When you learn about or encounter something too young, you’re likely to get it all mixed up. I read Catcher in the Rye when I was eleven, and I thought it was about a boy who swears too much. And when I was around the same age, my mother used to enjoy making me say ontogeny recapitulates phylogeny just to hear me struggle with all those syllables (I do the same thing to my kids). When I asked her what that meant, I did not quite glean that it was Ernst Haeckel’s debunked evolutionary theory stating that human development, from embryonic stage forth, mirrors the forms of our evolutionary forbears. Instead, I misapprehended it to mean that just as I was born of nothing and would one day return to nothing so would the human race- or more precisely the opposite of Haeckel’s theory that phylogeny recapitulates ontogeny (which might be more accurate). So began my lifelong wondering about where are we, our species? In growth or decline?
Probably because I am getting older, I worry that humanity is showing signs of decline because, after all, I, myself, am not quite what I was in my Warrior (class of ’86) days. So when I pulled out some light reading, Uni’s 1973 accreditation report, I found myself longing even more for bygone days where progress seemed to stretch out in the infinite horizon. What in that report awakened this passion for the promise that belonged to the past, you ask? It was the Industrial Arts department report. Yes. The list of Department Goals and Objectives seemed to be a blueprint from a better time, each goal more nuanced and poetic than the last:
- To develop an appreciation of the influence that industry has on our social and economic life: and the ability to select, care for, and use industrial products intelligently.
- To offer opportunities for the development of constructive leisure time activities and/or hobbies requiring mental and physical activities.
- To satisfy the creative desire of youth, regardless of professional or occupational interest, and to construct useful articles with tools and materials.
- To develop the ability to plan and work, alone and in cooperation with others, toward the orderly, efficient and complete performance of assigned and selected tasks.
- To enrich other instructional fields such as mathematics, science, and language arts by bringing theory and practice closer together through illustrations and practical applications.
- To develop an understanding of conservation and the sources of the basic materials that provide resources for man’s comfort, health, and enjoyment.
This list goes on, and each one reads to me like a meditation on some slower, more thoughtful Eden, where children roam innocent of phones and laptops, and problems are solved not by frantically texting a frenemy or taking a selfie, but with the solitary effort of fixing or constructing something. I long for the smell of pine and walnut wood, the sounds of high-pitched whirs of saws and miter boxes, and the sight of sawdust floating in beams of sunlight streaming through the shop windows.
Just after the front cover, I notice a page crediting Rich Perelman, ’74, then a junior, with contributing to the report, so I called him to ask him what he remembered about it. “Can’t say I remember much about any accreditation report,” he told me. “I was involved in a lot of things. What I do remember about 1973 was the day Jane Fonda came to campus. That was the big event.”
He recalled that students were very politically engaged at that point because, of course, the draft was looming over everyone. He was there the day Jane Fonda, or Hanoi Jane as her detractors called her, came to campus, and he snapped the picture of her that occupies a full page at the end of the ’73 yearbook.
In the Friday, March 2 issue of The Warrior, John M. Hillman describes the events and strife of the day. Principal John Welsh had agreed to host Jane Fonda on campus, but her appearance was delayed after much outcry. Board of Education member, J. C. Chambers was quoted as saying, “’If I was in Mr. Welch’s position, I would never have granted permission to have Jane Fonda appear on campus, and I would not have consulted the Advisory Board. He also claimed that Ms. Fonda comes “as close as possible to preaching an all-out revolution in this country.’” It was decided that Jane Fonda could speak as long as then-mayoral candidate (and future B-1 bomber champion in Congress) Robert K. Dornan could deliver a rebuttal the next day.
Ms. Fonda’s strong anti-war position that “‘South Vietnam is a creation of the U.S. government” was countered by an appearance the following day of Dornan, who delivered a rebuttal in which he condemned Jane Fonda stating, “‘labeling U.S. involvement in Vietnam genocide is an atrocious lie.’”
Michael Letwin, a staff member on the school’s radical newspaper, the Red Tide (you can view issues here) believed that inviting Dornan to provide a rebuttal was unnecessary, “‘I’m not against having the other side, but the Board rules do not require an opposing viewpoint in this kind of situation. By the same logic, Mr. Welch should have invited the Klu Klux Klan to give an opposing viewpoint to black history week.’”
Robert Dornan’s wife slapped two youths, one a Uni student and the other a non-student on campus who called out during Dornan’s speech, decrying the war by saying he had served in Vietnam and “saw only ‘bloodshed and murder by the U.S. government.’” Authorities stepped in and Ms. Dornan left while her husband concluded the speech. (She went on to humiliate herself again in 1988 during an Orange County town forum on AIDS, where she outed her landscape architect brother, claimed he had AIDS –he denied both assertions– and shouted a homophobic slur, which later became the title of a book of her husband’s quotes.)
Ah, the pointed stick of history wakes me out of my reverie of happy cabinet saws and automotive lifts. The good old days are never simply good. Sure in those days you had woodshop and auto shop, with boys like Ed Hyde, who Rich remembers could “pull a car apart with his teeth.” (I am reminded of Jimi Hendrix who could play the guitar with his). But they came with a war –with fear and death and lies and very bitter divisions.
But let’s get back to the present, and to our hopes for the future. We will write our WASC accreditation report looking for areas of strength and areas where we need to grow. Today, our accreditation is based upon all students completing a college prep program that sadly (to my mind) does not include a remedial program or an industrial arts program. The end of industrial arts occurred, as Rich Perelman pointed out, at the behest of the universities, which got rid of their “ready for employment” classes and any attendant preparatory coursework requirements. After students of color were persistently pushed into shop and steered away from college prep coursework classes (my friend SE and teacher in the district, class of ’85, remembers with some bitterness being told not to go to college and to become a mechanic by his counselor), assigning all students to a college prep program that did not include the industrial arts became the final nail in the coffin for these programs.
It does seem like a more complicated world now, or at least complicated in a different way. It feels as if as soon as we write the report, it will all be obsolete as one furious sea change overtakes the last. Add to it that each of us in education has our own vision based on our place in history, our unique prayer to the gods of our phylum, for what the future should look like for the future youth who will sit in our classrooms looking at the light streaming through. We will work as hard as we can to prepare students for whatever set of joys and sorrows, opportunities and challenges lay in store for them. It would be grand to bring back shop though, to have a green school. One where computer engineering was taking place in one room and solar panels were being installed on the roof of the electric automotive shop while the philosophy of it all was being considered down the hall…and everyone pursued their bliss. My reveries persist.
Perhaps the whole arc of human history can’t be understood with a recapitulation theory the way my English teacher’s heart would like it to be: with framing devices to tell us we are nearing the end and that it’s all working out in the way A Tale of Two Cities begins with a coach ride and a trial and ends with a trial and a coach ride. But each generation gets its own story, and teachers and parents and alumni are working as hard as we can to make the current one as rich and meaningful as any other.