The trickle of arriving students soon multiplied. They surrounded us so quickly that it became impracticable to distinguish individuals. I had agreed to teach, not only poetry, but freshman English. I knew that, with a class of a hundred, I was letting myself in for a great deal of work, and, very likely, no little pain. On the other hand, I wanted to find out what the students were like and what could be done with them.
My ideas of freshman English were, and remain, reasonably traditional. One first reads the best writers. One then attempts to write some fiction oneself, on the same subjects or in the same style. One then re-reads the original works with the benefit of the insights derived from trying to do something similar. One then takes up pen again, and so on.
I am still convinced that this is the best procedure, mixing, as it does, two different creative activities: reading with intelligence, and attempting to write something worth reading. Whatever went wrong in the fall of 1946, it had nothing to do with that basic method.
I was also aware that these students would wish to read some works of living writers along with the great works of the past. I began with Jane Austen's Northanger Abbey and Ernest Hemingway's The Sun Also Rises. I was aware that Jane Austen's world was far removed from their own. On the other hand, no one has ever written in a clearer more straight- forward way, altogether without affectation, cute tricks, or pretentious allusions. Since she wrote so often of money and class distinctions, I was confident of being able to find parallels in the modern world which would attach the interest of my students.
The choice of Hemingway was, if anything, too obvious. He had been a war correspondent in the war in which the veterans had just been engaged. Apart from that, his concerns were those of almost any young man. I scheduled Jane Austen first, not just for chronological reasons, but because I wanted to withold the candy until the students had stretched their minds a little.
The first day of class was highly instructive. The year before, more than half our students had been female. Now, the few women that there were, squeezed in between hulking males, seemed likely to be entirely overwhelmed. I doubted that any one of them would make the slightest peep all semester. It was also obvious that most of the males were a good deal older than eighteen. I had expected that, and welcomed it. I hadn't expected that they would all stare at me with great seriousness, and, if I judged aright, a degree of suspicion. The total impression wasn't dissimilar to that of confronting an infantry company in close order.
In such an atmosphere the lecturer is presented with a number of options. I am convinced that he can do far worse than to begin,
"ATTENSHUN! Class will commence at oh nine hundred hours daily. The following books will be read ....",
and so on. But one can take that tack only if one has the proper bearing.
I, in those first critical few seconds, attempted to gracefully and lightly mount the podium on which the lecturn was placed. I succeeded after a fashion. That is, I didn't trip and fall flat, or anything of that sort.
On the other hand, I'm now convinced that those young veterans didn't want a middle-aged teacher to leap lightly around the classroom. Even a senile shuffle would have been better. They didn't want an amusing and sensitive guide to the literature they would be reading, and a man who looked as if he might be trying to imitate Fred Astaire aroused their worst suspicions. What they wanted was a man who would tell them exactly which facts they needed to memorize in order to graduate and get a good job.
Naturally, not all of this came out the first day. They didn't yet know who Jane Austen was. They did make it plain that they didn't want to write fiction, but they showed a measure of resignation. They remembered such requirements in high school, and they realized that they would have to do some things they didn't wish to do. The army had taught them that much.
One of the first signs of loss of control in a classroom is an undertone of mumbling. It isn't necessarily hostile or threatening. The students may just whisper to one another about things unrelated to the class. More unfortunate is the fact that even the quiet students in a mumbling class often aren't attending to the lecturer. Girls knit or write letters to their friends. Boys dream of girls or sports. The student who appears to be the most serious is likely to be doing his or her homework for another class.
My class went along, more or less in that fashion, for a week or two. I was making my points despite that resistance, and some students were duly taking down my remarks. It didn't look as if Ralph's milennium was at hand, but the probability of my being taken out and lynched at the flagpole was negligible
I naturally compared notes with Brenda, who had put herself down for another class of freshman English. She was doing better, but that was a matter of her looks and personality. She must have been the most glamourous woman most of these young men had ever seen, and, of course, she loved to talk about sex. It was an excellent thing for student morale, in that critical period, that Brenda was teaching.
Ralph's experience was different yet again. Almost all the veterans thought they needed to know basic mathematics, and that was what Ralph was teaching them. They may have been puzzled by his occasional remarks about infinite numbers, but it would have taken much more than that to put them off. They worked hard on the assignments he gave them.
All three of us were agreed that these students were different from any we had encountered in our university experience before the war. They were much more serious, less given to games and pranks, and much more likely to know where they wanted to be in five year's time. While that was good in some ways, Ralph, concerned, said,
"Right now, I'm teaching them things they should have had in high school. They're really keen on making up their deficiencies. On the other hand, not one of them has asked a question that in any way goes beyond the immediate subject matter."
"You have to remember, Ralph, we're not getting a fair sample of the returning veterans. We're getting ones who have no idea what a university is supposed to be. Otherwise, they wouldn't be here."
The next day, I began to find out what the students didn't understand in Jane Austen. At one point, she remarks, in her role of narrator, that everyone came every Sunday to the same gathering place in Bath, and that they weekly discovered that there was no one there worth talking with. As far as I could discover, no student sensed any humor in this remark. They seemed to think that she was writing about some tribe of people, quite unlike ourselves, who were rather stupid. They came, every Sunday, in the hope of finding someone interesting. When they found no one, they went away. But, not learning from experience, they kept coming.
I knew that the modern teacher, in such a case, makes the text "come alive" by "relating" the passage in question to the experience of his students, no matter how banal that experience may be. I was about to do so when a hand shot up. Fearing the worst, I called on the student. He began,
"Teen-age boys here often do that. They go to the same hangouts almost every night, and always leave disappointed."
This was better than I had expected. I asked,
"Why do they do it?"
"The boy usually hopes that there'll be a beautiful girl there who'll fall for him. It's all fantasy, but it dies hard. I suppose, in the novel, the ordinary woman hopes she'll meet some countess who'll invite her to tea. The odds are probably just as hopeless."
The student who spoke looked older than the others, in his late twenties. Round-faced and pleasant in appearance, he looked to be a man who, with gentle cynicism, could move easily into most groups. I was surprised when the class reacted to him with hostility. A red-haired man who looked as if he, indeed, hung out at the same place every night, wanted to know what was wrong with that. After a bit, he said,
"That's just what a regular guy does."
The first student, whose name turned out to be Jack, replied,
"That's okay, but if you're just a regular guy, you're not going to get the beautiful girl. They can afford to be choosy."
I sided with Jack, an action which provoked something of a tempest. These students were egalitarian in a rather extraordinary way. They believed that everyone, regardless of intelligence, attractiveness, money, or breeding, has an equal chance for everything. It was incredible to me that anyone could believe such a thing, but they appeared to be sincere. There was a lively but, I thought, not very productive discussion. When it was cut short by the bell, I resolved not to again stir them up in that particular way.
As if by mutual agreement, Jack and I lingered as the class emptied, and then walked along together. It took me very little time to ask him, in so many words, what on earth he was doing at our college. He replied,
"As long as my wife and I stay in Cincinnati, we get free rent from her parents. I need a degree, and the University of Cincinnati isn't particularly good. I thought that, here, I might get more freedom to study what I want."
I gradually discovered that every good student at Hiram Mason would have some quirky idiosyncratic reason for being there. I mentioned the case of Jack to Brenda and Ralph that evening, and added,
"If we want to attract and keep those students, we should arrange it so that they can study what they want, more or less independently. Then, they can come and see one of us when they want to talk about their reading."
It was agreed that one of our few advantages over an ordinary college would be our ability to arrange such things.
In the next class, I started out on a fresh topic. This time, I managed not to offend the sensibilities of my students, and things settled down to their usual torpor. I must own that I was relieved. While I knew that it was better to rouse them than to let them sleep, this class, when roused, was rather alarming.
With the need to keep peace in mind, I changed the schedule I had earlier announced. Instead of turning in their first story before reading Hemingway, the story would be put back two weeks. Having then read Hemingway, the students could write stories in the style of either of our authors.
I was sure that they'd almost all prefer Hemingway. He would also be easier to imitate than Jane Austen. This announcement was greeted with moderate approval as we adjourned. I then told Jack that we could work out a program for him, and suggested that he and his wife come over for dinner.
Ralph and I had already discovered that we both had Jack Schranz in our classes, and had independently been convinced that he was our best student. While having one of our ordinary students over for dinner might have been a prescription for an evening of excruciating embarrassment, we felt fairly safe in this case.
It's always interesting to see what a man's wife will turn out to be. Ralph guessed that Mrs. Schranz would be much like Jack himself. I disagreed.
"His intelligence apart, he can be very practical at times. He's also rather cynical. When it comes to marriage, he'd seek maximum advantage. His wife will be very pretty, definitely younger, intelligent, and in a position to help him."
I was right. Lee Schranz was all of those things. She was also, we discovered a little later, the daughter of the president of the largest bank in the city.
Jack himself had an unusual history. A garage mechanic before the war, he had spent his army years repairing tanks and trucks.
"Sometimes I had to do this more or less under fire. That wasn't much fun, so I became a specialist in a kind of heavy truck that seldom got near the combat zone."
He had been shipped back the previous spring, and had then met Lee, who had just graduated from Smith. Neither enlightened us on the location or manner of the meeting, but Jack said,
"Of course, her family weren't thrilled to have her marry a mechanic, but they've come around very quickly."
I imagined that Lee's father recognized ability when he saw it. He had, moreover, promised Jack a job in the bank when he got his degree. Jack said,
"I gather that I can work myself into something comfortable where I can attend to business a few hours a day, and then do my own work the rest of the time."
It was Lee who said,
"Jack's real ambition is to be a politician."
We were all a little surprised. Jack didn't look particularly like a politician. But he certainly spoke well, and I said that I thought I could imagine him campaigning. He replied,
"There's a niche for Republican progressives here, and I think I need, not a law degree, but as much knowledge of history, economics, and sociology as I can possibly acquire."
It went without saying that we would give Jack credit for whatever researches he undertook. We had only one faculty member who could really be counted as a historian, but Jack had arranged to use the University of Cincinnati library. I could also imagine him being well received when he dropped in to talk with their economists and historians. Brenda remarked,
"It sounds like a nice neat life plan."
Lee replied, suddenly looking older than her years,
"I'm afraid it's too nice and neat. It probably won't work out quite like that, but we can hope."
In the discussion that followed, we made it clear that we had chosen a disaster of a college in the hope that we could pump some life into it. Ralph pointed out,
"It's still entirely up in the air what, if anything, we may accomplish."
I, pointing to Jack, replied,
"At least we've found someone whose plans seem to dovetail with our own. I wonder if there are any others."
When Jack and Lee finally left, it was agreed that the former would act as our spy on the student body. He said in parting,
"Don't expect too much. I don't understand many of them any better than you do."
My personal crisis came when I least expected it. We had finished Northanger Abbey, its humor and charm largely unappreciated. We had then moved to the Paris of the twenties in a single not specially graceful leap. But, still, I wondered, what could be more glamorous? Moreover, many of these young men had been to Paris. True, they had penetrated only to the Place Pigalle, which they called "Pig Alley", but Hemingway referred to a prostitute in the novel. They should feel at home.
Matters did proceed well at first. They liked Lady Brett Ashley. The trouble started when they discovered that the hero, Jake Barnes, had been wounded in the war in such a way as to render him impotent. The manner of the injury, crashing in an airplane with the joystick between his legs, did little to encourage them. They were, in fact, appalled. They refused to read further. They would have nothing to do with such a man. I remonstrated with them. Did they not themselves know someone with a similar injury? They certainly did not! One had the feeling that, if a friend suffered such an injury, they would henceforth refuse to speak to him.
Jack later assured me that such wounds also occurred in the Second World War, but added,
"Most of these guys were rear area warriors. They didn't know the people who got hit."
It was undoubtedly true that my students were isolated from reality, but that didn't solve my problem, that of a revolt. The noise level, normally that of a score or so mumbling in an indifferent and bored way to one another, was now multiplied. The majority were now speaking, most rather stridently. Hands were waved derisively, and something like a jeer came swelling forth. In such a situation, the options of the lecturer are rather limited. He can leave the room. He can become emotional himself, and scream back at the class. Or he can capitulate. He must decide quickly.
The second alternative wasn't open to me. The fact of being faced with a large number of cretins, a few of them hoodlums as well, never makes me angry. It's regrettable, but it's simply a feature of the world that must be accepted.
I could have left the room, but, then, I would have had to return at some point. I instead turned to the blackboard and wrote out a new assignment. The class suddenly quieted, straining to see what I was writing. I wrote,
"Instead of The Sun Also Rises, read Hemingway, The Short Happy ...."
I was going to assign a collection of stories which included "The Short Happy Life of Francis Macomber", but I happened to look over at Jack, who was shaking his head vigorously. I didn't have any idea why, but I was prepared to believe that he knew something I did not. I was now at a loss to know what to assign, but he called softly,
"For Whom the Bell Tolls."
I quickly erased my last few words and put the title on the board. The class was now reasonably happy. They were still a little suspicious of Hemingway, but they had won their point. After class, I asked Jack,
"What's wrong with the Francis Macomber story?"
"Remember, the hero chickens out and runs when he sees the lion. If they can't deal with impotence, I wouldn't test them with cowardice."
When the stories came in, a couple of weeks later, they weren't quite as bad as I had expected. In addition to Jack's amusing whimsical piece, there were several other good ones. The rest were rather revealing in that they almost all had the same subject, that of success. Some of the fictional heroes succeeded in business while others scaled the heights in a gamut of occupations ranging from animal husbandry to dentistry. They generally did have to overcome difficulties, but the reader didn't tend to have his heart in his mouth as the tale unfolded. Needless to say, no one would have guessed that the writers of these stories had been reading either Jane Austen or Ernest Hemingway.
There was little point in commenting on the content of most of these stories, or even on the style. The stories and the authors were perfectly matched, and I, for one, could see that it would be quite hopeless to try to add dimensions to either. Time might do it, but I couldn't. I therefore limited myself to the correction of some of the many grammatical errors which sometimes made whole paragraphs unintelligible.
I soon found that the students were quite interested in improving their grammar. They had no interest in literature, but they knew that they would have to write memoranda and reports. They also knew that they wrote, and often spoke, badly. Instead of being irritated or complaining when I marked them off for grammar, they came around after class to straighten themselves out. The net upshot of my excursions into literature was simply to convince the students that I spoke well, and could be trusted to correct mistakes.
After another couple of weeks, I accepted the inevitable and taught grammar. Jack become my assistant. We often did nothing but give an assignment and tour the room, correcting work.
One evening in Brenda's unit, as we were talking about the college, I said,
"At least, I've found something they want to learn that I can teach."
"In England, colleges such as this always end up teaching grammar and giving elocution lessons."
None of the rest of us had been aware that there were such colleges in England. Jane went on,
"Oh yes, it's quite a tradition. Over a hundred years ago, when there began to be a real middle class, uneducated parents who had a little money wanted to send their children to private schools or colleges, there being no exact distinction between them. Whatever they were called, the institutions that sprang up to fill the need were often awful. The tradition was to have Latin masters who had no Latin, history masters who knew no history, and so on. These still exist today."
We were a little incredulous, but Jane had a friend who had taught in such a school, and was, in fact, the only teacher who wasn't a charlatan.
"The real point is to get the students to speak better so that they can rise in social class. The letter 'h' comes in for a great deal of attention."
"My students certainly wouldn't admit that they're trying to rise socially. I'm sure they'd have contempt for anyone with such aspirations."
Brenda broke in,
"It's really the same, though, Thomas. Such things are more blatant in England, that's all. These guys want to move up the social scale even if they say they only want to make money."
"I imagine there'd be a ready market if we taught elocution."
"Maybe we should, probably under some other name. We might call it "Effective Speaking", or invent some other euphemism."
Ralph, during this time, looked visibly uneasy. He finally said,
"I rather hoped that we'd make progress, not be sucked backwards into a high-school curriculum or worse."
He spoke easily, as usual, but, then, Ralph would speak in much the same way if he thought that the house was filling with gas from the stove. Indeed, I had an image of him, as a guest on one of those bombing runs over Germany, making pleasant conversation with his hosts as the flak burst around them. There would have been, I guessed, just that look of strain around the eyes that was present now. It was Brenda who, quite properly, undertook to reply,
"I'm also teaching very simple things to the freshmen, Ralph. There isn't much else that I could do. I'd end up just talking to myself."
Ralph let out a sigh and said,
"They work hard at what's really high school algebra because the story problems sound like problems they might encounter in business. But, of course, this isn't real algebra, it's just a collection of formulas. I've been introducing some analytic geometry, which is real mathematics at an elementary level, but without much success. It's so pretty, compared to the algebra, that I can't imagine why anyone would prefer the algebra."
"You've just told us. They think they can use it."
Ralph laughed and said,
"Yes, I keep forgetting that."
I secretly wondered if I'd be able to appreciate the beauty of mathematics. However, I had no doubt that there was such a thing. I also knew that, for Ralph, mathematics was an aesthetic activity, as much so as poetry.
The mood, at that moment, was rather depressed. There had never been a greater contrast between what we had hoped to accomplish academically and what seemed likely. Even Brenda, her eyes always fixed on the Sanderson fortune, had imagined that we would only pass through a period of disreputability on our way to something else. Maria wasn't really affected much by these difficulties, but, as always, she adapted to changing circumstances. Her face, as she sat solemnly, was that of a young dean, seriously concerned about certain disquieting tendencies in the student body. It was only Jane who actually looked happy. After a moment's reflection, I understood why.
In the short time since she had been working at the college, Jane had done some other things in addition to her interior decoration. She had, for example, designed some dresses.
It started as a joke. Noticing that American students went around in clothing emblazoned with their college's name or initials, Jane decided to produce a Hiram Mason dress for women connected with the college. Becuase of her height and associated difficulty in getting clothes, she had always designed and made, or had made, some things for herself. She now found a seamstress and produced the prototype. Brenda modelled it for us one evening, a full-skirted blue and white dress that didn't look like any sort of uniform. Indeed, the letters 'H' and 'M' were picked into the design in such a way that one had to look closely to see them at all.
The dress, on sale in various sizes in the college store, had become something of a fad among the wives of the young veterans. They knew that Jane had designed it, without being terribly serious about it, but the design was good enough to have independent appeal.
Suffice it to say that Jane was designing other clothes, and was at the center of a group of admiring young women. The odds were against her ever making enough money out of clothes designing to make any significant difference to our combined assets. However, Jane was doing quite a lot to raise the morale of a group of young women whose position was, on the whole, not very enviable. I knew only too well what the husbands were like, and it would seem that almost anything a woman wanted, or wanted to do, might be construed as being incompatible with his progress toward his goal.
In my view, these developments were particularly important because of Jane's upbringing. She was supposed to be the titled lady who, as honorary head of the committees and charities, sets the tone for the other women simply by being what she is; imitation does the rest. These young wives were, in fact, just the sorts of followers Jane was supposed to have, the American counterparts of the young wives in one of the regimental towns in England.
The upshot was that life was getting better for Jane. She wasn't shocked by an educational institution that taught nothing worth knowing. Indeed, she was probably having more success in civilizing and improving the taste of the wives than we were in educating the husbands.
By late October, we had enough apartments built and occupied to more than pay the interest on the mortgages. Moreover, the college was getting enough money from the students and federal government so that it was solvent. The considerable monies that Brenda had advanced to the college had been put down as loans at the prevailing rate of interest. We didn't really expect these loans to be paid off, and the understanding was that they would be converted to gifts as the installments came due. Now, to our surprise, it looked as if the college would be able to meet these payments.
At this same time, we still had a considerable amount of undeveloped land, some of which was still being farmed. Farmland in America was then so cheap that everything depended on getting the land before the suburbs reached it, at which point a pasture was magically transformed into building lots.
I was, at that point, getting along fairly well with my veterans. Instead of writing fiction, I got them to write about their war experiences. These were often rather interesting. The level of grammaticality also improved, perhaps as a result of the course, but, more likely, because their general morale had improved.
The troublemakers were now relatively few, and, when I did lecture, the noise level was very considerably reduced. Most of the noise that remained came from three young men, obviously too young to be veterans, who sat in the back row and talked and laughed incessantly. Their laughter was not of the good-humored spontaneous kind, the kind that one naturally associates with youth. It was hard, sharp, and hostile, not necessarily aimed at me, but quite possibly so.
There was an incident one day as I was lecturing on the position of prepositions. Concerning the rule that they should never dangle at the end of a sentence or clause, I quoted Churchill's witticism,
"That is an errant pedantry up with which I will not put."
This brought a laugh, of the right sort, from most. It seemed, however, to particularly inflame the youths at the back. I'm sure that at least one must have said something like,
"What the fuck is that bastard up to now?"
Just then, a large young veteran who had been working hard on his grammar rose and went back several rows to speak to them. I was, by this time, able to talk more or less automatically while thinking about other things. The majority of the class was thus looking at me, and missed the drama at the back. I could see the veteran in the aisle beside them, but, of course, couldn't hear what he said.
The youth in the middle, a large blond specimen with white skin, said something back, obviously taking issue with the veteran's remarks. The latter smiled dangerously, said something else, and waited. The youth suddenly turned red, indeed almost purple, started to reply, and then looked down. The veteran said something else, and then returned quietly to his seat. The back row exchanged some looks and some subdued whispers, but nothing else.
I afterwards told Jack what had happened. He had talked with these same boys in the course of correcting their mistakes, and knew quite a lot about them.
"Those three kids are sophomores who all went to the same Catholic high school, and before that to the same Catholic junior high and parochial school. All three are moderately dumb, but not strikingly so. That means that no one ever wanted them to be priests, and, since they're working class, they belong to the first generation to go to college. That much is pretty normal. Students like that might be highly motivated."
I imagined the environment: A fair number of children, a churchy mother, and a father who worked long hours, spent a good deal of time at the corner bar, and paid attention to those of his sons who were good at sports. Jack continued,
"The big one has pretensions as a football player. He was apparently a star in high school, but he couldn't get a football scholarship to a college. He thinks it's because the colleges are now all stocked up with veterans who played on their teams before the war. That may be true. He thinks he's been cheated out of his rights, and attending a college that doesn't even have a football team adds insult to injury."
"What about the other two?"
"One of them thinks he's good looking, and was quite a success with the girls in high school. Apparently all three of them were. Last year, the older boys were in the services, and they had no competition for some real ripe little plums. This year, the same girls all want a war hero. It's a case of boys against men."
"That must have been the football player that our volunteer disciplinarian addressed himself to."
"That kid is about to explode. I'm surprised he didn't."
I described the other man. Jack replied,
"Oh, I know the one you mean. That real big guy. He was in the 2nd Marine division at Guadalcanal and elsewhere. It would be a mistake to mess with him."
"Your football player seemed to recognize that. He almost had apoplexy on the spot."
"It's not easy for those kids. They're just ordinary obnoxious teen-agers. They're a little slow to grow out of it, but, in ordinary times they'd have some leeway. They wouldn't be made to study too hard, and the girls would put up with them. But, now, except for the smart ones, they're a surplus commodity."
"Anyway, I think they'll be quiet in class."
I found myself curious about these boys, particularly the football player, Mecklenburg by name. They were absent the next day, Thursday, and I didn't see them on Friday either. Then, halfway through class, I spotted them in a different place, evidently trying to be inconspicuous. Mecklenburg sat quietly, without taking notes, and stared balefully at me. Later, I gave an assignment, that of describing the bridges over the Ohio River. Mecklenburg snorted and threw down the pencil he hadn't been using.
The rest of the class set industriously to work as Jack and I began circulating. Even Mecklenburg's friends appeared to be writing, but he sat in silent protest. After answering a few questions, I looked over to see Jack squeezing through the row behind Mecklenburg. He said something, seemingly casually, to the boy. The latter shrugged and began to write slowly.
A spirit of adventure rising in me, I drifted behind Mecklenburg a few minutes later to see what he had written. There appeared on his paper only the sentence,
"There are 4 bridges."
I said, somewhat facetiously,
"Are you sure there aren't five?"
The youth fairly boiled as he swore under his breath and reaffirmed his faith. I, drifting off, remarked,
"In such a context it's usual to spell out the word 'four'."
I didn't wait for a reply, but I could hear muttering. One of his friends, the one who was neither handsome nor athletic, giggled.
That evening, back in Covington, Jack and his wife came over after dinner for drinks. We fell to discussing Mecklenburg and his cronies. Ralph immediately recognized them as being in his class as well. He seemed to find them only a minor annoyance, but did say,
"Mecklenburg can do calculations fairly well, but not much more. I have a lot like that."
Jack nodded and replied,
"I can imagine them working as printers or machinists. They aren't articulate enough to deal with customers or make sales, but they'll be all right as long as you keep them in the back room."
Ralph looked somewhat unhappy. I explained to Jack,
"Ralph didn't undertake this with the idea that his students would be fit only for the back room."
"That's one of the reasons I don't want to teach. Just give me leisure and access to a good library."
Ralph smiled, a little wanly, and replied,
"That's what I had to begin with. Then I got ideas about all the wonderful things we could accomplish."
Brenda, at that moment looking about twenty five, added,
"It's too early to give up, Ralph. We have four years to make an impact. If you can get through to kids like this just a tiny bit in the first semester, and a little more in the second, there'll be a snowball effect."
It sounded moderately plausible to me, and I could see that her point impressed Ralph. I asked Jack,
"How would you estimate our chances with Mecklenburg and his cronies?"
Jack considered for a minute. He then replied,
"The trouble's emotional rather than intellectual. They're learning, more every day, that they dislike the kind of thing we teach, the kind of things we do, and, very likely, the kind of people we are. They might possibly stay in college four years if they remain convinced that it'll lead to a good job, but they'll have learned to really hate anything that seems at all intellectual."
He then added,
"I include myself in the hated group even though, as another student, I can get along with them up to a point. But that's only because they really don't know me."
"It sounds as if we can't count on much snowball effect with these particular boys. But aren't they the extreme, the very worst?"
I pointed out,
"They probably aren't the dumbest, but Mecklenburg, at least, has the worst attitude of any student you'd ever find."
"I found out something else about him to partly explain that. He came here last year with his high school girl friend. After he couldn't get a football scholarship, he figured he might as well follow her. But she's now got a veteran that she likes better. She saves her week-ends for him and goes out with Mecklenburg only occasionally during the week. That doesn't improve a man's disposition."
It did seem that Mecklenburg might be a special case.