October 12, 2004
memories of high school
I graduated from high school two years after A Nation at Risk (1983). Although my friends and I had some fine teachers, the curriculum and standards were pretty slack back then. As I recall, we rarely had to bring homework home; it could be done during the lunch break. However, there were two good things about my schools in Syracuse, NY. First, the population was split almost exactly 50/50 between African Americans and Whites. That was fairly unusual in those days, and extremely rare today. Last year, I helped some students in Maryland to conduct an oral history of race in their high school, and they found that the late-70s was the high point of integration.
Secondly, I had several friends and classmates who were intensely intellectual, and specifically interested in the moral aspects of politics and public policy. In addition to me, three others are philosophy professors today, one is an economist who teaches public policy, and one is a lawyer who writes about American history. We wasted plenty of time back then, but we also spent some of the hours that today we'd have to devote to homework reading good books for fun and arguing about what we'd read.
We mostly read different things, of course. But philosophy of science was popular, and most of us read Thomas Kuhn and Douglas Hofstadter (Godel, Escher, Bach and The Mind's I). I think the most popular fiction included Ralph Ellison's Invisible Man and anti-totalitarian political novels by Koestler, Malraux, and Orwell. More than one of us read Solzhenitsyn, although I certainly didn't finish any of his novels. Mid-twentieth century American fiction was still influential: Faulkner and Hemmingway, especially. I read a lot of Freud's case studies. I didn't read much political commentary, but others subscribed to The New Republic and everyone read the New York Times, although I cannot remember how regularly.
Five years later, I enrolled at Oxford for a doctorate and discovered that the University offered very few graduate seminars, no qualifying papers, and no exams. However, there were many intense graduate students, and we organized ourselves in informal seminars. Once again, I missed the benefits of a rigorous and demanding curriculum, but found that free time can be deeply educational if your fellow students push you.
Posted by peterlevine at October 12, 2004 03:18 PM
As I recall, you guys also spent an inordinate amount of time playing enormous war games, and fighting over who got to be Rommel...
Posted by: Jason Stanley at October 26, 2004 02:20 AM
Jason is completely right. To make matters worse, I lost 80% of those games. Jason was a younger brother, so I guess we didn't let him play. As a result, he read more than we did and is now a distinguished philosopher.
Posted by: Peter Levine at October 26, 2004 08:26 AM
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