I’m almost certain that I witnessed the seeds of teacher-training wokism yea these four decades ago when I was wrapping up the class hours necessary for a degree in English, an age before it became screamingly obvious that a BA in English didn’t guarantee that the recipient of it was conversant with proper grammar, spelling, the literary output of the greats from Chaucer to Wilde, or blessed with the ability (even if only acquired through imitation) to write in a clear and pleasing style.
With my usual efficiency and persistence, I had managed to complete every single required class for that golden degree by three and a half years into the enterprise, leaving me with just a requirement for so many class credits subject unspecified for my final semester toiling in the groves of academy as they presented at Cal State University Northridge. (A state uni with practically no notable characteristics or reputation then, or now. It was your standard state university, providing in a workmanlike fashion, higher education to a mixed bag of students – freshly minted high-school alums, foreign students, working adults and returning senior citizens.)
So, I looked at the catalog offerings for the spring of 1976 and decided that I would indulge myself intellectually and just sign up for any elective that looked interesting in the catalog. This put me in a class in Roman Art & Architecture, and another in Japanese Art &Architecture, both of which proved to be totally fascinating, challenging, and eventually useful – the Japanese one, especially, as it turned out to be a graduate-level one aimed at art majors, and did I have to seriously hit the books in order to pass! The Roman A&A final included a final exam involving drawing an accurate map of classical Rome from memory, naming the seven hills, including the lines of major avenues and aqueducts, and marking the location of about twenty major landmarks. This turned out to be useful when I passed through Rome as a tourist in 1985 …
It was the third ‘what the heck that sounds interesting’ elective which was the class that I found memorable and for not a good reason. I began to hate it, root and branch, topic and professor … a smug and smarmy male who reminds me in memory of the irritating Arnold Rimmer from Red Dwarf. The subject of the class was “Children’s Literature” and upon reading it in the catalog, I thought – hey, interesting subject, a study of classic kid-lit from the early days, a survey of the bigs in kid-lit; a little Frances Hodgson Burnett, some of this and that … what made writing and reading for the underage set appealing over the decades …
I had been raised on classic kid-lit. Mom was rigorous in that respect. I had all of them, either read to us, or on the shelves to read for ourselves. Everything: Child’s Garden of Verses, Little House on the Prairie and all in the series, Little Women and the sequels, Wind in the Willows, Peter Pan, the Secret Garden, Little Lord Fauntleroy, the Jungle Books, Winnie the Pooh and dozens more. I thought I would be in a class exploring what made those books and others such enchanting and enduring reads. What made them so special that they were still being read by and to children for decades or even centuries after having been written … and in that I was crushingly disappointed. More than that – outraged, although never sufficiently to rend the lector from limb to limb and encourage my fellow students to piss on the bloody remains. I did want that BA degree, you see. I already had plans, post-graduation.
As it turned out and which I should have noted before enrolling in it, the class was one of those required/elective for those aiming for a teaching credential in the state of California. And it was dire … I figured that out within the first couple of lectures. First, when the lector/professor figuratively urinated all over Child’s Garden of Verses, condemning it for being stupid bad poetry with an ump-de-ump rhyme. Yes, the poetry in Garden is fairly simple – Shakespearean sonnets it isn’t – and yet I (and others) can still recite verse after verse from memory. Then when the lecturer took a number-two dump on Wind in the Willows, picking out one chapter – The Piper At the Gates of Dawn – for an extra specially contemptuous sneering as saccharine, sentimental and trite. For myself, I had always loved Wind in the Willows, and believed that chapter to be charming, lyrical, and beautifully descriptive.
So, the lector/professor was an obnoxious philistine; I am certain there were skid-row bums and burned-out hippies with better literary judgement. Just to put the rancid frosting on this rancid cake of a course, he … umm … exposed the class to a bit of kid-lit that he thought was just the thing for your average middle-school reader. I have mercifully forgotten the title and author, although at this date I wouldn’t be surprised if it was a book that he had written. The hero and narrator was a teen boy whose family went from Nantucket Island in time for the 1893 Oklahoma land rush, set up a homestead there, and then by some misfortune that I don’t recall, the father died, they flaked out of the homestead claim, and the boy and his mother went all the way back to Nantucket – sadder and wiser, or so the narrative had it. A highlight of the book was the boy acquiring a girlfriend who had been a captive of the Indians (tribe unspecified, or at any rate, I don’t remember) and it was implied had been sexually initiated by the experience. She gave him a hand-job, described in a conversation between the two of them. Ugh.
That was the point when I decided that it was a darned good thing that I didn’t want to be a grade schoolteacher, if this kind of materiel was what one had make a show of lauding, while spurning the great body of enduring stories and poetry. I wonder how many other rational people made the same decision – and that’s why our schools are deeply mired in predatory wokeism. Comment as you wish. And no, I never wanted to teach school anyway, but if I had, I am certain this one class would have kicked any such desire out of me. I’ll just write good stories for kids, and read the good stuff to Wee Jamie.