Credits where credits are overdue
By Ed Goldman
California State University’s board of trustees is still gunning for me even though I got my bachelor’s degree from its Long Beach outpost in 1973. It’s suggesting that freshmen should have to take an additional math or science class to get admitted to one of its 23 campuses.
I always managed to avoid taking Chemistry, which had been an option. Even though Biology made me dissect three frogs I had no quarrel with over a five-year period, I think I might have found that preferable to enrolling in Chemistry and being required to recurrently dissect the universe.
What used to eat at me was how relentless the education sector seemed to be. In order to compete the eighth grade, I needed to take Biology (or Chemistry, but as we just learned, I ruled that out)—and not just for a semester but for the entire school year. At Long Beach City College, I wouldn’t receive my two-year associate of arts degree unless I completed three units of math or science. I once again opted for Biology, figuring the more often I took it, the more likely some of it, any of it would rub off on me.
In eighth grade, thanks to the miraculous concept of extra credit, I had actually managed to get an A in Biology. In 11th grade, that became a C+, again because of extra credit—though you could see a downward trend was developing. And sure enough, my day of reckoning arrived at Long Beach City College. I enrolled in a night course, thinking my powers of concentration might be enhanced by the inability to look around the room, or out the classroom lab’s window, to see people my own age frolicking, drinking soda and tossing Frisbees to golden retrievers that I believe were as required on campus as textbooks in those days. I was one of the younger students in my class since night courses were peopled mainly by grownups with real jobs during the day.
Unlike the extra-credit softies I’d had in the past, the community college Biology teacher arrived each evening and soon grew infuriated about something in the news. He was given to saying things like defining science fiction as “all fiction, no science.” He was ex-military and apparently didn’t believe his superiors when they told him that since he’d mustered out of the Air Force, he could now grow his hair more than a sixth of a pica long. (There are six picas in an inch. I know this not because I’ve been kidding you about being hopeless at math but because a “pica” used to be a standard journalism measurement. I’ll talk about what a “column inch” is—next, on Nova!)
When the Bio teacher met me I’m pretty sure he took an instant dislike. I had long hair, a beard and drove a small motorcycle. Midway through the semester, he almost ran me over with his Cadillac Eldorado as we both left the school parking lot one night after class. “Sorry, damn clutch stalled in second gear,” he said by way of explanation. His car was an automatic.
Once it became clear to him that the only thing I knew about Biology was how to spell it, I firmly believe he’d arrive at class each night pre-infuriated. I imagine I was, in his world view, one of “those damn dirty hippies” he’d ramble on about when explaining why the Aryan concept of not permitting just anyone to reproduce had some validity. “And I’m not remotely a Nazi,” he’d then say with a broad smile, expecting hearty chuckles from us. But he’d misread his audience: Some of those in the class had damn dirty hippies of their own at home who called them “Mom” and “Dad”(or sometimes, of course, regardless of gender, “Man”).
Final thought for today: If there’s a Heaven, as Actors Studio host James Lipton used to ask his guests, and I stand before those Pearly Gates, what do I want St. Peter to say to me? “Welcome, Ed! You can come in without taking three more units of Biology.”
Ed Goldman's column appears almost every Monday, Wednesday and Friday. A former daily columnist for the Sacramento Business Journal, as well as monthly columnist for Sacramento Magazine and Comstock’s Business Magazine, he’s the author of five books, two plays and one musical (so far).