one day working on an assignment. I overheard one student talking to another. The one was a young Asian fellow with a local accent; the other was a lovely lady of color with a quite different accent (very French-sounding).

The one was clearly working on picking the other up; he asked where she was from. She replied that she was from Haiti. He asked if that was 'around here' ('here' being Boston Mass).

This is one of those few times that (I'll admit when) my mouth got ahead of my brain. "Really?!?!" I asked. "Well, I don't know." The lad protested. "Haiti?" I pressed. "Port-Au-Prince? The Caribbean? The other half of The Dominican Republic?"

You gotta be kidding me. What are these kids doing? I don't think that without looking at a map I could tell you exactly where these places are (what's the next island or country to the left, for instance), but shouldn't we have a *little* idea where things are?

Of course it'd help if they weren't rearranged every so often, but that's a different plea.

My biggest issue with this subject was still lurking many years in the future, however...

The 'you've gotta be friggin' kidding me' ignoramus:
My second was in (I think) first grade. These days, all my kids have had a fair amount of global geography lessons. It's nice that the schools are doing something to bring this learning to our kids (now, if they'd only offer Latin instead of Spanish or French...).

The kid came home one day and shared with us a large poster that they had made in class. On this paper was, in roughly first-grade drawing and spelling, the continent of North America. He really did a good job on it, being the age that he was. He had worked hard on it, and the blatant errors that were represented there were NOT his fault at all. They were the fault of the idiot school and its idiot teacher (and I typically have a great deal of respect for teachers...NOT a job that I could ever do).

The basis of my aggravation on this work was the written content that stated that:

The North American continent is comprised of three countries: Mexico, Canada, and North America.

Oh...My...Lord. Is this really what you're teaching my kid? Is our country North America, or the United States of America? You can't even get the name of your own COUNTRY right?!? And are there really only three countries? The North American continent goes all the way down to Panama...what happened to all those countries between Mexico and Panama? What happened to Cuba and all the countries that dot the Caribbean? Not for nothing, but there's a great, big land mass called "Greenland" on that continent too.

By the way, in writing this I wondered about Iceland...Iceland is apparently not on either the North American nor the European continent, but is rather a raised part of the oceanic crust. Very cool that. I love it when I learn something new before 9:00 am...it means I don't have to worry about learning something new for the rest of the day. Whoo-hoo!

Back to my rant: I think that what bothered me so much (and continues to do so today) about this school project is that these folks spouting this misinformation are professional educators. These are people who went to school and learned stuff to teach our kids. If they didn't learn geography, they should have learned to check their facts. If they didn't learn to check their facts, what else are they teaching our kids that's wrong? How would I ever know?

The American education system takes a lot of knocks from folks around the world (folks to whom I've spoken, at any rate), and these sorts of anecdotes kind of validate those knocks in my mind. However, as I'll no doubt post in another observation, our education system does have its advantages...if only people would use the darn thing!

Sgt. Preston of the Ukraine indeed...


  1. Sgt Preston of the Yukon (Canada) was a hunk indeed. Funny, all through grade school we mostly learned about the states. Same thing for our daughter..in fact...we had to teach her the provinces. Just part of the mind set that the US of A is the be all and end all I guess.

  2. We did have to assign countries to their rightful places on a map of the world in Oz, but it was only some countries. Russia yes, Poland no, France yes, Belgium no, the UK, the USA (Mexico no). I think Canada yes, but I am not sure. Indonesia and Papua New Guinea both a yes, as was Japan. India yes, Pakistan no. I have no idea why? It seems that we all had and have poor training in Geography. Sigh.

  3. The educational system where I grew up was lacking in many ways, most of all the fact that I (a mostly Irish lad) had no idea there was anything going on IN IRELAND until about sophmore year in high school ('95). THAT was the very first time I EVER had a "current events" type of class.

    Every single other social studies class was about the Holocaust from September to February, when it turned to black history, which went on until April vacation, when it want back to the Holocaust until June.

    I knew all about Martin Luther King, Rosa Parks, Harriet Tubman, Schindler, Anne Frank, all about Kristallnacht all by the age of 8. I didn't know about Sinn Fein, the IRA, Bloody Sunday, the Potato famine (lots of jokes made more sense after learning about that...) England and what-not until I was 15. Christ, "In the name Father" was a movie ALL about it, and the main characters even had my same last name, and I didn't know anything about it...

    Wonder what demographic Brookline ma is primarily made out of?