Learning Between the Lines
Lawrence A. Wittenberg
When I got the announcement of our 50th Glenbard Class of '58 Reunion, I felt dispirited and, at first, tempted not to go. Later, we watched the movie "Dick Tracy" (1990) on the cable TV. His 2-way wrist radio caught my eye as I realized that it was science fiction in '58. Wow! This technological dream was obsolete in under two generations and is now surpassed even by my camera-phone . With all its multi-media features, it reminded me how I've develop since graduation and the role our reunions played in that development. So now I'm going attend and celebrate that developement.
I really enjoyed our 10th reunion and left in really good spirits. Such good spirits in fact, that the experience marked the commencement of my resolve to "quit drinking some day," which I accomplished six years later. With that behind me, I thought that our 25th reunion would be more fun than a brand-new puppy.
When I attended the next reunion, it reminded me that puppies don't come house broken. The tour of our school awakened memories of what an indifferent and passively rebellious student I was. I had always hated school, so my attendance at Glenbard was exactly that: Attendance. Participation, study, and assignments were repugnant to me. I wished my grades had been recorded in disappearing ink. Then came a twinge of guilt over the memories of some frustrated teachers.
After the dinner, some of my classmates shared some experiences from Glenbard. One of my classmates shared his gratitude for the quality of education that he received, and I began realizing how nicely I was getting along without a college degree. So perhaps I should be even more grateful: Not just for my education, but because the faculty apparently suffered no casualties over my attendance. Accordingly, I resolved that I owe not just the Glenbard faculty, but the teaching profession, a debt of gratitude.
In retrospect, it took 25 years to realize what a great adventure I had embarked upon. Because at some point, those teachers had finally lit my fire about learning. Moreover, it mattered not whether I passed or failed a course, or how badly I disappointed a teacher, considering that I still learned more than I ever imagined. The truly valuable knowledge wasn't all that academic. Let me illustrate some little things that greatly affected my life.
The theme of the 1958 Pinnacle, Glenbard's yearbook, was "Learning," with interjections by faculty members: At the time, I found these shallow, but now the reverse was true. As the years flashed by, I discovered another: Learning by Forgetting. That is, to set aside obsolete or irrelevant information, experiences, and concepts, to make room for today's needs. Also, that a willingness to rethink time-honored traditions and intellectual assumptions is prerequisite to creativity. This willingness abounds with receptivity to new ideas and renders making room for them, literally the adventure of a lifetime.
Some teachers taught with a theme. In her American History course, Edith Sinden stressed the importance of the "saving face" philosophy of other cultures. She repeatedly illustrated how disregard for the dignity of other countries has affected American history. With great surprise, I came to see how deeply this philosophy is ingrained in our own culture. I have seen huge companies wage extensive court battles, rather than admit to a mistake. Even we Americans have become more inclined to defend our actions, rather than to correct a problem. If only we could remember, that all progress is simply a series of mistakes and corrections. By using diplomacy, and allowing my adversaries to maintain their self-esteem, I have stayed out of court and avoided countless business disasters. I learned a lot from Miss Sinden, though I had to repeat her course.
Eugene DeClark tried to teach me Geometry. He and his colleagues did such a good job that they had a math club. Math for fun? This was incredible to me, a pupil whose favorite subjects were lunch and weekend.I think I frustrated Mr. DeClark more than the others. Because he once directed a lecture to those of us in the back row who "just sit there and do nothing." As usual, I was seated alphabetically as a "W" in the back row. As I looked around, I was bemused that I was only one "doing nothing." Today I wonder if my name began with an "A," would my grade have been a neighbor to the alphabet's first letter?
I forgot Mr. DeClark until some twenty plus years later, when I was struggling to lay out an unusual sheet metal fitting. Though I had flunked, he had a love and enthusiasm for his subject that I couldn't miss, and I had been listening. The Pythagorean Theorem came back so clearly I could almost hear him lecturing. There was a calculator on the work bench that did square roots. So within a minute I had my solution, and suddenly found myself enjoying math, because now I could literally get my hands dirty with it.
George Haas belabored that we could get professional drafting jobs with what we learned in his high school drafting course. He could say this, because he didn't just teach drafting, he taught productivity. I've done some drafting in my career, but that is the least of what he taught me. Once I couldn't figure out how to illustrate an odd-shaped object. I asked him where I should begin. He replied with a question: "Where do you think?" I answered with a really dumb question: "Lay out the dimensions?" Exasperated, he replied: "Fine! So let's say you're going to build a house. What are you going to do first, paint it?" As he was turning to walk away, he concluded, "Draw it!" This taught me not to stew over a project, but to deal with it as a logical series of steps, one decision at a time. Later I realized that our lives are also a series of decisions.
At the time, I found these shallow, but now the reverse was true. As the years flashed by, I discovered another: Learning by Forgetting. That is, to set aside obsolete or irrelevant information, experiences, and concepts, to make room for today's needs. Also, that a willingness to rethink time-honored traditions and intellectual assumptions is prerequisite to creativity. This willingness abounds with receptivity to new ideas and renders making room for them, literally the adventure of a lifetime.
Another time I asked him which of several ways an object should be dimensioned. He drove home another lesson: As he about faced and walked away, he simply stated, "Whichever way is clearest." This lesson slowly snowballed through the years. Like writing, accounting, and speaking, drafting is another medium to communicate.My business improved as I applied this principle to those mediums. It's a challenging art to express oneself clearly, and I'm still learning it.
Whenever I quoted a price for a job with uncontrollable aspects, I was grateful for what he said about freehand drawing. Regarding measurements he said, "Never guess, always estimate." I called these quotations guesstimates, but that statement has kept me out of a lot of trouble with them.
Mr. Galbreath never promised a career from his physics course. But its basic coverage of mechanical refrigeration opened the door to a career that I never expected. The ability to merely talk intelligently on the subject was the key to this opportunity. A little basic knowledge from another course that I failed, came to change the entire course of my life.
I'll never forget Henry J. Firley. I took an extra English course, because I needed it most, and he helped me in that area. Grammar and spelling continue to trouble me, but not as much. However, his course had a real bonus, far greater than academics. He was a kind, patient, gentle person, whose sincerity the whole class felt. He handled discipline issues without ever writing a detention. Because, speaking for myself, we didn't want to disappoint him.
From others I began learning to think and to reason. From Mr. Firley I began learning to feel, to appreciate that the world about us, isn't as concrete as it appears. His old class room is now the Alumni Room at Glenbard. My visit during our 25th reunion, stirred an appreciation of being able to communicate an abstract meaning with a literal word. Twenty-five years later, this man restored to me the magic and adventure of language that I missed as a child. And I began writing.
He loved poetry and even published a book of them, "Onward Yankee Eagle." (1944) I on the other hand, found it useless. Yet, because of him, I came to see its value. A few paragraphs of verse can convey a mood or feeling that would challenge pages of essay form. Great liberties can be taken with grammar, and history becomes subjective. To this day, I rarely read poetry, but I now write it.
Fred L. Biester was our principal back in '58. He was like a one man evangelical movement the way he advocated the importance of at least a high school education. Without him, I wonder if I could have endured the indignity of attending a fifth year in order to graduate. I'll never forget the pride he took in Glenbard. Not as an organization, but as people, especially his pride in us, the students.
As with many young people, rebellion was a passive but very real problem for me. "Here a little, there a little," faculty, friends, and family, planted the seeds of logic and reason into my thinking. As I approached graduation, I began to channel that rebellion, to rebel against myself, instead of those who would help me. There's an age-old argument of whether environment or heredity has the greater influence on human behavior. Since leaving Glenbard, I have redefined that issue: "Are we a product of internal and external forces?" Or, "Have we a choice?" I've found that we do have a choice. At any time we can seize control of our lives and overcome our shortcomings, instead of floundering in human frailty. My high school experience was like a watering that enabled seeds of personal development to sprout.
Our 25th reunion jolted me, with the realization that my life is richer because of the quality of teaching at Glenbard. The laws of physics haven't changed; the principles of mathematics have never let me down; the language is still English, though I still haven't found my peace with it. Nevertheless, I learned as much as anyone, even if my records don't reflect it. It was the lectures and discussions, the questions and answers, the controversies and interactions that brought the textbooks to life. What I learned from them was because of the teachers, the books by themselves would have been useless. Teachers needn't feel discouraged with indifferent pupils. They will learn whether they want to or not. Countless times, when struggling with a problem, I have recalled answers from classes that I had completly forgotten, things I never knew I had learned.
When I entered Glenbard, I couldn't wait to leave, When I graduated, I still disliked school, but I was becoming proud of Glenbard. My time there quickly ended, but not the learning. The only change is that my world has become a class room.
© L.A. Wittenberg, 01/05/07
Halls of Ivy, Halls a Lively
by Lawrence A. Wittenberg
My years at Glenbard were littered with full water glasses upside down on the cafeteria tables; water fountains squirting people in the face; tissue paper rolling down the hill from upper windows; and students walking down the halls with notes like "kick me" stuck to their backs. And some of that would've been me.
Snapdragons, those little darts that explode when thrown on a sidewalk, were not yet invented. But a cap gun cap under a BB and wrapped in a twisted cellophane candy wrapper, also made a good loud bang. They worked even better when thrown against a blackboard while the teacher was writing on it. For a time, the halls reverberated with them. And yes, some of that would've been me.
Our years at Glenbard were during the transition to ball point pens, which weren't yet allowed. Instead, fountain pens stained our pockets with ink provided by ink bottles on the teacher's desks. In the spring of ‘58, large ink stains also began appearing on the sidewalks beneath upper floor classrooms. Students in those rooms would later do U_turns at the desk, finding no ink bottle due to another episode of the "Great Pen Protest." And yes, some of that would've been me.
The spring of ‘56 became slightly livelier when the 17 year locusts (cicadas) emerged. Even indoors, they jumped from unexpected places, like desk drawers or closed boxes. And yes, some of that would’ve been me.
An underclassman once squirted water on some of us during study period, which spoiled our work. So the next day I brought a squirt gun to school. And that problem disappeared until the next time I went to the office. Mr. Miller, the assistant principal, spotted me and asked, "What's this I hear about you and a squirt gun filled with perfume?" I got off with just a warning after I respectfully admitted, "Yes, that would've been me,"
One Monday morning after a dance, a section of lockers from the 1st floor had been exchanged with the corresponding lockers on the 4th floor. And the service counter in the office became busy with students complaining that they couldn't open their locks. And maybe some of that could've been me, but it wasn't.
When Maintenance removed the fire hose from its cabinet in the boy’s locker room, the holes exposed the girl's locker room on the other side. Right out of the movie "Porky's," a bunch of guys huddled around it, jockeying for a turn to peek. Then some stool pigeon, whose sister was also taking gym, blew the whistle, and the holes were filled. And No! It’s the whistle blower that would've been me.
One of the Science teachers told from years earlier, about the uses some students found for a vial of hydrogen sulfide, which releases "rotten egg" gas, One such release from behind an air grill was discovered during maintenance, after the cocktail evaporated. But the vial behind some books was regularly replenished,, rendering one corner of the library unusable for many months. And No! Better strategic releases during our years never occurred, because I never took chemistry.
By the time I entered Glenbard, I no longer kept garter snakes or pigeons. So everyone was also spared strategic releases of birds and snakes, except for a little incident with a sparrow.
© L.A. Wittenberg, 01/24/08
Pat and Frank went to Glenbard High School 1954-1958. We graduated in 1958 but never had a class together. We met on our senior class trip on the bus between Annapolis and New York. Our first date was at Madison Square Garden where we went skating. We went to theProm and dated off & on for several years.
Pat went to work at the State Bank of Lombard as an auditor ( after taking banking courses ). Pat & Frank were engaged in 1962, married in 1963. David was born in 1965 followed by Christy in 1970. Pat was a stay at home mom until Frank started his own business and she worked as Secretary, shipper, accountant until she retired in 2001.
Frank went into the Army in 1958 and became a Radio Repairman. He was sent to Germany and had an Aircraft Repair shop where he repaired aircraft radios. The Berlin wall went up in 1961 a few months before his end of tour. When he returned he got a job at the Naval Ordnance Plant in Forest Park as an Electronic Inspector. He tested Torpedo’s before they were shipped to the Navy. The Navy Plant was closed so he got a job with a New York
Company as a serviceman repairing and installing radio frequency sealing machines. After 7 years he started his own company, Dielectric Sealing Service. The company did well and he retired in 2000 having passed the company on to his son David.
We now have 4 grand children, Jacob 12, Daniel 11, Rachel 10 & Johnny 9. Everyone lives in Villa Park which is very nice. We volunteer for many things. Pat has been active in the Community Woman’s Club for over 30 years and currently Treasurer. She is active in the Villa Park Historical Society and currently its Secretary plus writes the newsletter. Frank has been a member of the Chicago & North Western Historical Society since 1979 and work
in the achieves every Tuesday. He has his own train layout at his office building that is a model of the C&NW. He joined the Villa Park Historical Society in 1987 and is currently the Vice President.
We like to travel a lot. We have been to Europe many times and many train trips but Cruises are our favorite. Pat is into gardening and has a large flower garden.
After graduating from Northwestern University with a major in Biology, I married David Albritton, my husband of 46 years. We moved to Los Angeles where he started medical school and I started working at the Brain Research Institute at UCLA as a research lab tech.1968 proved to be an exciting year for us. Our first son, Jim, was born, Dave was called into the Navy as a base surgeon and we moved to Kodiak Alaska for two years. We moved back to Los Angeles where Dave completed his surgical residency. Another son, David, and a daughter Vicky were born at this time. We moved to beautiful Santa Cruz in 1974 where Dave joined a medical group in the town. All of our children are married and we have one granddaughter, Avery. Jim is in the electronics sector in the San Francisco bay area, Dave is a radiologist living in Elmhurst, Illinois, and Vicky is a PhD lecturing and writing at the University of
Chicago where her husband is a professor of British history. My life has been centered around my family with hobbies of gardening, orchid growing, much traveling, and being a docent at one of our beaches in the area. We were avid backpackers, skiers and fishermen but lately have had to leave that to the younger set. I am not with you all at the reunion because of previous travel plans to Russia but I can tell you that I wish I were there to see all of you and give you a big hug. My days at Glenbard were memorable and have been a huge influence in my life. With fond
regards to all.