Monday, July 28, 2008

An Excerpt from Principal Without a Diploma

My dad was a twenty four year old freshman at Oswego State Teachers College, New York, in 1953. Here's a story from his first weeks there:

(From Chapter Sixteen of Principal Without a Diploma.

Though taking a remedial English course was humbling, I knew that I needed it. I was determined to learn as fast as I could and in fact doubled up on English. The problem as I saw it is that Dr. Palmer's course was all about literature but what I needed was a real understanding of spelling, writing, and grammar. Be it as it may I was off and I would succeed no matter what I thought. My other courses were Math, History, Chemistry, and Metal Shop. I had less trouble with those classes.

In our History class we were assigned to read an article in a book in the library. I went over to the library, which was in the main building.. But when I got inside, I had no idea of what to do , so I went up to a clerk and told her what I had been assigned.

This woman was not in any way ready to help anyone look up a book.

She said to me, " Well look it up in the card catalog."

I had no idea what she meant.

“What’s a card catalog ?” I asked.

"You don't know what a card catalog is?” she asked, her voice dripping with sarcasm.

I had spent the last three years jumping out of airplanes for the Army and driving a beer truck. I wasn’t about to take any lip from a bookish librarian.

"No I do not." I said forcefully.

"Well how did you get into this college ? After all, the least we expect of new students is that they know how to use a library."

This attitude on her part ticked me off and I was not about to let a clerk push me around. So I let her have it.

"Look lady it’s your job to help me. I've never been to high school and this is the first assignment I ever had in a library. You are paid by the taxpayers to help people like me.”

“I just got my GED in the Army and I have been admitted to this college and I am not subordinate to you or anyone else here so you decide this, for me, will you ?”

“Are you going to help me find that book or do I have to go to your boss and report what a sarcastic person you are ?"

I was angry, and I delivered this verbal blast loud and clear. People in the library were looking at us as I said it.

As I spoke, I could see that my message was reaching her. I saw her expression change from one of condescension to one of helpfulness. Her face turned red, and her voice wavered a bit as she responded.

"I am very sorry I did not mean to offend you. I am just surprised that you do not know how to use a library".

She seemed genuinely sorry, even embarrassed that she had not understood my true circumstances.

"I am sorry. I was wrong and I will help you right now with the card catalog."
And she was true to her word. She helped me find that book and spent a little time showing me how to use the card catalog.

When we were finished, she repeated how sorry she was and said "Anytime you come to this Library If I am here I will help you."

I simply said "Thanks."

From that time on she was quick to help me in anyway she could and in fact we became friends.

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