Time Is a Teacher

Austin Vanlandingham

There’s something about him that lets you known he’s wise beyond his years. Maybe it’s his long grey hair that once was and full of life and ambition? Could be the look in his eyes It’s a look that’s focused, determined, yet kind and understanding. To capture the true essence of Richard Schneirov you have look past the diplomas, awards, and the numerous books he’s authored. He’s much more than that.

“It’s imperative to make the past relevant and usable to the present. I am a true student of history, and time has been the greatest teacher, Richard Schneirov said.

He has taught history at Indiana State University since 1989. The 1960s counterculture and protest movements are among his focal teaching and research interests.

“Everyone thinks they know about the counterculture lifestyle, but it’s more than so called “sex, drugs, and rock and roll,” Richard Schneirov said.

“The beat culture, the civil rights movement, the black power movement, the new left, feminism, and the antiwar movements are all a part of the counterculture,” Schneirov said.

Growing up Richard would have several experiences and encounters that would generate his interest in the counterculture movement.

Born on February 16, 1948, Richard Schneirov grew up in a working class Chicago neighborhood.

“We lived in a fairly decent neighborhood. I grew up about twelve blocks from Wrigley field, and in 1960 I saw all 78 Cub home games. They let kids in for free in those days. Part of me still doesn’t believe they won the World Series. Did they really do that or was it a dream?”

“I attended Lane Tech High School, which was the largest in the city. It was an all-boys school of 5,700. We often would joke that we don’t have problems with kissing in the hall. With all those guys in such a strict environment one single spark could cause an explosion, and I eventually became one of those sparks.”

Richard attended high school during the mid-1960s. During this time there was a considerable amount of change going on in America. At the beginning of the 1960s, many Americans believed they were on the horizon of a prosperous decade. On January 20, 1961, the charismatic John F. Kennedy became president of the United States. His confidence seemed that it would set the tone for the rest of the decade. However prosperity came at a great cost. By the end of the 1960s it seemed that the nation was falling apart. In 1963 President John F. Kennedy was assassinated in Dallas, Texas. A shocked nation mourned the death of a president while Lyndon Johnson took over in office. By 1964 President Johnson escalated the commitment in Vietnam into a full-scale war, and within months, the draft began. The war dragged on, and it ultimately divided the nation.

“When Johnson sent troops into Vietnam in ’64 many students, high school and college became disillusioned from our involvement in the war. The Berkeley free speech movement was one of the first aggressive movements against the war. We were over 2,000 miles away in Chicago, but their movement inspired us.”

Initially Richard didn’t have an opinion on the war. He wasn’t exactly for it, but he didn’t oppose it either.

“I generally wasn’t sure what to think of the war.”

Richard convinced his friend who was the editor of the school paper at the time to write an article in the paper discussing the war.

“I asked him if he would publish a yes we should go to Vietnam or no we shouldn’t go to Vietnam article, like a pros and con sort of thing. I thought this would be a good thing because it would give students an opportunity to think about it. Being this naïve kid I thought everyone believed in democracy just like I did.”

When the story was completed and ready to go to press concerns were immediately raised by faculty members.

“The faculty advisory stepped in and said you can’t do that.”

“This was the first time in my life that I ever got involved in anything, and I said to hell with that! That’s not right. So we got together with some of our other friends and we managed to print out our own leaflets and pass them out across the street and off school property. We ended up getting arrested for simply passing out leaflets giving the pros and cons of the war.”

“When the police had us in the office the principle tried to threaten us with suspension, and the next day my dad came to the school and gave them hell. I remember him saying that he’d sue their asses if they ever did that again. I was always grateful for him defending me like that.”

“And just like in Berkeley a free speech movement spread like wild fire across our school campus, and it really just symbolized a revolt against the all the rules we had at school.

A new style of music was emerging during the 1960s that represented revolution. Rock music was regarded as the 1960s soundtrack. The popularity of rock music resulted in a powerful impact on society. Rock and roll influenced daily life, fashion, attitudes, language, and other social developments. As the original generations of rock and roll fans matured, the music became an accepted and deeply apart of popular culture. It also became the core of the counterculture. 
 “I can still remember the first time I heard rock music. I was about 8 or 9 and my parents and I were riding in the car, and my mother was twisting the dial trying to find something to listen to. She came across a rock station and she went on about horrible it was, but I was thinking hey I like this music.”

Schneirov attended Grinnell College from 1966 to 1968 where he led the schools chapter of Students for a Democratic Society. This is where the interest of the counterculture begins to form in his mind. On college and university campuses, student activists fought for the right to exercise their basic constitutional rights, especially freedom of speech and freedom of assembly. Many counterculture activists became aware of the plight of the poor, and community organizers fought for the funding of anti-poverty programs, particularly in the South and within inner city areas in the United States.

“My worldview was powerfully shaped by my experiences in the sixties. I was an activist and a campus leader in the Students for a Democratic Society. It was then I began to see the Vietnam War as an outgrowth of the inequalities in wealth and power structuring American society.”

“There were other movements and we took up like environmentalism and the sexual revolution.”

Environmentalism grew from a greater understanding of the ongoing damage caused by industrialization, resultant pollution, and the misguided use of chemicals such as pesticides in well-meaning efforts to improve the quality of life for the rapidly growing population. Activist played key roles in developing a new awareness among the global population of the delicacy of planet earth, despite resistance from the establishment of the United States.

“We felt that the sense of community was deteriorating. There were a lot lonely people wondering around at this time, not lonely in the sense that they didn’t have anybody, but they felt empty on the inside. People needed one other to improve the greater community.”

The sexual revolution was a social movement that challenged traditional codes of behavior related to sexuality and interpersonal relationships throughout the Western world during the 1960s

“The sexual revolution was not about how much sex, it was about what kind of sex. We wanted to bring sex from the shadow in to the light of the public. There was this fundamental idea that sex was only for procreation, but there was a shift for sex to be recreational. With the emergence of the pill women could enjoy sex without having to worry about pregnancy. Sex was a natural part of life, and by breaking cultural norms and perceptions sex was removed from the collective social shadow, and brought into mainstream culture.”

Richard Schneirov experienced certainly one of the defining moments in his career as an activist during the violent summer of 1968, also known as “The Summer of Hate.” It was August 28th, and the Democratic National Convention was being held in Chicago. There had been so much change over the last eight ears, and American had found itself at a crossroad.

“We were young college aged students who not only represented a new way of thinking, but a new way of living,” said Richard

The headline of the Chicago Tribune read, “Dems Recess Ends in Uproar”. There were over 800 policemen and national guardsmen there to facilitate the madness, but they seemed to do more agitating than facilitating.

Richard was at the center of the 10,000 young people in Chicago’s Grant Park that historic day. He recalls the events vividly.

“The scene was so thick. People were scatter every which way. Smoke and tear gas filled the air. Downtown Chicago could be easily mistaken for the beaches of Normandy during World War II.”

“It was like a war zone man! There were Chicago police and a riot squad there to try and shut us down, but we wouldn’t go without a fight. Some of the demonstrators grew agitated with the intimidating police presence, and began to hurl rocks at the. That’s when all hell broke loose. I started to run because bullets began to whistle by my head. I had never been shot at before.”

Politicians gathered inside the packed Chicago Amphitheater to prepare for the upcoming 1968 presidential election between Republican Richard Nixon, and Democrat Herbert Humphrey. They were are of the protesters nearby, but were oblivious to the unrest that was beginning to take place.

“We were holding our own version of the democratic convention in the park, and we purposely aligned it with their convention. The politicians thought that there was no way protesters would take over the city and their convention, but that’s exactly what happened. Most importantly it was captured live on television, so the world was watching and that’s what we wanted.”

The several hundred police were eventually aided by more the National Guard which only escalated the war zone environment. The use of mace and tear gas were unleashed upon the previously peaceful protesters. The unrest resulted in hundreds of arrest and injuries of protesters.

“I really was lucky to escape that situation with my life. It truly was a defining moment for me and in always stuck with me going forward.

In 1971 Schneirov enrolled in the University of Illinois-Chicago where he earned his bachelor’s degree, but ultimately would go back to school and further his education.

“Upon graduation I worked a few different blue and white-collar jobs for a few years before I decided to go back to school.”

For grad school he attended Northern Illinois University, and it was there where he met one of his biggest influences Martin J. Sklar.

“Sklar was an important part of shaping my worldview. I spend a lot of time studying under him. One of his most essential teachings was periodization, which is systematically connecting the parts of history to the whole society and culture.”

His mentor’s lessons resonated with Richard and it’s reflected in his approach to teaching.

“In my course I teach students to view our topics in the context of the big picture so we do not get lost in the forest by focusing too much on the trees. Also, radically changing the world doesn’t require a revolution. Simply combining elements of civilization can allow us to have a society that is desirable to live in.”

Richard Schneirov received his Ph.D. from Northern Illinois University in 1984, and went on to lectured in Germany and China. Another one of his teaching and research interests is labor and working-class history. Being from Chicago the city’s rich history of labor movements had an influence early on.

“I’ve always taken pride in the fact that Chicago was central to the labor movements of the nineteenth century. My father was a union man, so it’s something that has always been intriguing to me. “

The Chicago Federation of Labor was founded in 1896 as a way to strengthen the efforts of individual local unions by creating a unified voice for the labor movement in the Chicago area. Chicago is considered to be the birthplace of the American labor movement, and the movement for the eight-hour day.

Ex-activist and now author Richard has written five different books, Pride and Solidarity: A History of the Plumbers and Pipefitters of Columbus, Ohio, Chicago’s Great Upheaval of 1877: Class Polarization and Democratic Politics in The Great Strike of 1877, Class Conflict, Municipal Politics, and Governmental Reform in Gilded Age Chicago. Schneirov”s most notable work is his 1998 book, Labor and Urban Politics: Class Conflict and the Origins of Modern Liberalism in Chicago. The work won the Urban History Association’s Kenneth Jackson Award in 1999 for best book in North American urban history. The book is a definitive account of the rise of the Chicago labor movement. The work is considered a major reinterpretation of Gilded Era history.

“Richard Schneirov has written an ambitious and important book. It is ambitious in that it aims to combine the concerns of labor history and of political history in order to offer a new perspective on both the origins of modern liberalism and the nature of the late nineteenth-century class formation and labor organization. It is important in that Schneirov’s fusion of class and politics yields a set of fresh insights that are likely to engage historians for a long time to come,” noted labor historian Joseph McCartin said.

His days of activism and protesting are long behind him, but the experiences and lessons learned will last a life time.

“Yeah I’ve definitely traded in marching and shouting for quiet evenings in my study with our dogs.”

In his quiet time he often reflects back on what he’s learned over the years and the experiences he’s had.

“Since the beginning of the time, we have transformed from many different systems. Some lasted pretty long and some just ended up in turmoil. One thing I’ve come to realize is the biggest change can have the smallest beginnings. Everyone had to start somewhere. You never know where you’ll be tomorrow. You, an individual, have all power to change history. I really believe that when you change history the result broadens our perspectives on the present and awakens us to alternatives were previously not aware of.”

Richard Schneirov is a very complex figure here at Indiana State. He’s widely renowned and highly regarded as a member of the educational community. However he is an eternal child of the counterculture, and it’s from those beginnings that made him into the man he is today.

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