The Book That Changed My View Of My Education And Got Me Into Trouble When I Asked My U.S. History Teacher Why We Hadn’t Read About This Topic In Our Textbooks

June 10, 2010

For Wednesday, June 9, 2010

I aimed at the public’s heart, and by accident I hit it in the stomach. • Upton Sinclair about his book, The Jungle

When I was in middle school, I accidentally read Upton Sinclair’s (1906) The Jungle. I wasn’t looking for a book about conditions in the meat-packing industry. I was in my rainforest, Amazon, South American, piranha, big-huge-scary-snake, jungle phase of reading, the one that followed my fascination with all things Egyptian.

I’ve always loved non-fiction and my childhood search strategy was to read everything related to a subject that I could find. I used the card catalog as my primary search tool, although I also hunted through the stacks using the Dewey Decimal System. The Jungle is fiction, a fact-based exposé that didn’t have anything to do with the topic I was currently exploring, but I took it home because of its title and because it interested me when I paged through it.

Once I really began reading, I was repelled and fascinated. On my next visit to the library, I looked up more about the topic and found out that the conditions in the United States meat packing industry that Sinclair exposed in his book led to the passage of the 1906 Pure Food and Drug Act and the Meat Inspection Act. I asked my history teacher why we hadn’t learned about this in class and why it wasn’t in our textbook and he told me to be quiet, that it wasn’t possible to cover everything. And that was the end of it.

There’s a new food safety act before the Senate—The Food Safety Modernization Act—that would overhaul a system that’s over a century old. According to an article in The Oregonian (Portland), May 31, 2010, p. A1, “One-size-fits-all reforms may not fit small farmers,” by Lynne Terry, the Center for Disease Control and Prevention “estimates that every year 76 million people get sick and 5,000 die from food poisoning.”

Small farmers, including many growers who sell at small farmers’ markets, believe the bill needs exceptions for local growers, saying that this bill and one already passed by the House, could put them out of business because of related expenses. I’m torn. I love our local growers’ market. Saturdays are special when you can buy produce directly from its grower. I don’t know enough to take a stand on this issue.

I’m reminded that research is always necessary if you want to make an informed decision about something and that school doesn’t teach you everything you need to know.

Write about significant book from your childhood.

Children don’t read to find their identity, to free themselves from guilt, to quench the thirst for rebellion or to get rid of alienation. They have no use for psychology…. They still believe in God, the family, angels, devils, witches, goblins, logic, clarity, punctuation, and other such obsolete stuff…. When a book is boring, they yawn openly. They don’t expect their writer to redeem humanity, but leave to adults such childish illusions. • Isaac Bashevis Singer



  1. Lewis, C.S. (1950). The Chronicles of Narnia: The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe. New York, NY: Harper Collins.

    I grew up in a home with an alcoholic father, and books were my escape. In this series of books, starting in this novel, the Pevensie children literally experience what books did for me. They are growing up in war torn Britain during World War II, and they are magically sucked into the world of Narnia. While this world is far from perfect, the Pevensies find their true place in a world far from their own. Throughout the series, they seek to return to Narnia and are disheartened when they are forced to dwell in the “real” world. This is how I felt when I read books; the world I was in was not my place, and when I wasn’t reading, I longed to return to the worlds I experienced as I read. My place of belonging was far from the place I physically occupied.

  2. Libraries were–and remain–magical places for me where I have always felt at home, safe and surrounded by infinite possibilities. I realize that the internet provides far more information, but it doesn’t provide a parent-approved place for a lonely eight-year-old to while away the hours or a space for an adolescent who’s just moved to yet another new school to find comfort and familiarity or a new bride, three thousand miles away from family, to feel at home. I love books and I love libraries and I love the worlds, both literal and figurative, that they provide. W-OZ

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )


Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: