I am working with a placement agency. (Yes, I have a job, but it cannot hurt to keep options open.) They required me to submit a .pdf of my college transcript. Looking at it carried me back to one of the most intense, and in retrospect, enjoyable periods of my life. (I love learning.)
My B+ in Nina Tumarkin’s 20th Century European History is the grade that I am most proud of in all my school years, at any level, including law school. “Nasty Nina,” as she was occasionally called behind her back, was tough — she once dismissed a class halfway through because someone fell asleep in the back of the room (and you either showed up on time or not at all) — and her grading reflected it. She was passionate about history, and had no patience for students who weren’t. Although it was couched in more academic language, one of her two finals questions could be condensed as “rewrite the Treaty of Versailles so it works.”
I cannot imagine for the life of me how I managed to pull an A- in Medieval Latin. I was taking it because I needed one last semester of Latin to fulfill my language requirement, and remember nothing about the course. The transcripts don’t indicate teachers — I may have taken it because it was taught by the super cute young Latin associate professor. Needless to say, I remember pretty much no Latin, or even what we studied in any of my Latin classes, except faintly the work of the comic playwright Plautus we read in Latin Comedy. And that is pretty much only because his Miles Gloriosus was the basis for Stephen Sondheim’s A Funny Thing Happened on the Way to the Forum. I was also in the Latin production of the Miles that the department put on: I was a (non-speaking) slave, a role I ended up with because a) my spoken Latin was execrable (I had chosen Latin because it had no language lab requirement, and it showed) and b) I kept erupting in giggles during my audition.
I had a perfect 4.0 in classes taken for a grade at MIT. Of course, that was only three classes, but still… Two of those classes were easy As: Politics, Media and the News pretty much required you to simply show up and listen; Evil and Decadence in Literature required you to show up and participate in class discussions.* Both of them required papers, but Wellesley students are taught to write well the first thing they get to school, so that was no problem. The last class, Logic and Political Argument, I worked my tail off, and surprised my professor by being good at the material even though I had never taken Calculus. (“But I thought all MIT students had to take Calculus to get in here!” “I’m a Wellesley student.” “Really? Wow.” **)
I did take a very good Contemporary Lit class at MIT (common reaction from most people: “but why on earth would you take a lit class at MIT?” Answer: I needed to be taking at least one class there to keep my job at the MIT Archives), but it was the hellish first semester of my senior year, so I took it pass/fail. My most vivid memory of the class was during the Faulkner unit: I had walking pneumonia, and was beginning to run a fever, and rode back to Wellesley on the bus as it was beginning to snow, shivering and muttering “I don’t hate the South!” while ripping up my copy of Absolom! Absolom! page by page until all I had left were a series of half inch strips held together by the glued spine of the book. It was an absolutely fitting response to the novel. You might be able tell that I’m not a Faulkner fan.
I took eight classes in History, my major. I took seven Women’s Studies classes (admittedly there was some overlap). I took five philosophy classes, four poli sci. Why, yes, I am a Humanities junkie, why do you ask?
I had a fondness for, shall we say, somewhat esoteric classes: the aforementioned Evil & Decadence in Literature; The Woman Question in Victorian England; Henry VIII: Wives and Policy; Feminism, Anti-feminism & Philosophy…
I’m not sure I remember a great deal from them, except how to read critically, and write well. Pretty good lessons, don’t you think?
*In what was, looking back at it, a very inappropriate discussion, the professor quizzed me about my sex life. Regarding a situation in one of the works we were studying (I don’t remember which one), he asked in class, “Do you have a boyfriend?” “Yes,” I answered. “Well, then, it is like when you are having sex with your boyfriend and you are thinking of someone else.” “I don’t so that.” “What do you mean, you don’t do that? Everyone does.” “I don’t.” The professor was quiet for a moment, and then he said softly, “I hope your young man realizes how lucky he is.” The same professor invited me to an end of the term party at his house where he hit on me and tried to get me drunk. I do not think the two incidents are unrelated.
**This whole knowing calculus = intelligence attitude was endemic among people at the Institute. One young man of my acquaintance informed me, gently and with pity, that Wellesley “girls” were simply not as smart as MIT students, because they were not required to know Calculus to get in. “Yes, but we’re required to be able to write a coherent English sentence,” I shot back. He shut up.