Recently I received a letter from the present headmaster of a school I went to informing me about remodelling plans for what in 1949 used to be a large bleak
Study Hall where all the students used to sit for one hour before chapel and for
more or less two hours after “dinner”. And where the school also met for about 20 minutes before classes began. We had assigned desks, and I remember mine and its location very clearly 63 years later.
The Headmaster’s letter began like this:
Dear Members of the St. Mark’s Community,
In mid-June, shortly after the completion of Spring Semester examinations and year-end faculty meetings, the most substantial overall renovation of the Main Building in more than a century commenced. Of particular significance to the tenor of the School, an upgrade began to the area that many generations of St. Markers experienced as the School Room and more recent generations experienced as the Forbes Center. Two levels of the renovated space will honor, in an appropriate 21st Century fashion, the intellectual tradition of the School Room.
To which I was moved to reply:
Dear John Warren,
Your phrase “the intellectual tradition of the School Room” has aroused me from my 81 year old slumbers in protest to your succumbing to the modern practice of hypocritical rant. St Mark’s, of all places, should teach directness of speech and clarity. By example. In the four years I spent at the school, ending in 1949, I never once heard it referred to as the School Room and what went on in their was NEVER intellectual, whatever its virtues and vices, except perhaps for the time that Vladamir Nabokov – Was it before Lolita? – told the assembly that he would not discuss Dostoevsky because he was not fit for their tender ears. That was before his son was kicked out for forcing an overgrown 2nd former to masturbate in public at the point of a knife.
I remember spending much time in that room waiting to get out and do something useful – as spontaneous deep concentration on anything worth thinking about was next to impossible in that yellowish light and the room’s sickening emotional atmosphere. With some of the more distorted masters creeping around trying to “catch” people not working.
There were different styles with which Masters would hand out hours of slate. (discipline hours). Maybe it was different by 1974.(When did the school go coed?)
At any rate one of the few virtues of the school was its directness. And that Mitt Romney didn’t go there. Though many of the students had similar blindess already. But somehow nothing made Romney grow out of it. So I am really upset that you have joined the compusory advertising and whitewash society. I understand the difficulties of the job, but somehow one can avoid the more virulent and plastic hypocrisies.
Let us remember Mark Twain, that model of American English.
Oh and perhaps some digital drawings of the remodelings might be helpful.