High School Heroes, Villains and a Speech to Remember

Abington High School 1970

The Abington High School graduation ceremony of 1970 was a tumultuous affair, marked by protests and conflict. (You can read about it in my book Some Way Outa Here.) It was an amazing day, summing up the triumphs and tragedies not just of high school, but of a generation that was entangled in battles far beyond the school’s doors.

At the 1970 graduation ceremony, rebellion was in the air. College students had been gunned down by soldiers, weeks earlier, and the Vietnam draft hung over the heads of graduating seniors.

One memorable speech by a remarkable educator, Allan Glatthorn, bears rehearing. We didn’t know it, but it was his farewell to the school.

Abington was then a 4000-student high school, split into two separately administered buildings. It was bigger than many colleges. Some students flourished in pockets of inspiration, while others became lost or disillusioned amid an assembly line education. There were some amazing teachers, some who were less stellar, and even an English teacher named Bill Gavin, who left the school to craft some of Richard Nixon and Spiro Agnew’s most divisive, hateful speeches.

Like any other school, Abington had teachers and administrators who inspired students, and others who earned their wholehearted contempt. Principal Dr. Glatthorn led Abington to public notice in the 1960s by developing an innovative independent study-based curriculum for the ninth and tenth grades. After that, his efforts to build a more progressive public high school were undermined by conservative administrators and school board, but he fought the good fight at Abington.

Here is his speech, in its entirety:

Address to Graduating Students and Guests , Dr. Allen A. Glatthorn,  June 14, 1970

I say goodbye to you, the class of 1970, with sadness—sadness because I shall miss the zest you brought to our school—and sadness because you enter a world torn by violence from both the left and the right.

For these are strange days, when men commit the vilest deeds for the noblest purposes.

They lie for the sake of truth, practice tyranny in the name of democracy, and wage war in the name of peace.

And the greatest danger in our society today is from all those who commit evil in the name of good.

While man can always find good reasons for the evil he does, the harmful act is no less painful because it was done for our supposed good.

So I call upon you today, not so much to dedicate yourselves to noble causes but instead to commit the good act.

Seek not to commit injustice in the name of justice, nor to repress dissent in the name of freedom. Neither commit violence for the sake of peace, nor hate in the name of love.

And reject the flamboyant gesture.

But choose instead the simple virtues that will surely draw us together—kindness, gentleness, tolerance, and love.

So go in peace, with love in your hearts.

A sick world waits for your healing touch.

His speech was delivered amidst flamboyant gestures – students, myself included, used the occasion to protest the war and the military draft that would soon claim the lives of some of our classmates. It was loud and briefly colorful, but Dr. Glatthorn provided a somber note.

Not long after our graduation, Dr. Glatthorn was forced out.

To his credit, he began work that led to the founding of an alternative high school. It featured a level of academic freedom and opportunity that was unknown at Abington. The school, Alternative East, fulfilled the vision of a group of students working through the Suburban Action Center in 1969-70. (More on this, too, in Some Way Outa Here.)

Dr. Glatthorn’s commencement address is still relevant today. There are still hypocrites and charlatans out there, and a demagogue who seeks to lead the country into the abyss. We would do well to keep Glatthorn’s words in mind.

* * *

I discovered a copy of Glatthorn’s speech after I finished my book about that year, Some Way Outa Here – too late to include. But The book recounts two memorable speeches by students that were also profoundly moving, and worth remembering.

I would be delighted to hear from others who remember that day.

Abington High School 1970

Discovering Goddard College and a Unique Building

Goddard College Design and Construction

The first time I saw the Goddard College Design Center building, I stopped in my tracks (the snow was a few inches deep) and stared. I was a high school senior, and I knew nothing about architecture – but this was design anarchy, a spirit I had never seen embodied in a building before. That was the moment I decided to go to school there.

The building itself wasn’t quite finished – it still looks not-quite-finished, but old, 46 years later – and I wandered through it greedily absorbing the eclectic woodwork and crazily inspired details. I found something written on the wall that changed my life – you can read about that in Some Way Outa Here…no spoilers here. Then I started asking questions.

The story unfolded in small bites…the students built the building…a local architect, John Mallery, was the inspired teacher who let students try pretty much anything…it was all about “learning by doing.” The last part closed the deal for me – if architects could learn by building things, isn’t that a great model for learning everything? My high school mind was, in the terminology of the times, blown.

I returned to Goddard the following fall, determined to learn all I could about political activism and social change. After all, the Vietnam war was still raging, and nothing seemed more important than learning about how to stop a war. Of course, it wasn’t that simple.

I focused on economics, democracy and radical change. The school was caldron of activism, oddly isolated from the world by the Vermont countryside. I found myself surrounded by radicals of every stripe, Weather Underground fugitives,  and earnest academics who believed that knowledge could change the world. Cult leader Steven Gaskin briefly brought a bus caravan of his followers onto campus. A year later, Bernie Sanders would volunteer to run for office at the Goddard library.

Music and drugs were everywhere. Especially music. Top bands would come to play at the behest of Fleetwood Mac founder Peter Green, a troubled soul who lived in the next dorm. Peter would sit around naked and play astonishing guitar licks; he showed me how to play his song “Black Magic Woman.” There were other lost souls in residence, too, like the couple known only as Man and Woman.

It was less “learn by doing” than “learn by total immersion,” more about culture – and counterculture – than politics and economics. I found myself missing the “real world.”

Even though Goddard was a tiny school – enrollment: 600 – it was sufficiently compartmentalized that I didn’t have much contact with the builders. The Design and Construction program was planning a new project, an even more ambitious building for the sculpture program, but I wasn’t paying attention.

After a semester, my friend Alex and I impulsively left for New Mexico, and found ourselves renovating a house in Santa Fe. Building a wall, installing a toilet – everything was learning by doing. I started thinking about Design and Construction again.  More on that later…

The Design Center building became a white elephant on campus, and served for years as a classroom, a meeting space, and music enclave. Years later, Phish would play there, during and after their student days. The building has survived, but needs some work. Like many of us, it’s a little run down, but still standing.

Goddard College Design and Construction

Three Things I Learned from My Mother

My mother was an accidental feminist. Here are three things she taught me, the best way, by example:

1. My mom, a single parent, worked two jobs so that I could go to a good school and have a near-normal life among my Ozzie and Harriet friends. Being divorced, she was an outcast, but a feisty one. She had to be tough and independent, not qualities that women were supposed to have in the 1960s. My friends were a little bit awed by her. I learned that a single mom scared the heck out of people…and that being a beautiful mom isn’t always pretty.

2. My mother wasn’t always happy as a suburban mom, struggling to balance the demands of her second husband, stepdaughter and a rebellious teenage son with her own desires to be creative and independent. When she tried to be superwoman, it didn’t always work – once she threw a party and was so exhausted that she passed out, face first, in her salad…like many parents of the time, she sometimes took refuge in drink. As a teenager, amid the turmoil I realized that, sadly, my mother wasn’t perfect, something we all figure out eventually. Somehow, her support meant even more once I understood this,  and I learned that it is possible to love someone in spite of their flaws.

3. After I left for college, my mom plunged into a new avocation spinning and weaving wool. Before long she was raising sheep and building a career as a fabric artist. I was amazed…my mother, the farmer and artist? Being a mother and a having a career isn’t easy, something that women still struggle with. She made a second career for herself in her late 50s, doing what she most wanted to do. As I pass that age, her lesson is more meaningful than ever.

We all learn from our mothers. I was lucky that mine was a good teacher.

You can read more about her and how our relationship changed in one dizzying year in Some Way Outa Here.

Elinor & Elaine, 2001

Photo: In 2001, my daughter Elinor and my mother explained her artwork at Elie’s school.

Bernie Isn’t Going Away

Bernie Sanders has sharp elbows. I know – I used to play basketball with him in Vermont. He’s a tough opponent who never, ever gives up.

Sharp elbows are even more useful in politics than in basketball, and Bernie has used them, gently, on Hillary Clinton. As it becomes clear that he will probably not be the nominee, he shows no signs of letting up. Don’t expect him to.

In Vermont in the 1970s, Bernie was a perennial candidate for state office – he ran for governor, the Senate and Congress before (barely) being elected mayor of Burlington. His persistence was remarkable, not just because he never gave up, but because his message was heartfelt and consistent: He was determined to change an economy and government that served the wealthy. He is still running on the same platform, and the events of the last thirty years have proven his critique to be pretty much right on target.

In the 1970s, Bernie Sanders’ name could have been the punchline in a Vermont joke: who will be running for president in 2016? Bernie…ha! Well, the joke’s on us.

I don’t think Bernie expected to win the presidency this year. But I also don’t think he expects to lose, even now. For Bernie, winning is about changing minds, about reframing the debate, about opening the door to the kind of change he believes in so strongly. Sometimes leaders don’t get to walk through the doors they open, but if we can build a more fair and democratic country in the next ten or twenty years, we’ll owe a debt of gratitude to Bernie Sanders’ persistence.

Bernie has already won. Now it’s up to all of us to push the door the rest of the way open, push Hillary Clinton through it, and demand real change.

Sharpen your elbows.

Bernie Sanders governor

Tin Soldiers and Trump’s Coming?

Kent State still reverberates today. On May 4, 1970, white middle class America realized what black America already knew: our army can be used against us.

Soon, a President Trump could have our armed forces, police and courts at his disposal. He has already shown an inclination to incite groups of Americans against each other.

In 1970, Nixon did not order troops onto campuses like Kent State – he didn’t have to. In the weeks preceding the shootings, he made a series of increasingly bellicose statements against antiwar protestors, equating dissent with treason and proclaiming that students should be in penitentiaries, not dormitories. He set the tone that made it acceptable for governors to mobilize troops, who then fired on students in Ohio and, lest we forget, the next week at Jackson State College in Mississippi.

When we hear threats to deport 11 million immigrants from America, it’s time to start paying attention. Threats like this lead down a slippery slope toward division and violence.

We’ve seen over and over that power without wisdom is a dangerous mix. Richard Nixon was a smart man with little wisdom, and his presidency nearly tore the country apart. But whatever you think of Donald Trump’s intelligence, it’s hard to imagine trusting him to take care of your dog, much less your country.

In the days following Kent State, construction workers armed with hammers attacked antiwar protesters. They were cheered on by Vice President Agnew and other officials in the Nixon administration.

Fortunately, they weren’t armed with guns. Guns were rare then. Now, millions of Americans own guns and carry them routinely. Imagine the harm that another fear-mongering president could incite by turning people against each other.

Listen again to the anguish in Neil Young’s CSNY song “Ohio.”

Listen to the pain in Bruce Springsteen’s “41 Shots.” You can get killed just for living in your American skin.

Listen to Billie Holliday’s “Strange Fruit.”

This is where divisive, racist politics lead.
May 4, 1970

Remembering Daniel Berrigan

Daniel Berrigan was an American hero of the highest order. He put himself in harm’s way to stop the war machine that was destroying Southeast Asia and a generation of young Americans.

I learned about Berrigan from a teenage Catholic girl on a bus to Washington DC in November 1969. Her older brother had recently been killed, hideously, in Vietnam, and she was searching for ways to stop the war. She told me that when she met Berrigan, she learned that talking, complaining and yelling wouldn’t accomplish anything, that only taking action, at whatever personal cost, would change things. That was the life Daniel Berrigan was living.

Whether it was torching draft records with napalm or hammering a nuclear warhead into uselessness, Berrigan was willing to go to prison or disappear underground. He never stopped working for peace.

When I was faced with registering for the draft in the spring of 1970, it was Daniel Berrigan who inspired my decision. It was one of the hardest decisions I ever made. (The full story is in Some Way Outa Here.)

Three weeks before my 18th birthday, as I was agonizing over the decision, Berrigan made headlines for disappearing before he was due to start a prison sentence. His courage inspired me.

When he dramatically reappeared two months later. Here’s how the Times reported it:

Berrigan was convicted with eight other Christian resisters for destroying Selective Service records snatched two years ago from Local Board 33 at Catonsville, Md. But he failed to surrender for imprisonment on April 9.
Berrigan went underground instead, promising to surface at a Cornell peace weekend entitled “America Is Hard to Find,” which had been arranged to celebrate his departure for prison.
Movement people and the FBI suspected this bizarre turn was just one last fading act of protest. They were wrong. The holdout showed at the appointed time, gave a brief exhortation to the crowd of 10,000 assembled in the Cornell gym, and then slipped away when the lights went out. Since that appearance, Berrigan has been hard to find.
– The New York Times, June 28, 1970

Berrigan quote