Teacher With Visions Of Greater Things, Published: March 4, 1990 NYT

Mathias Freese has penned an eloquent plea for a grade school Kulturkampf in “Teachers Have No Chance to Give their Best” (Long Island Opinion, Jan 21), and one which I heartily endorse. I was one of Mr. Freese’s advanced 10th-grade English students five years ago, and I consider myself an antecedent to what he cites as a “general diminishment in students” over time.

While I disagree that my more vacuous classmates were specifically “victims of their affluence,” a derogation stemming perhaps from Mencken’s condemnation of “booboosie,” I view my erstwhile peers with as much despair as does Mr. Freese. Even of my advanced class I recall an epidemic of intellectuall leprosy, an apathy and ignorance that pervaded the classroom and visibly ate away atr Mr. Freese’s resolve to remain a modern-day Socrates. I am frankly surprised that he has lingered this long.

But the epidemic is not quarantined within our high school’s borders. It has spread among the young, infecting my current undergraduate home. Even at this ostensibly elite institution, students are generally little more than gaping drones. They are shambling mounds, detached from any culture larger than their portable headphones, unaffected by any intellectual current other than that which passes for the time as fashionable.

Those of us capable of becoming enriched by the college experience are classified as scholars and provided with free tuition, while our status is kept incognito by the university, which fears protest over its creation of an elite. Egalitarianism is the watchword of the administration, and mediocrity is cultivated among the students as if they are subjects of some microcosmic social experiment gone awry. The epidemic infects other universities as well. Truly, the admissions-office criteria too often ignore cerebral flabbiness, favoring geography, race, athletic ability, etc. Da Vinci could not gain acceptance to Princeton if he were a white, Jewish male from Long Island who was sadly maladroit at full-contact sports. Our instituition of higher learning, tragically, seem to desire the students whom Mr. Freese fulminates against.

High school anesthetization breeds readily lobotomized college students, while those of us who escaped grade school with our faculties intact either attempt to goad our fellow students out of their bovine lethargy, or withdraw into our own ranks and graduate with no sense of alma mater. All too often I have lapsed into the latter mode, as Mr. Freese contemplates between the lines of his sad portrait.

So i beg Mr. Freese to remain, to goad his students and to rile his colleagues. His column had no doubt caused great consternation among them, and I can only hope that it did not represent the eruption of vitriol which, years ago, he told me would preface his departure from the profession. For if he ends his career this way it will remembered not as a bang but a whimper, and will brand him for posterity as a gadly; a man gladly gotten rid of for the sake of the demos, because he dared to corrupt the youth with visions of great things.


Jason Levine is a former student of Mr. Freese and is currently a junior at an Eastern university.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *