Sometimes, not too many times, I find myself complaining that things have stopped moving forward and even begun moving backwards after the heady transformations of customs and attitudes that changed my life in the 1970’s.
And then I’m fortunate enough to have an experience that proves that at least in one way, the times are still a-changing.
Last week in Louisville, Kentucky I visited my former high school. In the 1950’s, and for decades before and some time afterwards, it was a small private all-white girls’ school, expensive for those days, where the only outsiders were the occasional daughter of divorce (she and her mother actually lived in an apartment in town, rather than in a house in the suburbs!) and the even rarer Jew.
We were educated to a high standard—the highest I have yet encountered—by devoted single women teachers of a certain age, who wore tweed suits and the kind of medium-heeled shoes that were called “walking shoes,” and who lived across the street from the school in an apartment building. We would see them crossing over there after school, talking together, intent on their preparations for classes next day and perhaps a modest glass of sherry.
Last week, I taught a two-hour class at this transformed, enlarged and now coeducational school to a group of about twelve juniors and seniors, ten girls and two boys. The girls were amazing: eye contact, expressive faces, absolute attention, and a focus on writing and finding their place in a new world—all of this was more than I expected to find there or anywhere else in the small privileged world of the U.S. upper class. One of the two boys, too, was outstanding, and it was interesting to note that he was the only one who followed up, sending me more of his work with a request for comments.
The quality of their writing was about what I expected; they are beginners, after all, strapped into class assignments, and probably not the great readers I was, or at least, not readers steeped in the 19th century novels that formed me.
But what remains with me is the quality of their attention. There was no shyness, mumbling, or distraction; these are the daughters and granddaughters of women who learned about our possibilities during the period that opened my eyes to the world. And these girls have benefited.
I have a feeling that at least for some of them, there will be no turning back.
For more on my visit, read “Words of Wisdom” on The Voice-Tribune website.