Colby Stories / Stories / Hierarchy vs Conviviality / School / Teaching /

College stories are of course still school stories. What brings me here today is a story (series of) from when I was teaching, not attending, college.

Smart Girls: Colby Demographics

The late 1960s were an interesting time to be around colleges whether as teacher, student, or visitor. The “better” the school, the truer the statement. If you couldn’t be at Berkeley or Columbia, then you should at least have been at Oberlin or Radcliff, Cornell or Bryn Mawr. Colby College, Waterville Maine, was sort of a second drawer college and I presume it still is. Any number of the female student body had highly respectable SATs, could have gotten into Smith or UW at Madison. Not true of the males: few of them could have gotten into Hamilton or Stanford.
I had never taught before and was taking my brilliant girls as a matter of course when the Freshman English chairman asked me how come I wound up with all the highest SATs in my classes. I didn’t know what he was talking about and told him so. He took me to his office and showed me the English SATs for the entire Freshman class. I had just given As to a half dozen girls and, wouldn’t you know it, there they all were at the top of the list. Which other instructors had students with scores in the 700s and high 600s? None. Not even the boss. By some fluke they’d all been given to me. (I’m talking about the Freshman English chairman, not the department chairman, mind you. The boss’s boss didn’t teach Freshman English, not any more.)

Dope, Sex … in the Dorms

But that’s just background. The year being 1968 is even more relevant background. By the mid-1960s students at the better colleges were smoking dope openly. By 1968 even Colby students were half-open dopers. At Columbia in the late 1950’s my junkie friends were very covert about it. Once I hadn’t joined the pot smoking even at the third invitation, they hid the activity even from me. A few of my “friends” were half-way to jail before even those close to them realized they were strung out. (By the time they were on H, they’d forget to be covert about maryjane: say I from hindsight.) But you have to realize: my friends were jazz musicians. My experience was not typical. In 1956, ’57, ’58, pot smoking was more the exception, the well-hidden exception, than the rule. (I remember pot being all over the place at Princeton in 1949. I was deep into jazz or I wouldn’t have seen what was going on at my cousin’s graduation.)

So it’s 1968 at Colby College. Liberalism has caused new troubles. The dormitories are no longer segregated by gender. (In 1957 a friend of mine had been suspended from Notre Dame for proving that the “burglar proof” dorm at St. Mary’s was not burglar proof. He and a buddy drank enough beer to have the courage to test a philosophy problem in architectural design by sticking their heads out of the air-conditioning system and saying boo. The poor girls were threatened not only with expulsion but with excommunication if they didn’t rat the philosophers out. The good Catholic girls folded like a poker hand (and my friend, treating suspension like expulsion, moved in with me in NYC: thereby encountering not only junkies, but bad check artists, and spill-paint-in-the-rug type action painters.) A mere decade later, college was a very different kind of experience: not just for odd-balls like me, but for the majority.

The kids had gotten away from their parents (generally at their parents’ expense). And they seemed to think that they had gotten away from the United States. How dare the college interfere with how openly they smoked dope, with how easily they could get an abortion, with whether they ran nude in the halls? Because, as my aggrieved office mate chided them, “dope is a felony!”

Whores of Babylon

One weekend I’ve offered a ride to a few student skiers: I’m heading for Sugarloaf, got room for three. I was conspicuously a liberal, a young teacher, seemed trustworthy. So my passengers are complaining openly in front of me. I told them something I don’t think they liked. And I’ll repeat it here:

The college, by pressures that don’t come from Waterville (Colby’s host city) or from any of the surrounding “communities,” has allowed commerce between men and women in the dormitories. The fact that some of us at the college have read more than a half a book makes us atheists and probably communists in the eyes of the good citizens. Now this den of iniquity, this liberal arts college (an institution which has the gall to look wealthy, healthy, prosperous, to be situated on a hill while the town is in a valley, to be painted and maintained and verdant, while the town is dirty and gray and impoverished, the citizenry being mostly owned by Scott Paper) comes off looking very much like the little whore house on the hill. If you don’t want the college in loco parentis confiscating your boo and saying Now, now, would you rather that the gendarmes come up and put you in the pen? The Colby Mother keeps the gendarmes at bay by assuring them that though you’re naughty, it’s in control. And the Colby Mother had better make it true, or at least seem to be true, or the true blue citizenry, knowing it has the decency to hide its whoring, to lie about its drunkenness, will come up the hill to purge Sodom. And no, they won’t wait for you to pack your things before firing the campus. Burning you in your bed, burning you as witches, will be the most important part of their auto-da-fé.

Thus ended my sermon.
(Auto-da-fé is of course the “act of faith” by which the Spanish Inquisition murdered independents.)
I now add the following.

The People

Nixon knew he could bate the young, bate the pinkos, but he’d better not screw with the source of his power: the people. Colby knows how thin its tenure is. Every institution has to cringe before the public.

That of course doesn’t mean that institutions — police, motor vehicle bureaus — can’t mistreat any number of individuals: all individuals: so long as it’s done one or a hundred at a time. The millions must be groveled before.

Agree, Agree

Years after batting the above together I add the story sections: and a minute later decide to add this lesser story: The Bavarian String Quartet was scheduled to perform at Colby. I got tickets, of course. In college I put in a lot of time with Beethoven’s String Quartets. Not nearly as much time as I spent with the symphonies. Not as much time I don’t suppose as Aldous Huxley must have. And certainly not as much time as I spent listing to jazz: but a great deal. I never haunted the concert halls the way I did the jazz dens, but as an undergraduate I had more opportunities to witness events at Carnegie Hall or at Town Hall than I’ve ever again had since. I’ve said here since the first files of  that I’ve always regarded jazz as chamber music whatever the number of pieces in the band: it’s intimate, communal. Orchestral music is so famously kleptocratic: everyone has to sit at attention and behave.

But of course, the Bavarian String Quartet was going to perform in that same hot house atmosphere: they would play, we would listen: they would perform, we would observe: they would make sounds; we would be silent: except on cue, we would show audible appreciation. … I’ve got to watch myself: this story isn’t the place for me to expound on music and cultural fashion. [I did though: later: in Boo Beethoven.] Anyway: just the year before I’d seen the Julliard Quartet perform more than once. Amazing. If all music but chamber music were banished, we still have plenty to remain occupied with. If all music but the music of a dozen masters were consigned to the memory hole, ditto. And there’s no telling what great music we miss by spending so much time with Hayden, Mozart, Beethoven …
I could guess pretty well ahead of the appointed evening what would be on the menu: a lot of Beethoven (always a good choice) and probably at least one Bartok. Dead on. That, exactly, was the selection.

You go to Carnegie Hall, there’s always someone you recognize. Maybe a friend or a professor. If Ravi Shankar is playing Dave Van Ronk may well appear in the audience. If Reiner is conducting, Bernstein might show up. But the majority of faces will be strange to you: New Yorkers, tourists … At Colby, a townie or two might show up, but inevitably you knew “everyone” there: you’d just seen all of them that same afternoon.

We all smiled and nodded at each other at the intermission: then smiled and nodded at each other again after the finale. Department Chairman Mark Benbow was there with his wife, Ann. Mark and Ann and Hilary and Paul somehow take steps toward each other. Mark made some comment about how the Bavarian String Quartet might not be as technically perfect as the Julliard, but … “Ah, the soul. The Julliard doesn’t perform with anything near that feeling.”
(I put it in quotes, but of course it’s a paraphrase. That is certainly the essence of what Mark said.)

My soul was still dancing with Beethoven. Invidious comparisons were not welcome to me at that moment. Had the performers flubbed a note or two? Perhaps they had. I hadn’t minded. Had the Julliard? Not that I’d noticed. Was the Bavarian group’s feeling exquisite? Yes, oh yes. I was still rapt in it. But why mention the Julliard? why invidiously?

“I see nothing lacking in the Julliard’s feeling,” I said. (Again, a paraphrase: from long ago.)
Mark smiled, perhaps a bit icily, acknowledging I thought, that I was obviously right: there was no need to fault a quartet not present and not in immediate competition with the incumbents.
My office-mate, Bruce Spiegelberg with his wife, moved to where he could bend his mouth toward my ear. “What? Are you insane? You don’t disagree with the Chairman of the Department.”
I defended my remarks. Bruce brushed it aside. Irrelevant. Keep your opinions for when no one politically superior is present.

Bruce had long worried about my behavior: riding a motorcycle to class, not kowtowing to every committee chairman … I’d pointed out that … Aiy! I’m forgetting: C. Wright Mills, the enfant terrible sociologist, had arrived at Columbia to teach on a big Harley. I thought Bruce would be impressed with my knowledge of the personal behavior of such a luminary. Bruce brushed it aside: “It hurt him,” he insisted: “they got rid of him!” (note)

I don’t think Bruce really knew me, liked me, or respected me. I think Bruce always wanted to be the intellectual star, the wunder-kind. I suspect that he heard good feedback about me and became hostile and suspicious: but he did seem to worry about my political quotient: which seems to have been zero.


In fact I think I’ll give one quick illustration. (Ayee! A thunder storm just lost me a few paragraphs, code and all. I’d nearly finished sketching a portrait of my office mate’s habit of refusing to listen to me.) Once, when I was maneuvering to insist either that he listen to at least one point or condede that he had no claim either to reason or to civilization, he interrupted again: assigning me my fallacy: “Oh, of course, the ad hominem argument.” He, Spiegelberg, was reasonable. Knatz, his junior by a year, could only be subjective, argumentative, and emotional. Now, if we lived in a culture where no one was allowed to speak and a computer randomly assigned us our fallacies, I’d mind less than in a situation where the speaker gets to exempt himself.

Ad Hominem

Back 2002 07 31: I had to hunt for the Robert Anton Wilson material:

There is also the method of argument ad hominem, which consists of variations on “The frammisgoshes should be distimmed because the people who deny this are all sons of bitches.” This is a favorite form of argument with demagogues and hysterics but it has no validity. E.g., even if it were proven that Darwin was a child molester or Einstein an axe-murderer, this one would not disprove their scientific theories which still have to be judged on empirical evidence.
The Argument of guilt-by-association is the Argument ad hominem one step removed and even more obviously invalid. This is the position which holds “the frammisgoshes should be distimmed because the leader of the anti-distimmation movement was seen at a saloon in 1957 where known Communists and Satanists were also drinking.”

I suspect Spiegelberg applied both ad hominem fallacies to me. For the fallacy ad hominem, if I were to argue in Shaw’s favor I could do so only by calling Bruce a benighted son of a bitch. As to the Argument ad hominem one step removed: pk liked GBS, GBS was an overrated son of a bitch; therefore: …

2004 10 13: A Spiegelberg quote just came into my head:

I’ll put on boots, Walk in the Fields,
And make my wife call me Squire.

Bruce, another one-year-contract-at-a-time bit of academia mill grist, and his wife rented. But this Brooklyn boy contemplated owning land. (Other Brooklyn boys in the Colby English Department contemplated their sojourn in the sticks as their own Walden. (Me, I just wanted to ski.)
It may help the flavor of the quote to develop if you know that Bruce’s not-yet-written thesis (for Berkeley) analyzed Defoe’s Robinson Cruso as the seminal example of civilized consciousness of culture cloning itself in alien surroundings: Cruso arrives at a “desert” island: and establishes a two-person eighteenth-century England there. Yes, Bruce was an eighteenth-century man: such concentrations are required in academia.

Recalling Bruce, I’ll add other thoughts: Bruce mocked his Nazi appearance, mocked the Marines for making him an MP. Bruce was also clearly proud of the Teutonic genes, the blue eyes, the prognathous jaw … and, utterly self-imposed, the brush-cut.
And, speaking of his wife, I also remember Bruce, on learning that I was making my own beer, saying that he was meaning to do the same: if only his wife would wash the bottles he’d gathered for the purpose.

I bet he would try to make his wife call him Squire.

Bruce, in making beer, you prepare the wort, you process it with the yeast, and only when it’s brewed do you sterilize the bottles. His excuse was irrelevant, a fantasy.

Apropos, consider browsing a letter I wrote to my son when he was having tangential experiences teaching at Haverford College: Loco Parentis Rebellion.


Harley Guy:

C. Wright Mills
thanx ronpenndorf

C. Wright Mills: sociologist, the White Collar, “new middle class” guy, parked his BMW on Broadway & 116th, right next to the Journalism Building where all could see him giving respectability the finger. I’m not at all sure though that Bruce was right: I believe Mills did just fine at Columbia.
But what Bruce was really telling me was that I, with my little Yamaha twin, and my big yellow Yamaha trail bike, was hurting myself at Colby.

Deschooling Quotes: Illich Deschooling Quotes: FLEX Deschooling Quotes: Since ’74
Hierarchy vs. Conviviality Stories pk School Stories

About pk

Seems to me that some modicum of honesty is requisite to intelligence. If we look in the mirror and see not kleptocrats but Christians, we’re still in the same old trouble.
This entry was posted in school and tagged , . Bookmark the permalink.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s