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A scholar I know, a woman who is ninety-six years old, grew up in a tin shack on the American prairie, near the Canadian border. She learned to read from the pages of the Chicago Tribune in a one-room schoolhouse. Her teacher, who had no more than an eighth-grade education, had once been to Chicago—had been

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is an editor at New America Media in San Francisco. His most recent essay for Harper’s Magazine, “The God of the Desert,” appeared in the January 2008 issue.

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