How I was born in the wrong age.
I went to high school in Boston, at a peculiar high school. We did not even refer to it as a high school. Another school in Boston, much more recently founded, was termed “the first High School in the United States.”
The school was the Boston Public Latin School, and it lived in distant times. it had modernized to become an energetic part of the New Republic – it had shed its British origins, more or less. It was the Puritans’ school for those choosing the ministry. We were always amused that Harvard was founded somewhat later, to give Latin School students something to do after graduation.
Its attitudes were not particularly arrogant, but provincial. I found it very Jeffersonian in principle, a New School, not for the nobility or the laborer, but rather for the great need for the Republic to have educated citizens. If one was to go on to be a farmer or a wealthy trader, it was no matter; one would first be an educated citizen, prepared for one’s duties in the new Republic.
I was lost as hell when I graduated.
While I was there, the struggles of the 1960’s and 1970’s were raging here and there; something not particularly troublesome to the foundations of the school, as these struggles were obviously essential to the manufacture of a true democracy.
Boy was I lost.
When I graduated, a thick malaise like smog hung over the country, during the Bicentennial year; a smog of self-doubt and loathing, of questioning what sort of ghastly creature that we had become. This smog was to hang over the Carter years, until whisked away by the Reagan Revolution.
I entered college with the certainty that I was there to learn, and that ability would be recognized and cherished in an institution of higher learning.
Boy was I lost.
I went to college with people who seemed to see college as a carnival prize, where one was to grab every prize with both hands, to maneuver and climb and strive to grasp everything, grasp the rung to the next ladder by connections and weasel one’s way higher.
I thought that such an attitude was appalling. Harvard had taken an attitude nearly a century before, maligning the “day students” (Jews) from the local poor areas who took this sort of attitude towards their Harvard education.
The grabbers and hustlers were in the right track – I was not. I was, of course, by no means anti-Semitic. That was a sign of boorish thinking.