So I continued my pursuit of looking good, asking to go to a prep school, and then to Harvard, because both promised superior educations and I might become better by going there. But both schools worshipped the intellect and well all learned how to look smarter than the other. Cynicism was thought to be more intelligent than appreciation or gratitude, and inside it felt like an emotional desert, with the only thing to hold onto being my idealism, my intellect, and my trying hard to be good. The same story or should I say “game” continued until the pressure would get too much for me, and I would collapse into high anxiety and depression that I wasn’t able to live up to my ever higher expectations of myself. All of this was going on during every test, sometimes so anxious that I could not focus enough to read the assignments, which lead me to a mental certainty that I would flunk out of Harvard, be a failure before all, and my life would be lost and my life virtually over.
Strangely whenever got to the point of actually losing the success game, I found myself in a somewhat liberated place. I would realize I was still alive, and when I looked at people, I looked neither up nor down on them. When I saw the beggar selling pencils from his hat on the sidewalk, I saw an equal and regarded him without guilt or shame. This was very curious. I even talked to a total stranger sitting next to me while I ordered a root beer float for the first time, and then ate with students in the dining hall that I had never spoken to. I was alive, things were still happening, and I felt no pressure to be anything special. On the other hand I had no idea what was going to happen when I flunked out, what would I do. But the uncertainty didn’t bother me at all. Not knowing was ok, I felt ok inside, and rather interested in everything that was happening around me.
The game had been lost and everything was somehow ok. But when it came time to return to the normalcy of my room and my roommates who held me according to my constructed image, and when the exam for which I hadn’t been able to do the reading approached, “the game” was still there, but not so intensely, and when I got a C in Professor Kissinger’s class and didn’t flunk out, life continued and though there was a feeling of never being enough, I changed my academic strategy to taking only those courses and reading only those books that really interested me for the first few months of the semester and then spent the last doing those things that would ensure good grades. This worked out for me behind my expectations, graduated with honors, took a job teaching English at Exeter Academy, as the youngest on the faculty, but had the chance to experiment with my own approach to helping students learn, though it seemed every one within the first three weeks had divided themselves into the geniuses, the average students, and the dummies. (this in face of the fact that they all had to have nearly straights As to get into the prestigious school) I remember counseling one of my advisees who was having serve trouble in Latin, and he turned around so quickly that the students were angry at him for changing his role, and the very esteemed and traditional Latin teacher wrote me a note accusing my advisee of cheating. When I asked how did he know, he simply said, “He’s simply not as smart as his answers and tests are saying he is.
It began to dawn on me the power of image, how it was competed for, and all that lay beneath it. I realized that no one at the school, would ever say to another walking out onto the courtyard on a bright spring day, anything like, “Wow it certainly is a beautiful day today.” I would have be money on it, because all students would know if they had said that the retort would have been something to the effect of, “Well that was certainly a clever observation. What else do you have to say.” This game of who’s the smartest of them all, seemed very familiar and was played by the same rules at Harvard where the majority of the highly ranked Exter student were accepted, and no doubt continued to play the game until something like reality intruded to tell them, this kind of smartness, may not be so smart, there must be more to life that this. That reality hit me when I was drafted into the army, then applied for offer candidate school, which followed very different rules. I was in charge of the first quarter of a 1,000 foot cruiser, but knew less than most of the sailors I commanded, only be befriending the senior sailor, who really ran the show and told me how and when to uphold the pretense of my single ensign stripe on my shoulder.
The closest I got to changing the world was to become training officer and volunteered to head up the “People to People program” whose goal was to do what it could to demonstrate to all the countries we visited that Americans and Democracy were the good guys. I got off the ship and the Navy finally in 1965 and helped a group of idealists found a new liberal arts college based on the motto learn to learn, learn to live, learn to lead. The words were very good, but the there was a big gap in the reality, and the college failed for financial reasons, after four years, and uncertainty again was at my door. I decided I was an educator, and received a government grant to attend a graduate program called, “Change in Higher Education at Claremont graduate school.