THERE IS VERY LITTLE I can remember about her. She was short. I know that, and she wore gray suits. I think I remember that, and she had a high, sing-song voice and she was also old, near retirement, actually. She was a teacher and there was something else I remember about her. She was the one who taught me not to go into the water during my period.
Time to explain. The college I attended had once been for women only. It began admitting men back around World War II and by the time I went there the policy was hardly new any more, but this old teacher, this old hygiene teacher, had never changed her syllabus. She taught as if the class was all women although her eyes could tell her differently and so my notebook was full of hints on what to do and not to do if and when I got my period. I will never forget the expression on my mother's face when she read my notes one day.
This teacher was hopeless. She was senile or close to it, an insult to us all. But the worst insult was the position of the administration that backed her up and supported her an allowed her to go on teaching. She had tenure, we were told when we complained, and nothing could be done. We complained a lot in those days. We complained when a daffy French teacher separated us by sexes, leaving an empty row between the men and women, and we really hollered when she administered a mid-term exam that no one passed. She was near retirement, we were told. She had tenure we were told. We were told, in essence, to buzz off.
I bring this all up now because there is a wave of nostalgia sweeping the nation, everyone hankering to go back to the good old days - the three R's and all that. We want to go back to the days when kids could read and write and add some numbers - the days before relevance and grade inflation and majoring in subject that would give Nicholas Murray Butler heartburn. I bring this up now because I though the old days were terrible and because some people have apparently forgotten the reasons for the reforms and the reasons some kids on some campuses rioted or sat-in or acted in a beastly way. The reason was that they were being treated in a beastly way.
I bring this up now because my recollection of things doesn't jibe at all with the rose-colored remembrances of others. I really do remember irrelevant courses, truly irrelevant couses. I have already submitted the hygiene course as exhibit A, but there were others, one of them being a horror called Speech in which you had to stand before the class and make a perfect fool of yourself.It was wonderful for the kids who stuttered.
I remember other things as well. I remember college administrators and faculties which truly did not give a damn about the students. I remember people being told they could not register for courses required for graduation because all the seats were filled and I remember others being told they had to take afternoon courses available. I remember on one occasion a student punched a teacher after being barred from a class for administrative reasons. I remember all that. I'm sure the teacher does, too.
I remember an art appreciation class taught by a teacher whose voice could not carry to the back of the room and I remember teachers and administrators telling you of inviolate rules and regulations that you would find later were broken willynilly for athletes. I remember teachers who couldn't teach and courses that had no reason to be in the curriculum and I remember, especially, being asked as one of the school's scholarship students to help conduct freshman orientation the next year. The invitation came from the dean's office. I had to decline. The same dean's office had just flunked me out.
This is not to suggest that we have not gone too far, that there is not something worthwile in requiring the core curriculum and strict standards and an understanding of what it means to be educated. This is not to say, either, that in the name of relevance a lot of silly courses have not sneaked into the curriculum and that in the name of student democracy or something things have not generally gone to hell. I mean, we have become too lax across the board - from kindergarten to college - and that is all there is to it.
But there was a reason for these reforms. There was a reason, too, for the sit-ins and the riots and the things that happened on the nation's campuses during the 1960s. I remember thinking at the time that we who had come a bit early were fools to have accepted blindly what we were given - not to have balked, rebelled even. The old days, after all, were something of a mixed bag, I learned my Aristotle, I'll have to say that. But I also learned some other things as well.
I learned, for instance, not to wear a girdle during my period.