Three people I didn’t learn about in history class

There was a time in elementary school when learning about Amenhotep I, a pharaoh or Egypt credited for leading the Egyptian army to battle in Nubia. Never since then have I been forced to re-conjure my lessons about ancient Egypt. Some even say history classes should not be taught. Opinions are divided, even among America’s elite.

Henry Ford, founder of Ford motor company, said, “I don’t know much about history, and I wouldn’t give a nickel for all the history in the world. History is more or less bunk. It is tradition. We want to live in the present, and the only history that is worth a tinker’s (darn) is the history we make today.”

Some might say he’s right. The relevancy of some of the lessons taught in elementary and high school classes is debatable. But, at the same time, it can be vital information.

Michael Crichton, sci-fi novelist and American history aficionado, said “If you don’t know history, then you don’t know anything. You are a leaf that doesn’t know it is part of a tree.”

It’s important, then, to realize the lessons taught in high school classes are vital to a student’s understanding of the world around him. However, history is subjective to who teaches it, and it’s not as if teachers have infinite time. There are many historical figures that are not taught to elementary and high school students that should be. Here is a list of people you SHOULD know about.

Stanislav Petrov: He’s the man nobody knows about, but without him, we might all be dead or have never existed.

Let me take you back to 1983, a time when we weren’t even a blink in the mailman’s eye. Petrov was manning the Russian nuclear early-detection equipment during the Cold War. One day in late September, the satellite system alerted him that the U.S. had launched a nuclear weapon at Russia. It was a real crisis, and Petrov stood his ground. He had two choices: Either take the threat seriously and call in a full-scale nuclear attack on the U.S., or he could tab the alert as an error.

Petrov went with his gut, and claimed the alert to be a malfunction. He was right. Apparently what happened was a fluke, and the sun was at such an angle to where it reflected oddly off the clouds, interfering with the satellite signal. You, like me, might be surprised to hear something like this would happen. I didn’t know the sun shone in Russia, either! Seriously, though, Petrov should be considered not only a Russian hero, but an American hero. But, he is neither, and he doesn’t mind one bit.

“It is nice of them to consider me a hero,” he said. “I don’t know that I am. Since I am the only one in this country who has found himself in this situation, it is difficult to know if others would have acted differently. I wish I could say there is no chance of an accidental nuclear launch today. But when we deal with space — when we play God — who knows what will be the next surprise?”

Philo Farnsworth: Widely unknown, Farnsworth is responsible for paving the way for modern television. See, Farnsworth was an inventor and a very successful engineer. In addition to discovering something to bring us the “Walking Dead,” he also invented a small nuclear fusion device, called the Farnsworth–Hirsch fusor, which deals with inertial electrostatic confinement.

I don’t know what that means, but, basically, it’s a source for neutrons. Where Farnsworth made his fame, however, was television. The guy owns 165 patents in radio and television, and was the first to engineer and transmit an image using an electric current. This was a discovery crucial to the advancement of TV. However, a fellow inventor sued Farnsworth over the patent and won, leaving Farnsworth an onlooker as his ideas grew legs, pushed by those who won the lawsuit, and stole his idea.

Farnsworth never became wealthy, nor received true recognition for his groundbreaking work, and died a rather alone and depressed man at the age of 71.

Henrietta Lacks: Her obituary says she died in 1951 at the age of 31, but in many ways, Henrietta Lacks is more than alive today. It was discovered that the poor woman had cervical cancer after giving birth to her fifth child. Her doctor, George Otto Gey, was a savvy character with the gumption of a criminal. In a desire to advance his own studies, he took a part of Henrietta’s cervix without her permission.

Deceitful, yes, but it also turned out to be a good thing. That’s because Henrietta’s cells were unique. Very unique. Her cervix cells were able to stay alive and grow. Normally, cells only survive for a few days. Gey was able to isolate one specific cell and multiply it, which is now known as the HeLa cell line.

The cells, then, were fostered and examined and eventually, in 1954, Jonas Salk, an American medial researcher, used the cells in initial vaccines to cure polio. That’s right, in 1954, cells from Henrietta’s cervix were mass-produced to use in a polio vaccine, saving millions of people.

The things was, all this was done without the knowledge of either Henrietta or any of her family members, all of which were quite poor. They first learned about it in the 1970s when researchers called her family asking for hair and blood samples. Henrietta is rarely known, to this day, as the main contributor to the polio vaccine, even by her own family. Today, a few references in songs and TV shows are all that remain from Henrietta Lacks.

Joos is the executive editor for The Lorian.

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