#15 Thus Political Science and School DazePosted: March 7, 2012
In 1964 it was time to apply to colleges. Or it would have been but there was only one I was expected to attend: the same one my brother had, Washington State University: WAZZU as it’s listed in Wikipedia. I had wanted to go to a small school in Connecticut. Partly because I knew a boy in the east who was going there, partly because I understood that I had no study habits and that small would be better, and partly because it was reasonably close to New York.
WSU is a fine school. It’s fine and it’s huge. Edward R. Murrow went to WSU. The school was all there was really, in the middle of wheat and hops fields, only seven miles from Idaho. John Candy sang the fight song in the movie Volunteers For our parents it was perfect because it was too far to go home on weekends. I didn’t want to go there. I didn’t want to go there. Of course I went there.
Tests proved my intelligence. You’ll have to take my word on that. But I never learned how to study. I have to say this again because it’s such a damned dilemma. I never learned how to study. I excelled in English or Art but Math and all Sciences were agonizing. I could not memorize what I didn’t understand. As my “Stupendously Stupid List” attests, I also didn’t know how to learn. I didn’t know how to learn to learn. I was smart enough in High School to get by.
One of the biggest things I wanted was to learn to fly. Without telling my parents I went to see the local Air Force recruiter. He leered enough at me to end that notion: That and the fact that I was near sighted. I wanted to travel. I never had the courage to mention The Peace Corps since I barely passed Spanish. I was seventeen and I needed a year. Who doesn’t?
Neither of our parents went to college. My mother’s parents had a great deal of money and by her account she was an A student, but then women didn’t generally go on for a degree. My father escaped a dreary childhood by running away to join the Navy at 15 or 16. For him, our educations were paramount. But actual careers were never discussed. It was partly the 60’s, girls were either teachers or nurses. I don’t know the details, only that my brother was expected to excel. There was never a discussion of what I would study. When we were little we met a man who filled Twinkies for a living. I guess we both knew we’d better go to college.
I had already had the cozy experience in high school where my father was a teacher and my brother and I were students. Now my father was going to rely on my brother to protect his little sister away at the big University. But my father didn’t know what I knew: that my brother hated me.
In spite of what I understood about my inability to learn, I took on a grandiose load. I had Chemistry in high school so I could ace it now. Ha! Suddenly they were teaching it in Kurdish.
I was in massive lecture halls for Philosophy and Psychology. The only classes in which I got A’s were English and believe it or not, Fencing. But my nemesis subject that first term was Political Science. There was no life plan but having been a politically active kid I had a sliver of a fantasy of being a diplomat: Thus, Political Science. But not for one mille-second did I belong, nor did I soak in the freedom or feel anything but out of place. I was fast sinking in an academic quicksand that you can not see. My roommate didn’t know I was sinking, the dorm adviser didn’t know I was lost. I had never once gone to see my assigned adviser who ran the radio broadcasting program. I didn’t understand why he was my advisor. Ironically just a few years later I drifted into that career.
Over winter break my family went skiing. I had an assignment for a paper on the World Bank. I don’t understand how the World Bank works today, so want to imagine what I knew then? I took library books on the trip. I don’t know if I had procrastinated, though that’s very likely. I sat in the ski lodge and managed to cobble together a paper by the time I returned to school. Creating a document wasn’t my problem, understanding the subject was.
Soon after returning to school I was summoned to the professor’s office. I was shaking but without expression. He was stern. He was particularly pompous on the rare occasions when he lectured, leaving most everything to teaching assistants. I had trouble looking directly at him that day. I didn’t know him. But I recall a reddish beard and tortoise shell glasses. This was the first time I had seen him within 40 yards.
He challenged my paper and said that I had lifted and reworded passages directly from a book which he named by title. Hell, he may have written the book. I mumbled a denial, but of course I had done it. My stupid stubborn lack of a confession sent him from stern to angry. He accused me of a slew of horrible things and screamed “plagiarism.” My real misdemeanor was a shortage of footnotes. He shamed me but my shame wasn’t as strong as my fear. I don’t remember if I cried and I don’t know what would have happened if I had admitted how completely overwhelmed I was. But I didn’t do that. For my double crime, I was dismissed from his presence like an insignificant wormlike repeat offender. And I never spoke of the incident to anyone.
And I never became a diplomat. Except in a way, decades later in The Russian Adventures.