Later this summer, I’ll go home and help my mom cull the boxes of school papers still clogging my parents’ basement. We’ve made tentative stabs at deaccession in the past, only to get distracted by the odd treasure hiding in the flotsam and jetsam: a sweet note from my kindergarten-aged sister to my mom, a homemade “book” from my fifth-grade year in which a student is magically sent to Vietnam to fight an unjust war.
I find that I have forgotten most of elementary school so completely—tests I clearly labored over are now blanks in my memory—that I’m loath to throw these things out completely, though I’ll likely never look at them again. I’ll probably scan them, making a little archive that can live in a hard drive until a crash or an upgrade takes the decision out of my hands.
In October 1948, the students of Spencer Graded School in Roane County, West Virginia, gained national attention when thirteen-year-old David Mace led his classmates in “burial rites” for their comic books. Newspapers cast Mace, costumed in black slacks and a white shirt, as a grave and sober preacher figure. Mace solemnly reminded the school’s six hundred students that they were meeting “here today to take a step which we believe will benefit ourselves, our community and our country.” Comic books, he said, “are mentally, physically, and morally injurious to boys and girls, [and] we propose to burn those in our possession.”
The “cremation” represented the culmination of a month-long campaign in which Mace, an eighth grader recruited to the cause by his reading teacher, Mabel Riddel, who devoted one class each week to Bible study, had led more than 250 students in a door-to-door collection drive that netted two thousand comic books. The pile was six feet high, but it likely didn’t represent the entirety of the schoolchildren’s comics; one student recalled that he had “selected my oldest, most worn, least valuable comic books to bring,” leaving “all of them that were any good at home.”
Before he started the blaze with a Superman comic, Mace first led the assembled students in a dramatic call and response:
“Do you, fellow students, believe that comic books have caused the downfall of many youthful readers?”
“Do you believe that you will benefit by refusing to indulge in comic book readings?”
“Then let us commit them to the fire.”
The fire lasted over an hour, the flames reaching more than twenty-five feet. While Mrs. Riddel stared into the flames, some of the children cried.Continue reading » August 12, 2014
“Do pediatrics,” my friend insisted when, approaching my fourth and last year in medical school, I had to pick a site for my brief rotation in rehabilitation medicine. “It’s really chill.”
This seemed like sound advice, and not long after I found myself in front of a large, new building devoted to long-term pediatric care, whose sliding glass doors opened to a security desk in front of a central bank of elevators.
Walking purposefully in scrubs or a white coat typically gets you past any hospital security, but here the guards stopped me and took a thorough glance at my badge, noting the purple sticker that indicated I had received a flu shot that year. On the adult wards I might have felt impatient, but here I noticed the subtle yet invigorating sense of heightened purpose that seems to permeate most pediatric facilities.
After morning rounds I was given a tour of the center, where long-term and chronic conditions were treated, from rare genetic diseases to spinal cord injuries to severe autism and behavioral problems. One unit focused entirely on feeding issues, and families traveled from all over the country to participate in the specialized programs.Continue reading » August 1, 2014