Social Studies Teachers, One of the Best

Categories // Books, Rants, Raves and Kudos

Surgeon General's Report of 1964

I was lucky to have Mr. Burrows for 6th grade social studies at Cedar Hill Elementary School, so were my sister and brothers. I don't know his full name, perhaps Robert. This was when teachers' first names were Mr., Miss, Mrs. or Ms., sometimes Dr. He taught history and geography. We spent forever on World War II, Hilter, the camps, the Russians, communism, gulags, and the Cold War. I truly hated the movies he showed, but then I also have never watched the monkey scene in the Wizard of Oz, so prison camp torture wasn't really a strong suit for me. I spent most of any movie time with my eyes shut.

What made him such a lucky catch for a kid? Back in the late 1960s, the world was in social turmoil, hard to describe if you weren't living it. Everyone questioned everything, all the time. So what did Mr. Burrows do? All year we read and were read to about tobacco, smoking and links to cancer. This was not a "well known fact" at the time and many tobacco companies fought it tooth and nail. The first Surgeon General's report linking smoking and cancer was in 1964. Does anyone remember reading the report in total? The man harped on it. This was back when worksheets were mimeographed, so there were few handouts. Remember current events? We had to pass around and read articles in newspapers, magazines and especially, The Reader's Digest, with detailed pictures, photographs and diagrams of cancerous cells, growth, patients without voice boxes, etc. It was awful, effective, but awful.

My siblings and I were in sixth grade from 1966 to 1974. My parents both started smoking in college and still smoked when my sister and I were in sixth grade. I credit Mr. Burrows' influence on us, our complete, utter and absolute "grossed outness," our discussing it length at home, plus some outside influences, that my parents stopped smoking during the 1970s. I totally credit Mr. Burrows for the fact that ten, twenty, thirty, forty, fifty years later, not one of the four of us smokes tobacco. I wonder how many Basking Ridge families have that same track record. I would bet it is a lot. He was very persuasive, but more importantly, he didn't just tell us, he made us read article after article about it and look at those pictures. Kudos to you, Mr. Burrows. 

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Ida Sherwood Bettis is my paternal grand mother. Aunt Clara is my great aunt. I can remember every nooks and crany of that house and yard...

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