Legacy of Flab
If there weren’t a recession we should think seriously about inventing one. To exorcise us out of the Flab which is our common legacy from the Age of Bloat begun by Andy Jackson’s mendacious fiddling with a barely formed egalitarian dialogue.
There is, indeed, no Free Lunch. But there is freeloading beyond belief. I will forebear expressing my deep personal disgust with whiplash lawyer, muddlepractice doctors, and star-crazed media pros.
I will concentrate on what I know best—from twenty-five years of teaching. Last spring I was—as the saying goes—radicalized by a poetry workshop I taught at Philadelphia’s minimum security prison.
I had written off in my mind the hyperbole about Attica and the contention that all prisoners were political prisoners. Until that first Tuesday in February, when, after being frisked for the first time in life, I entered the maelstrom of the least difficult prison in the Philadelphia area.
God help those who must work, let alone be incarcerated, in the less benign ones. The noise—a cacophony of competing transistors forcing the Orwellian P.A. system to fight decibels with decibels—traumatized me.
The “library” (a catwalk about the central foyer) seemed to be at the peak point of this noise. For the first time in my life, I shouted poems at this strangely hostile audience—prisoners always attend the first of anything new—to test whether it’s more boring than their cells.
Wednesday mornings I would try to shift gears to teach in the Green Cocoon of the uppermiddleclass woman’s college I have been Professor of English at for thirteen years.
The contrast freaked me out. My poetry workshop shook itself down to a cadre of five to ten whose writings were as nutritious as their experiences were scarifying to my innocent soul.
The Attica backtalk I was terrified to learn was understatement, not hyperbole.
The “ass and grass” rottenness of my “real” students became to me a crime crying to heaven for vengeance.
As a member of the Board of Directors of the Friends of the Free Library of Philadelphia, I saw how flabby super-Liberals in a cultural institution can be when a neanderthal like Frank Rizzo is Mayor. I resigned from the board when the library sat on its hands in publicism the library’s own arts festival in May, 1975—because, in my opinion, they were afraid the First Annual I. F. Stone Award, which I had organized to praise undergrad journalists in Izzy’s tradition, would embarrass them at budget time.
It was all the more galling to me when Stone himself talk with such fond joy about how he had completed his own education at that very institution when it had opened on the Parkway in 1925 while he was an undergraduate at the University of Pennsylvania.
And so here I am in California, fleeing the absurdities of Minute Man Bicentennial in Philadelphia. Teaching media in a junior college. SrJC has better technical access to meda study than any other institution I have ever seen, including CBC and BBC related activities.
And the library staff is enthusiastically obliging. The departments I’m working with are staffed with exceedingly capable people who give the lie to the most disgraceful snobbery of all in “class-free” America, status panic over where one went to school, over where one teaches.
An Eden of an opportunity? Only potentially. Because in this land of the educational Free Lunch, the students are not only flagrantly wasting their chances to be well-educated, but they are cynically fiddling the system. Students who never showed after the first day of class—to get on the ADA rolls—appear on Drop Day to drop—I’m told, so they can repeat the fiddle for Vet’s benefits next semester—and the next—and the next.
I’m told there is a whole subculture of welfare louts who use school as a con to get more stuff at the public trough. This is knavery and can be brought before the law.
Part three of four