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Witches in 2022

August 21, 2022

With all the headlines of Nancy Pelosi going to Taiwan and raids on former president’s mansions, you may have overlooked a rather arcane piece of news.

The governor of Massachusetts pardoned Elizabeth Johnson Jr., the last of the witches who were executed during the Salem witch trials over 300 years ago.

I’d love to know what your first reaction to hearing the news was.  Probably a variation on the themes of doesn’t the governor have more important things to do, and a lot of good that does the witch. 

From the article I read I learned that all of the other witches who were burned or hanged have already been pardoned.  The problem with Elizabeth Johnson Jr., was that all previous witch pardonings have been at the behest of the poor woman’s descendants and Elizabeth didn’t have any.

Incidentally, that makes the whole story a little sadder.  Apparently the “proof” that Elizabeth was a witch was that at the ripe age of 27 she was unmarried and childless.  And possibly may have had some emotional issues.

Anyway, the result that Elizabeth has finally been exonerated story is thanks in no small part to an enlightened 8th grade teacher in North Andover, Massachusetts.  For the past three years, the teachers has told her students the story of Salem and Elizabeth Johnson and had them writing letters to the governor to get Elizabeth pardoned.

Now a lot of people may be saying that the teacher was misguided and that kids should be learning STEM subjects so we can grow the GDP and compete with the Chinese instead of worrying about dead witches and bothering the governor.

But I think this is probably the most valuable learning experience these kids could have gotten.

First, it educated them about an extremely dark chapter in American history and about what fear and prejudice can do.  Especially when it is cloaked in moral or religious righteous indignation.

Second, the students may have had the opportunity to learn about Arthur Miller’s The Crucible and McCarthyism and what fear and prejudice can do when cloaked in patriotism.

Third, I would hope the students learned to challenge myths and question conventional wisdom.

Fourth, and most important, the students hopefully learned that the mentality that made people hang witches in the 1600s is unfortunately still alive and well. 

And maybe that will help change that mentality.

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