Veterans Day

One of five murals by artist Richard DeRosset in the Veterans Museum at San Diego’s Balboa Park. The museum holds an impressive collection of military artifacts and paintings and hosts period dances and other educational events.

November 11, 1918 marked the signing of the Armistice ending the First World War. At the eleventh hour of the eleventh day of the eleventh month, the guns fell silent. Ten million men in uniform had died, along with countless millions of civilians. The exhausted Allied nations of Europe were relieved to be free of the bloodshed and dedicated November 11th thenceforward as Armistice Day.

France, Belgium, and Serbia still observe November 11 as Armistice Day; in the British Commonwealth of Nations it is Remembrance Day. Poland celebrates its independence from the former Russian and Hapsburg Empires. Last year was the centennial of the 1918 Armistice and included many moving commemorative events. U.S. President Woodrow Wilson, who led the United States into the war as a late participant, delivered a stirring address on the first anniversary of the Armistice, and Congress adopted November 11 as a national holiday in 1926.

Armistice Day was renamed Veterans Day in 1954 to honor all the men and women who have served the nation in uniform. Those of you still in school know it as a welcome day off after weeks of intensive academic effort. The First Quarter is over and the end of the First Semester is now in sight. The full week of Thanksgiving Break is right around the corner. It is time to rest and begin to focus on your final assignments and how best to finish the term successfully.

Think of the veterans you know on this day. Our rights and privileges have been protected by their service and sacrifice. Do what you can to support them. Learn about veterans’ issues and elect public officials who will protect their federal benefits. The way we treat our veterans says something about our national character and values. These are women and men who are willing to put their lives on the line for their country. They deserve our thanks and respect.

Hand painted miniature of my Union Army ancestor with his regiment’s XVI Corps badge. Copyright (c) 2003 Torin Finney.

Copyright (c) 2019 Torin Finney. All rights reserved.

To sign up for tutoring, please visit my website at torinfinney.com.

Labor Day Weekend

Hand painted stones from a 2014 art project I called my “Rock Resume.” Happy Labor Day Weekend! Copyright (c) Torin Finney. All rights reserved.

Labor Day became a federal holiday in 1894 after several states had already begun honoring the contribution of the working classes every year on May 1, known as “May Day.” President Grover Cleveland favored moving the holiday to September to avoid associations with more radical labor movements such as socialism and anarchism, which had long recognized May Day as International Worker’s Day. For more than a century, Labor Day has thus been observed on the first Monday in September.

Labor Day weekend is considered the end of summer and marks the beginning of the new school year. Many of you have this weekend to rest after the first week of school. You have met your teachers and your classmates and have some idea of where the school year is headed. This is a good time to set your goals for the semester and create a schedule for yourself in which to accomplish those objectives.

This country was built by hard work. Many of you hold jobs outside of school. Labor Day is a good time to recognize the efforts of workers, including those who are members of labor unions. As you can see from the collection of painted stones pictured above, I have held many jobs over the course of my life. In all those jobs I worked with people who accomplished great things.

Make this semester one of your outstanding accomplishments. Create a weekly discipline for yourself and complete all your assignments in a timely manner. The rewards will be worth your efforts.

In the meantime, enjoy the holiday weekend!

Copyright (c) 2019 Torin Finney. All rights reserved.

To sign up for tutoring, please visit my website at torinfinney.com.

Bastille Day

Copyright (c) 2017 Torin Finney. All rights reserved.

Today marks the day 230 years ago that ordinary citizens of Paris took to the streets to storm the infamous Bastille prison. Long a symbol of royal despotism in France, the Bastille held valuable stores of gunpowder in its vaults. The mob killed the guards and governor, seized the powder, and later tore the hated dungeon apart brick by brick. Three tumultuous years later, the centuries-old Bourbon monarchy was replaced by a new French Republic.

July 14 has become as important a day in France as July 4 is in the United States. The national holiday is celebrated by huge crowds with parades, parties, and a spectacular fireworks show from the Eiffel Tower. Today France is the sixth largest economy on earth and a leader in the 28-member European Union. People around the world still admire the French revolutionary ideals of liberty, equality, and fraternity.

Today also marks the one year anniversary of my retirement from full-time classroom teaching and the inauguration of Mr. Finney’s History Tutoring here in San Diego. I hope you find my blog entries and postings on Instagram helpful as you strive for success in learning.

Raise a glass today to the heroes of 1789 and the birth of modern Europe’s first republic. Vive la France!

Copyright (c) 2019 Torin Finney. All rights reserved.

To sign up for tutoring, please visit my website at torinfinney.com.

Independence Day

Historical flags displayed in my classroom from 2001 to 2018. The “Betsy Ross” flag with its circle of thirteen stars was first designed in 1777.

Happy Fourth of July! We are only seven years away from America’s 250th birthday. I still remember with fondness the historic festivities of the Bicentennial in 1976 when I was a teenager in Virginia. President Ford danced with Queen Elizabeth at the White House. Tall ships, elaborate fireworks, exciting parades, rousing speeches, television specials, and living history demonstrations all captured my young imagination.

In the 43 years since then, our increasingly diverse population has grown by 50% and our role in the world has expanded significantly. Our identity as a pluralistic nation continues to evolve, fed by the hopes and dreams of both newcomers and each new generation of Americans. The principles of equality and human rights articulated in the Declaration of Independence continue to inspire millions around the world.

Independence Day marks the halfway point of the calendar year and the last major holiday before the new school year begins. Whether you have the entire summer off or just today during your summer school session, I hope this day is fun and relaxing for you and yours. Put on something red, white, and blue, find your way to some fireworks, and join in the celebration!

Copyright (c) 2019 Torin Finney. All rights reserved.

To sign up for tutoring, please visit my website at torinfinney.com.

Memorial Day Weekend

Memorial Day began as Decoration Day in the 1860s to honor the Union dead of the American Civil War. Copyright (c) 1995 Torin Finney. All rights reserved.

For many of you, Memorial Day represents the end of the school year and final exams. Many people observe this three-day weekend with picnics and parades, much like Labor Day or Independence Day. In the midst of the jubilation and relaxation, it is easy to forget the somber origins of this important national holiday.

I drew the flag pictured above to commemorate the campaigns of my great-great-grandfather Michael Schneider, who served in Company G of the 27th Ohio Infantry throughout the American Civil War. He and the other volunteers of his regiment, many of them recent immigrants living in Cleveland, answered President Lincoln’s call to preserve the Union and later to end slavery. By the end of the war in 1865, 214 of them had given their lives in what Lincoln called “the last full measure of devotion.” These are among the people we commemorate on Memorial Day.

More than one million Americans have died in the nation’s wars, with the fratricidal Civil War being the most destructive. Decoration Day began while the war was still raging to honor those who died to save the Union and was eventually renamed Memorial Day to include all those lost on distant battlefields throughout United States history. Flags and flowers are placed on the graves of the fallen today, just as they were over 150 years ago.

As the school year ends and summer break approaches, let us remember those who gave everything to preserve our rights, including our personal freedoms and the right to a safe community and quality public education. On this Memorial Day weekend, may we dedicate our own lives to the continued preservation of those rights for all Americans.

Copyright (c) 2019 Torin Finney. All rights reserved.

To sign up for tutoring, please visit my website at torinfinney.com.


Harvey Milk Day

Sporting a rainbow bow tie and vintage campaign button for Harvey Milk Day. The rainbow flag was designed as a symbol of LGBT pride by San Francisco artist Gilbert Baker (1951-2017) in 1978, the same year Milk and Mayor George Moscone were assassinated at City Hall. Photo copyright (c) 2018 Torin Finney.

Harvey Milk Day was declared a special commemorative day in California public schools by Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger in 2009 and has since been recognized across the country and the world as a day to recognize America’s premier LGBT civil rights figure. Milk was born on May 22, 1930 and assassinated on November 27, 1978. He was America’s first openly gay public official and called for all lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender Americans to come out of the shadows and assert their rights as equal members of our society.

I remember well the day Harvey Milk was killed. I was a senior in high school in southern California and had several gay friends and classmates, many of whom had not yet made the decision to come out to their families. There was rampant homophobia throughout the country at that time and my U.S. history class did not include the contributions of LGBT Americans. When I became a history teacher 20 years later, I did what I could to correct that error in my classes. I included LGBT history in my curriculum and made sure my students learned about Harvey Milk on May 22.

June 28 this year will be the 50th anniversary of the Stonewall Riots in New York City, which later led to the first Pride parades across the country. The San Diego Pride Parade takes place in the famous Hillcrest neighborhood near where I live and promises to be the largest in the city’s history. While homophobia and hate crimes continue to mar our national life, prominent legal victories and the election of many openly LGBT public officials have paved the way for a new generation of activists and leaders. Harvey Milk once said that “hope will never be silent.” May all of us raise our voices of hope in support of full civil rights for all people.

Copyright (c) 2019 Torin Finney. All rights reserved.

To sign up for tutoring, please visit my website at torinfinney.com.

Malcolm X Day

Observing Malcolm X Day with a vintage 1960s bow tie and lapel pin. Copyright (c) 2018 Torin Finney.

Malcolm X (1925-1965) was one of the most important civil rights figures of the 20th century. A reformed convict who emerged from prison as the fiery spokesman of the Nation of Islam, he decried racism and injustice to a largely urban African American audience fed up with police brutality and government inaction in the black community. Criticized as an extremist by the mainstream media and rival civil rights leaders during his lifetime, he has since been recognized by many as an articulate and charismatic champion for political, economic, and cultural self-determination.

I remember listening to recordings of his speeches as a child, and years later shared those recordings with my students. By the time he was assassinated in 1965, Malcolm X had begun reaching out to other civil rights and religious leaders and calling for international unity among all people of African descent around the world. My mother was a great admirer of Malcolm X and saw him as an inspiring example for anyone struggling to throw off the shackles of shame and discrimination. He is also perhaps America’s most famous Muslim, an important role in an age of emerging religious pluralism.

The city of Berkeley, California (where I lived, studied, and worked from 1985 to 1991) adopted May 19 as an official municipal holiday in 1979, with public schools and city offices closed in honor of Malcolm X’s birthday. The state of Illinois passed a resolution adopting Malcolm X Day as a holiday in 2015. Many other local communities commemorate his life and work either on this day or during the third weekend in May.

Malcolm X was among the most exceptional orators in American history. Many of his speeches have a contemporary ring today. His message remains inspirational to all who seek to transcend the negative voices of the past and embrace a positive, independent future with confidence and courage.

Copyright (c) 2019 Torin Finney. All rights reserved.

To sign up for tutoring, please visit my website at torinfinney.com.

San Diego at 250

Historical marker at Presidio Park in San Diego, California. Photo copyright (c) 2019 Torin Finney.

Two and a half centuries ago today, on May 17, 1769, a party of Spaniards led by Gaspar de Portola founded the Presidio of San Diego in the hills above the bay first sighted by Juan Rodriguez Cabrillo in 1542 and named by Sebastian Vizcaino in 1602. Portola’s fortified camp was followed a few months later by the first of 21 Franciscan missions, called San Diego de Alcala by Father Junipero Serra.

The Spanish were eager to establish a foothold on the west coast of North America in the vast and rich land they would later call Alta California. Their conquest of the local indigenous people was efficient and ruthless. The Kumeyaay and other native tribes were driven off by the soldiers or baptized and put to work by the friars, and by the 1820s a small Spanish-speaking adobe settlement had been built at the foot of the hill where the mission stood. By the time California was admitted to the United States on September 9, 1850, this pueblo of 650 people had been incorporated as the city of San Diego.

This has led many to consider San Diego the “birthplace of California.” Annexation by the United States and the Gold Rush began a century of astronomical population growth, and by 1962 California had become the most populous of the 50 states. The Golden State today boasts the widest ethnic diversity of any state, including the largest Hispanic and Asian American communities, and California’s economy is now the fifth largest on earth. Summer 2019 will see many celebrations commemorating San Diego’s role in the origins of this great success story.

The original pueblo at the bottom of the mission hill is now Old Town San Diego State Historic Park, maintained and administered by the State of California since 1968. For several of the past 50 years, it has been the most visited of the 280 sites in the California State Park System. Its Cinco de Mayo and Day of the Dead festivals are among the largest in the United States. Old Town’s 27 restored historic buildings highlight the settlement’s 19th century history and are surrounded by scores of popular restaurants and shops.

Naturally, an honest appraisal of California history must include its darker side. San Diego’s story in particular includes many shameful chapters. In addition to the decimation of local Native American peoples by disease, warfare, and subjugation, the Spanish-speaking Californio families who formed the original community were soon marginalized by the English-speaking newcomers. “Old Town” was eventually eclipsed by the “New Town” of downtown San Diego along the bay side waterfront, notorious for shady business deals, a vibrant red light district called “Stingaree,” and a succession of corrupt politicians.

Then came the Panama-California Exposition in 1915, celebrating the completion of the Panama Canal a year earlier. San Diegans and thousands of visitors were welcomed to the newly completed Balboa Park with its grand Spanish colonial architecture and lush gardens. Twenty years later, the California-Pacific International Exposition was held in Balboa Park to boost morale during the Great Depression. By then San Diego had become a vacation destination and tourism had grown into a major local industry. A thriving tuna business and active military bases led to further development and new communities.

The burgeoning shipping and aviation industries grew exponentially overnight with the coming of World War II. San Diego became the civilian and military port and base of operations for the war in the Pacific. Many who arrived during the war decided to stay afterwards and contribute to the city’s growth. By the end of the 20th century, San Diego had become California’s second largest city and the eighth largest in the country. Today the city is host to many new and exciting industries, resurgent historic neighborhoods, and a metropolitan population of more than three million.

San Diego’s story set the pace for the growth of California, as California did for the nation as a whole. Despite a high cost of living, a struggling public school system, unresolved immigration issues, and continuing economic inequities, there is still much to celebrate this summer. California represents the land of promise for thousands of newcomers who arrive each day, and the state government in Sacramento has made valiant efforts to expand public health care and other social programs to reach more of the state’s 40 million people.

I have called California home since 1977. In those four decades I have lived in Long Beach, the Bay Area, Sacramento, Bakersfield, Orange County, and many other places before moving to San Diego last summer. Over the years I moved to other states for a brief time, but the excitement, beauty, and opportunity of California always brought me back. The Golden State has led the way in the emergence of our diverse, entrepreneurial, digital, global society. I am pleased to be here in the place where it all began 250 years ago.

Copyright (c) 2019 Torin Finney. All rights reserved.

To sign up for tutoring, please visit my website at torinfinney.com.

Earth Day

Copyright (c) 2017 Torin Finney. All rights reserved.

Earth Day has been celebrated in the United States since 1970 and is now observed in nearly 200 countries across the world. Unprecedented environmental crises such as deforestation, desertification, famine and drought, polluted seas and rivers, and rising global temperatures demand that all of us work together to protect and sustain our common planet.

We can do this through simple acts of conservation. Planting trees and flowers, recycling our waste, caring for animals, and buying organic foods can all help contribute to a renewable lifestyle. Deciding to walk, bicycle, drive an electric or hybrid vehicle, or use public transportation will help make a difference.

Stay informed. Use renewable energy. Learn how to plant and grow your own food. Vote for elected officials who pledge to support the environment and hold them accountable. Do what you can every day. Small acts can produce big results.

Most of all, go outside today and enjoy the beauty of spring. Happy Earth Day!

Copyright (c) 2019 Torin Finney. All rights reserved.

To sign up for tutoring, please visit my website at torinfinney.com.

Cesar Chavez Day

Copyright (c) 2017 Torin Finney. All rights reserved.

Today would have been Cesar Chavez’s 92nd birthday. In the years following his death in 1993, support grew to commemorate March 31 each year as a “day of national service.” President Barack Obama established Cesar Chavez Day as a federal holiday in 2014 and now eleven states have followed suit.

I decided to answer his call to service as an educator. During my five years as a middle school social studies teacher and drama coach in Bakersfield, California, I had the good fortune to have some of his grandnieces and grandnephews in my classes. Chavez’s wife Helen Fabela attended nearby Delano High School during World War II and many of her relatives settled in Kern County.

Cesar’s legacy is strong in the Bakersfield area. He is buried at Cesar E. Chavez National Monument near the rural town of Keene. I incorporated the story of his civil rights and educational work in my history curriculum over the course of my seven years in Bakersfield and continued to do so during my subsequent thirteen years in Orange County.

There are many forms of national service. As teachers, we have the unique opportunity to continue Cesar Chavez’s work for equality and human rights in a lasting and meaningful way. May his vision of an America that celebrates dignity and diversity come to fruition through the efforts of all those who serve.

Copyright (c) 2019 Torin Finney. All rights reserved.

To sign up for tutoring, please visit my website at torinfinney.com.