Dear Mr. Brontosaurus

Marc Edward DiPaolo (March 06, 2008)
Did you like dinosaurs as a kid? I sure did. I even wrote a letter to one...

As a college teacher, my mother taught at a city university which, after a large shakeup that included a merger and the institution of the revolutionary multicultural policy of open enrollment, became New York City Technical College. Looking back on her career now, it was very much shaped by the changing fortunes of the humanities majors from the sixties through the eighties. 

In the eyars immediately following the launch of Sputnik, things had been different.  Thanks to the Cold War, and fears that the Russians were getting an edge on the United States in terms of technology and the overall strength of the intelligentsia, the American government subsidized higher education to an amazing degree, and the humanities majors benefited from the initiative as well as the sciences.  My mother’s scholarship was probably a result of such monies. Unfortunately, by the time she finished graduate school, and began looking for a teaching career, the bottom fell out of English departments in higher education, especially in the City University and community colleges system. Open enrollment meant that colleges were made available to everyone, including those who had been cursed with dreadful grade school education, those who were new immigrants, and those who had gotten their GEDs. The democratization of college, and the end to elitism, were noble goals, but those, effectively, led to the watering-down of the literature curriculum at her college, and many others. The degree of remediation required to try to teach these legions of new students basic writing skills to enable them to survive life in even a two-year-college, let alone a four-year one, was considerable. There was little way colleges could expect students with little to no ability to read or write in English to be able to understand the works of Nathaniel Hawthorne or Herman Melville, so my mother only managed to teach “Bartleby the Scrivener” and “Young Goodman Brown” for the first couple of years of her career before she wound up teaching basic grammar and the four-paragraph essay to remedial writing students for the bulk of her career at New York City Technical College. I haven't talked to her much about it, but from where I was sitting, she appeared to like teaching the material, but found the grading tiresome in the extreme.  In fact, despite her short number of hours in the classroom, minimal committee work, and no scholarship expectations, she worked like a mule grading and regarding a dozen essay assignments granted to upwards of two-hundred students a semester. The commute from our family home in Staten Island to what she dubbed “glorious downtown Brooklyn” via the eternally traffic-jammed Brooklyn-Queens Expressway left her drained much of the time, and often horrified at the prospect of actually having to cook dinner and do housework every night after returning from work. 

(One would think that dad would have held up his end here, but he didn't, really.  He had too much fun hanging out with me when mom was at work.  Playing Stratego.  Going to the park to look for Preying Mantises.  Watching his favorite old Hammer horror movies on our brand new, cutting-edge-technology VCR.  It was fun.  But not for mom.)





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