Second semester of eighth grade started in late January of 1968, along with Rowan & Martin’s Laugh-In on U.S. television and the Tet offensive in Vietnam. My mom worried about an endless U.S. involvement in that war that might eventually lead to me being drafted for military service in another five years. My hands ached from the cold even with gloves on as I lugged my saxaphone case in one hand and a load of books in the other arm the nearly mile-long trek to school and back. It always seemed farther than that because of all the twists and turns on the five different streets that got me to my destination, along with the fact that given a choice I wouldn’t want to go to school, particular this one. Though my American history teacher was entertaining at times and I still had some sort of a crush on my young female math teacher, I knew at some level that I could better spend my time doing activities and being around peers of my own choosing.
I pretty much dreaded the first day of school in the fall of 1967. I was returning to Tappan Junior High now for eighth grade with the memory still raw of my first difficult and painful year in that institution. The intervening ten weeks of summer sojourn had helped me recover my self-esteem to some degree, but I really did not like the idea of going back to those packed classrooms full of other uncomfortable kids my age picking on each other to blow off the anxiety of being jammed into that unnatural situation. If it had been my free choice I would never choose it. I’m not sure I thought of it at that point as something that all us kids had to do. Or was it more like it was something that if you were not willing to do it, there was something really wrong with you, and if you missed that developmental train that society had worked so hard to create for you that you would be doomed to never being able to participate in the adult world.
I felt the profoundest sense of relief when the last bell rang ending the last day of my first year at Tappan Junior High School. All us students spilled out onto the big front lawn on the south side of the school overlooking Stadium boulevard, a part of the school’s campus that seemed rarely used during the school year. We had all been given our yearbooks and the idea was we would all mill around together signing each other’s copies with cute or poignant little memorable comments. One last exercise in social hierarchy. All the cool kids clustered around each other laughing, joking and signing each other’s copies.
But stressful challenges were ahead for all of us. Our mom still figuring out her persona now as a single adult woman, “divorcee”, and part of the progressive community that existed around the university. Peter entering third grade still wrestling with his weight issues but emerging as a talented artist.
My mom rose to the occasion after the divorce with my dad. Though she continued to have a great deal of unresolved anger towards him, and ongoing worries about paying the bills, plus other disruptions in her life, it seems it was perhaps the first real opportunity in that life to be truly on her own, and not pulled and tugged by parents, fiancée or spouse. She was beginning to learn to navigate as a completely autonomous person, including as a single parent, and I was just beginning to become sophisticated enough about this sort of stuff to notice, now that I had started to move her down from the former pedestal I had previously elevated her to.
She was getting enough in child support each month from my dad so she could barely, just barely, pay the bills if we lived frugally. And though some of the couples that had befriended her based on her status as a professor’s wife now distanced themselves from her as a divorcee, her irresistible extroversion and heart on her sleeve emotional honesty was beginning to win her a new community of friends and comrades. Our little household, now three instead of four, was definitely becoming the “Jane Roberts Zale Show”, for better or for worse.
While the events of the U.S. civil rights movement and the Vietnam War were roiling the larger society, the first big event that I was privy to in our little family’s cataclysm was in early April of 1964 around my ninth birthday, bearing helpless witness to my mom having what later I would learn was a panic attack. I recall that I was in my room and heard her out in the living room pacing the floor and crying haltingly punctuated by gasps for air. When I came into the living room to see what was going on she looked at me with absolute terror in her eyes, “Cooper… I can’t breathe!”, as if somehow she was hoping I could do something about it.
Dear friends… For the sixth year now, I will be riding in the North Valley Caring Services 2014 bike-a-thon to raise money for this great community organization that supports the poor mostly Hispanic community in Panorama City, just a couple miles east of where I live.
Please support my effort by making a donation of $25, $50, $100 or whatever amount you can give by clicking the “Donate” button below! My goal this year is to raise $1000 for them!
To learn more about North Valley Caring Services and the great work they do, go to their website at www.nvcsinc.org.
Many of my huge Baby-Boom generation born starting in 1946 into a burgeoning middle class after World War II were beginning to come of age in a relatively prosperous America. We had better access to education, and through the growing electronic media of radio and television, access to a popular culture that included championing the expression of sexuality and other forms of human liberation. Facilitated by the development of a reliable birth control pill in 1960, elements of American culture were moving away from traditional values and social strictures towards more permissive and informalized attitudes. Rock-and-roll music, emerging in the 1950s borrowing from black R&B roots and becoming mainstream in the 60s was a huge cultural aphrodisiac, urging its listeners to “rock”, its thinly-veiled code word for sexual activity.
A lot of progressive people still struggle with concept of young people directing their own learning, whether in one of those rare democratic-free schools like Sudbury Valley or by a flavor of homeschooling that is known as “unschooling” or “life learning”. They feel that for our society to truly progress we need to ensure that our young people, all our young people whether privileged or not, learn a standard body of knowledge that will allow them to be get good jobs and participate fully in our democratic society. They ask good questions like, “What is the societal purpose of education?” and “Does personal achievement outweigh social progress?” There is an underlying concern that a learner-directed education, in a democratic-free school or by unschooling or life learning, focuses only on the individual and not that individual’s participation and contribution to a larger community.
Here’s an excerpt I got recently from a thoughtful comment from a teacher Adam on my piece “What is a Democratic Free School?”…]
To me, the ideals of democratic-free schools are all expressed in terms of the individual development of the children, rather than the benefit to society more broadly. How do such schools support social progress?
I recall that I found the IQ test they gave me intimidating. Anytime adults focused on me, particularly in a more formal or judging way, I felt uncomfortable. All adults, including my parents, felt like another species entirely rather than simply older versions of us kids. They seemed like large all-knowing deities even, that had me at a total disadvantage.