Thursday, May 9, 2013

truth and history

At my high school reunion last summer several people brought and then pulled out the year book.  A buddy of mine was perusing the pages, when he commented and congratulated me on being a regent's scholarship recipient.  In the yearbook under the mugs of the valedictorian and salutatorian were two lists. One was headed with the words Regent's Scholarship Recipients.  And the other Regent's Scholarship Alternates.  There, under the list of scholarship recipients was my name.  What would be curious to anyone who studied the page was that the salutatorian and valedictorian whose pictures dominated the page, were not on the recipients list, but on the alternates list.

For those of you who are putting someone through college now or are paying off your own loans, the following information might be painful.  My college tuition to attend a newly constructed university, with a new library, gym, theatre complex, dormitories, classroom, fountains, new everything (so new in fact that much of it was not completed when I arrived), the college tuition was a grand total of 400 dollars a year. I have not left off a zero.  That is four hundred dollars a year.

To offset this financial burden on the children of the citizens of the great state of New York, the regent of the state university of New York, gave high school students a test each fall. This test was called the Regents Scholarship Exam.  There were 300 questions. If you got 100 out of 300 right, ( a score of 33 per cent for those arithmetically challenged) you earned what was called an Incentive award.  The Incentive was a one hundred dollar a year or fifty dollar a semester reduction in your tuition bill should you choose to study in New York State.  Now, you don't need to be a wizard to get a 33 on a test, so anyone who was even thinking of going to college was going to get an incentive rendering annual tuition 300 dollars a year.

To further reduce the financial burden, the regent provided a nearly total tuition scholarship for those who scored competitively higher on the test.  The score you needed to get to earn a scholarship depended on where you lived. So, if you lived in an area where there were hundreds of bright students you might need to get a higher score than in an area where you had a graduating class of 40 dullards.  

The yearbook plainly indicates that I was one of the smartypants at my school because I earned one of these scholarships.

However I didn't earn a scholarship--at least not at first.  I was what was called an Alternate. This meant that if enough scholarship recipients decided not to go to school in New York, I might get the money.  This is what happened, but I did not initially get the scholarship--I was an alternate..

I can't imagine that historians are going to select regents scholarship winners as a subject for their investigations and monographs.  If they did, however, they might create a narrative about who did and who did not get awards based on the fact that whoever was in charge of that page of the yearbook, made a mistake and switched the lists.  All the true smartypants in the school were listed as the Alternates, and all the smartypants-lite folks like me were listed as recipients.

Who are the winners in history?  Are they the winners, or are they the ones who have been recorded as winners either in error or by design.  What we are told is history is the narrative that, we'd like to think, is based on fact but is just as likely based on error or subjectivity.

Who are the heroes in politics, religion, education, diplomacy, and social change?  We'd like to think we learn about this in school and in large part we do.  But what if the narrative is wrong and perpetuated as such because the examination of artifacts is prejudiced by an historian's agenda, or the integrity of the artifact itself.  Nobody will care much that the valedictorian of my class appears not to have qualified for a scholarship.  But decisions will be and have been made on the basis of other "facts" which have been perpetuated in our history and cultural narratives.

This concern for truth in history has surfaced this week because of the anniversary of the Kent State killings. The four students who were murdered that day posed no threat whatsoever to the National Guardsmen who shot them.  Two of the students were walking to class with their backs to the shooters when they were slain. The other two were similarly unarmed and even with a rock (had they been inclined to hurl them and neither were) could not have hit a Guardsman since they were the length of a football field away.  And no apologist for the shooters should ever be allowed to have any bogus retelling of the events gain traction.


  1. Hi Zeke I like your posts on the good old days. Yezzys, Washington Tavern, Waterbury Hall, and tickle your ass with a feather. I was fortunate to score well on the regents scholarship test, but my dad made too much money for an award. At xmas break 1967 he told me not to come home if I didn't get a haircut. I went to the lawyer closest to Waterbury, got emancipated, got my big whoop ti doo scholarship money. Then my Dad relented a month later and sent me the money(thinking I somehow had paid my own tuition). I took his money and bought a Honda 350 motorcycle to impress the girls. Sure enough, I got laid - three years later.

  2. The Kent State shooting was a dark day. I must check your blog more often because its often weirdly relevant to my life. My cousin, who was a year behind her neighbor - a girl named Allison - who she tried without success to hook me up with the previous summer - was freaked by the shooting. She had just got a partial scholarship award to Kent State -for of all things cheerleading. It was my first year at American in DC. Her friend Allison was one of the fatalities. I had never met her but felt a tie to her and history.