Threshing The Wheat From The Chaff

Suddenly I’m a ‘college boy’. Imagine me, never
having attended a college or university before and coming home with
a report card marked ‘A’!

”A’ means ‘Excellent’,’ said the wife,
almost as if she was proud of me. ‘I’ve had twelve years of
university and I received only ‘B’ in my course,’ she
laughed.

It so happens that the wife, being a teacher in the Junior High
school and now appointed head of the school library, has been
having to take some additional courses in library administration to
qualify. I have been just the chauffeur, driving her to and from
these courses, thumbing the well-worn pages of Iron Man Albums and
Gas Engine Magazines in the school hall-Way while she was
matriculating within the ivy towers of higher learning.

‘Why not sign up for some kind of class?’ she said.
‘It would be better than just loafing around while you’re
waiting on me.’ (Reading Iron Man Albums isn’t
loafing.)

I argued that it would be a waste of time for me to even try to
learn anything, let alone futile for the professor who tried to
teach me. But the wife argued back that once she had taken her dog
to school with her and the dern dog went through the Whole
university (in the front door and out the back) in one day. I felt
that if a common pooch could pass all the ‘entrance
examinations’, attend all classes and graduate with a soup-bone
diploma by licking the professors’ feet for a ‘cum
laude’ between sunrise and sunset, I ought to be smart enough
to polish the teacher’s apple and come off with a ‘bum
laude’ for a single course in nine weeks.

When I told the professor I’d sign up for
English-Composition, he replied that the beginning course in that
was held on another evening. This, of course, defeated our purpose,
and I felt relieved of my university obligation. But the
‘prof’ suggested that I take the examination on the
beginning course and, if I passed it, I’d be eligible for
course eleven, which would be held the same evening as my
wife’s class.

‘Get in there, here’s your papers you have thirty
minutes. Begin,’ snapped the university administrator, shoving
me into an isolated cubicle and walking away without giving me any
instructions.

After wasting ten minutes and not answering a single question, I
decided I’d better return to the beginning and read the
instructions. It was all Greek to me. I was so disgusted, I was
ready to toss the papers out and say ‘Come ‘n get
’em.’ At least he could’ve shown me how the thing was
to be marked.

Finally I began answering first one, then another, and kept
right on going. All too soon he returned and shouted,
‘Time’s up. Hand me the papers.’ I walked out of there
and strode across the long hallway, telling my wife to grab her
coat that I had failed, and we were getting out of there.

But the ‘boss man’ yelled back across that hallway
‘Sir, wait a minute you’ve passed. You answered twenty-six,
and only fifteen were required. My first university exam had taught
me that the secret of modern education was to orient oneself as
rapidly as possible in a given situation, without advance
instructions, and follow through by answering as many questions
accurately as was possible in a certain given time. This was more
important than having all the time I needed to answer all the
questions at a more leisurely pace. And here I had passed a test
that normally it would require nine weeks to prepare for.

But my problems were not over. In fact, they were just
beginning. For, after attending five weekly classes, I received a
phone call from the university administration office, stating that
I had been actually attending English-Composition thirteen, when I
was supposed to be in course twelve. Here I had skipped two courses
and been attending the advanced course and liking it, as the result
of some mix-up in the head office.

Although I was at a disadvantage with my other classmates who
had graduated from the two other courses leading up to the advanced
one, I did have the somewhat proud experience of having written the
only theme on one book Which was ever read by the professor to the
class as what he called a ‘very fine treatment’ of the
subject.

Let me say here, it is one thing to merely read a book for
enjoyment. But it is quite a different matter to read that same
book and then write a five-hundred word theme on it from whatever
angle the professor directs and get it right with all the proper
punctuation till it’s a finished product worthy of a passing
grade. Our course was ‘Negro Literature’, we had seven
volumes to read, after which we were to write our themes of
analysis, injecting our own ideas, our own criticisms or praises,
according to the wishes of the professor as each succeeding class
unfolded.

When it came to the final class, the professor announced,
‘Next week you are to present your finest theme, summing up all
we have read and discussed.’ You can choose your own subject
and approach, writing about several of the novels or all of them.
If you want to write about parallels in the various novels, all
right or if you wish to write about the contrasts that will be also
acceptable. The choice is up to you, as is also the subject matter
you wish to bring into focus from all we’ve read and discussed
in this course.’

‘Any questions?’ the professor asked. ‘I hear a
groan from this corner over here,’ he mused.

‘Yes, I have a question,’ came my reply. ‘What am I
going to write about?’ This brought a whimper of mirth
throughout the classroom, like a safety valve popping on an
overloaded boiler.

Here I was at a distinct disadvantage. The others in the class,
some of whom were also adults, had bought all their books from the
university storeroom. I had merely borrowed mine from the public
library, had returned most of them and now it was up to my memory
to know what to write about, making my quotations without benefit
of referring back to the textbooks for reinforcement. Like in my
entrance exam, I now had to orient myself in all the melee of pages
we’d studied without benefit of props the others had to lean
on. But I faced up to the task, and was most surprised when the
report card came back with an ‘A’.

Now, what did I learn from my one and only university course,
above and beyond what was in the books? Well, first of all I
learned that there was not sufficient time in the day for both
productive study and the kind of goofing off that results in
picketing, rioting and the ‘sit-ins’ that the T-V cameras
focus on. The video camera men ignore the thousands engaged in
serious study on our nation’s campuses, in order to
sensationalize the few who never crack a book or attend classes,
but spend their time bringing shame and disruption to the
educational institutions of our land. These are the ones who go
about tearing down but never building up. They scream and yell
their degradations and shout ‘change! ‘but change for what?
Should anyone ever once ask them what changes they envision,
they’d have no answer, for they haven’t studied any of the
things they propose changing, and therefore are least qualified to
give orders and least of all do they have any right to tear down
what more intelligent people have labored to build, simply because
they have nothing in mind to replace it. This, indeed, is truly the
‘lost generation’. They are lost, first of all, because
they never have really lived and wrestled with life’s problems,
and therefore are not qualified to give counsel. But these are the
very ones that our news media T-V cameras, newspapers, radios focus
on as the sensations of our generation. If I were to ask youth
about what changes they deemed pertinent to our times, I would
indeed ask some of the serious students in our colleges and
universities who had come face to face with classroom and campus
discipline sufficient to pass a few required examinations and get a
few good grades and from these I’d get no doubt some decent
answers about what improvements might be beneficial to all.

Recently my wife and I were asked to help chaperone a Junior
High School party. The students were allowed to pick an orchestra
of their own choosing. The amplifiers blared forth in all their
fury, the blue and purple lights flashed weirdly and nauseating in
rhythm as some longhaired, slinking figure, looking like an
apparition, shouted into the microphone as ‘it’ jumped
about. Parents watched horrified at their own daughters and sons
jumping up and down, arms stretched upward as if they were reaching
up for release from their torture. It wasn’t dancing as Mom and
Dad had known, nor was there any singing or melody to cheer the
heart and soul. There was only noise. Some of us tried to converse
with each other in that din, but we had to retire to another room
in order to converse and be heard. Surely, were these the same
fair-haired, nice looking students we saw in the classrooms and
hallways of our school, earlier that day? Were these the same
students we heard playing lovely marches and waltzes that
afternoon, and singing so beautifully in the school music groups?
Yes, they were. They had been educated to good music, melody,
harmony and counterpoint and taught to play fine instruments but
that evening they appeared among the damned. I was reminded of when
I was a lad, leafing through my Grandmother’s big Bible, and
seeing Gustave Dore’s masterful etchings depicting the crying
and suffering of those lost in Hell. Surely this was not music, not
fun, not youthful exuberance and joy that we were witnessing at the
party of our school youth. And I knew even the students weren’t
enjoying themselves, but nevertheless they felt compelled to
participate in the decadence that is dangerously gnawing at our
civilization. Finally one of the students just couldn’t take it
any more and she came to us asking, ‘Does anyone have some
aspirins?’

My wife and I took some Future Teacher girls over to Capitol
University, a Lutheran college, at Columbus, Ohio. Throughout the
halls of this church university there were posters announcing the
celebration of Black Week. That was good, for I’ve always been
for equality of citizenship, as granted by our constitution. But I
notice there were huge pictures of Malcolm-X and Rap Brown also
posted on the walls, and numerous books advocating the use of
‘Whatever Means Possible’ for the overthrow of our national
organizations. I looked in vain for the picture of the Negro
Christian leader, Dr. Martin Luther King, but it was not displayed
in this Christian institution. When we attended the afternoon
session, in Music Hall, instead of being treated to something
educational and uplifting, we discovered a hippy combo occupying
the entire stage, tuning up. The noise was so terrible, many could
not stand to enter, and left early.

I am convinced that our youth is being trained very well in our
school musical groups. But when left to their own tastes, they fall
flat and are wanting. This reflects a lack, not in our schools, but
in our homes. Parents no longer preach ideals to their children,
and children lack heroes to mould their lives after. Every kid is a
hero-worshipper without the hero to worshipand therefore they
fasten onto only half-heroes as their models. That is why we have
images of Rap Browns and Malcolm X’s hanging in our college
hallways, when men and heroes of real stature are most desperately
needed.

I guess I must have been spoiled. When I was a kid, my heroes
lived in the pages of the Bible or were crucified on the cross to
redeem mankind. And, in the field of music, Pawerewski,
Rachmaninoff, Fritz Kreisler and other eminents in the world of
great music were my matinee idols, whether my Mommy had to bundle
me up and take me on the interurban to the big city concert hall,
or I had to crank up the parlor victrola to hear ’em.

After all, it’s largely up to what Mommy and Daddy do in the
home for lassie and laddy, whether or not our youth have the proper
ideals for the future of our land.

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