Saturday, July 20, 2013

Who made me as I am?

I like think I am a self-made man.  Since I think fairly highly of myself, having made me like I am would be an accomplishment of which to be proud.  But the truth is I didn't make me.  Sure, I have done a little of the shaping and pruning but there have been lots of other influences and hands in the making.  

Clearly, my parents and their ancestors got things started.  My sister, a steady influence for rationality and good companionship, had a hand in.  I have had many inspiring teachers, most of whom I cannot remember clearly.  A few who were extra-strict and another small set on whom I had a crush or who seemed like they would be good friends stick out in my memory.  

The teachers were supplied by the taxpayers as were the school buildings, the streets I used to get to them.  Larger but quieter than the taxpayers themselves were the cultural forces that said there ought to be schools, and order, and respect and diligence in learning and sports.  The culture used the ability to read in many ways and expected me to acquire that ability.  The culture provided public libraries and the opportunity for my mother to haul me into one as soon as I could write my name legibly, the basic requirement for getting a library card and borrowing books. Her culture encouraged her to get her kids familiar with libraries and books.  I got my card at the age of 5, about 68 years ago, and there has been no time from then to now, that I haven't had a book or two from the library.

I am confident there were innumerable forces and experiences besides schooling and books that influenced me but not are quite as continuous and salient as my schooling, my full-time job during that time.  One of the more unusual influences were Russian scientists, employees I imagine of the Soviet army or related security forces, the people who worked out the math, physics, and engineering that put the first human-made satellite circling the earth.  When Americans learned about the achievement, they were surprised, intrigued and challenged.  The governor of Arkansas was offended when he was told that the satellite circled above his state's space and threatened to shoot Sputnik down.  The Russians were probably not worried since they felt their creation was out of the range of the governor's shotgun, flying 300 miles and much more from the earth.

The American people and their government were not about to be kept in second place and vastly increased their efforts and funding to duplicate and surpass the Russian achievement.  One of ingredients was in the effort was the National Defense Education Act, federal legislation that provided funding for some of my undergraduate and most of my graduate education.

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