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Caseythoughts Have you ever changed your mind? I don't mean like when your kid hounds you so doggedly about your 'no' that you give in to the inevitable and say 'yes'. And I don't mean in a restaurant, when your initial choice for dinner becomes your second choice because another dish catches your fancy. I mean, thinking one way about something very important, examining what appear to be new angles, a new perspective, and wrenchingly, but convincingly, changing your mind to a new conviction.

Assuming that you have, you know how distressing the process can be, if it involves what you thought was a deeply held belief. I've had to do it over the years in my personal life as well as professionally. Careers as a radio talk show host and addiction counselor can present you with some interesting cognitive dissonance.

The memorial plaque in DeWitt Park, and the ensuing debate over its removal, brought me to this crossroad. I walk past that rock every day and aside from recognizing that it was probably quite a distance from the actual site of the cabin, I noted recently the red paint splattered on it, as well as other reminders that its very presence provokes anger. This is in addition to spray painted messages of 'stolen land' on the surrounding sidewalks.

Watching the removal of Civil War statuary of Confederate heroes in the South doesn't quite ring the same bells in my head. As a northerner who has spent time in the South, where the Civil War is not so jokingly called the War of Yankee Aggression, I can empathize with the pain of my Black and brown brothers and sisters. These Confederate heroes were not defending states' rights as their apologists claim, but a state's right to treat humans as property, as chattel, bought, sold, often murdered. That statuary and the commemoratives of the Confederate system had to go, and in one sense, I applaud it. But there is something else that bothers me, and I'll get to that after I tell you what happened in my head as Ithaca's Common Council argued for hours about our own commemorative problem.

My first reaction was that there is nothing too inaccurate on that plaque. Yes, the historian was careful in pointing out the looseness of 'first white settlers'. But what was so objectionable?

A couple of thoughts came to my mind. Music and baseball, to be exact. See if it makes sense to you.

I'm quite a fan of classical music, and over the past twenty years, I've begun to realize that there is an awful lot more to our musical heritage than just the canon of well know composers. There is much more music that was quite good, perhaps right up there with Beethoven, Brahms, and Mozart, but maybe this music was lost, or the composers never received the limelight or the patronage or the big break. Their music and life's work disappeared. Perhaps in a modern sense, as Harry Chapin wrote, 'He came well prepared, but unfortunately, his presentation was not up to contemporary standards.' This is the fate of anyone who must contend with the critics. This unknown music, probably much or even most of it, no longer has an audience.

In this regard, the stories of so many others – Native Americans, unheralded unnamed settlers, even African freedmen – are rudely pushed aside by the words 'first white settlers'. It seems unfair, much like those little known or unknown musical composers, whose music we rarely or never hear. Human stories, not to be recorded, unknown to the following centuries.

What's with the baseball reference that helped changed my mind? In the very old days, a ballpark had very little in the way of creature comforts for spectators. However, young boys had a distinct advantage if they wanted to see the game without paying. The outfield fences were wooden, with knotholes in the boards, and afforded a view, albeit distant, of the action on the field. Now let's look through that knothole. It only allows a very limited and narrow perspective of the action. On either side, the parallax view might be invisible, and as the eye moves behind the knothole, other players and action are not apparent.

You may call the analogy flawed, but I began to think of that plaque in DeWitt Park as a knothole which gives me a very narrow and severely limited view of 1797. Who is memorialized and who is forgotten? Like the aforementioned composers, the shadow of the 'known' has obliterated my view of everything else that might be known, if I but open my eyes, widen my horizon. If I am receptive to the other possibilities of history that are conveniently ignored through the knothole of statuary, memorials, historic signs, and even our history books, I can then change my mind.

Which brings me to my wider concern about historical markers.

I'm sure you have heard, and possibly said yourself, that history is boring. They never taught it 'right' in school, and it was nothing but names and dates to be memorized. We Americans seem to have a very limited and knothole knowledge of our history, except what has been force-fed by school history texts, and by social media, which often get it wrong.

There is so much to our history that needs to be given a fair hearing, but we don't seem to have the patience or the ability to learn it, use it, or benefit from all of it. The good, the bad, and the ugly. As in so many other aspects of our American topography, we're getting all 'good' from one side, all 'bad' from another side, and everybody resists the 'ugly'. We are sadly ignorant of our heritage, and it's doing us immense harm.

We need to learn from our mistakes, as well as our successes. As these memorials are hidden in museums, defaced, or covered up, we're putting nothing in their place. We cannot as a people learn from this vacuum or these inadvertent blind spots. Many think that getting rid of racist or otherwise offensive memorials solves the problem. No, that's not the way to learn.

Post-war Germany and Japan have turned a blind eye to what must be faced in their recent history. How? By resisting changes in their textbooks and reference materials to reflect the facts, no matter how painful. Neo-Nazi groups flourish in the darkness, perpetrated by collective ignorance of history because it is uncomfortable. Militarism can take root if governments and school systems don't present honest, and balanced, facts about past mistakes.

What happens when our past is covered up, ignored, denied, or seen through the knothole in our outfield fence? Mistakes and misdeeds will surely occur again.

I really want to hear the forgotten sonata, fugue, or symphony by a composer who was overshadowed, or denied an audience – a woman, a Black, an Asian. I want to hear the stories of people who built this country, but have been denied their place in our history. I want to see the whole ballgame, not just a sliver of the action.

Yes, move the plaque to the History Center, and while we're at it, question the other markers of our history. But remember, we Americans are pretty lousy at learning, accepting, and applying our history lessons. Names and dates bore us and our children. We need to inject new energy into revitalizing what is turning out to be a critical factor in human development. We need a true sense of history, while we embrace our flaws and celebrate our heritage. This idea might save us a lot of heartache in the very near future.

We need to realign our thinking and change our minds about American history. I think our kids and grandkids will surely thank us, even through their face masks.

Take care of each other. Thanks for listening.

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