More About Brooklyn College

Besides Vera Lachman I had several other teachers at Brooklyn who became very dear to me, not only because of what they taught, but by what they seemed to find in me.  Without wanting to sound too modest, some thought more of me than I thought of myself.  It was very flattering.

Brooklyn College at the time had a writing requirement.  You had to take a year of writing classes.  These were not creative writing classes, but they emphasized correctness of expression and all the little niceties which made writing a creative process, in and of itself.  In S.T. Coleridge’s phrase we were taught to put, “words in the right order.”  The first of the teachers to try to teach me that was a Professor Barker who had just published a biography of Proust.  Very impressed by this, I bought the book and read it, and when I was done with it I asked Professor Barker to autograph it for me.  He did so, after writing on the fly page, ”Not that you’ll ever read it, but thank you for buying it.  It is very flattering.”  So, not all teachers thought I was all that hot.

Professor Roberts was another story.  He was an older man, who wore tweed jackets, bow ties, and never went anywhere without his Harvard “green bag.”  I don’t know whether current students still carry that old bag, but at the time it was “de rigueur,” for all Harvard students and graduates.  I felt a little sorry for him as he seemed to be a bit too old and too stooped to be teaching or to still be carrying that green bag.  As mentioned, he taught a writing course, but the only assigned readings were Tolstoy’s “Anna Karenina” and Dostoyevsky’s, “The Brothers Karamazov.”  Having a somewhat questioning nature, I asked him privately why two Russian novels if this was an English course?  His answer was the simple, “Because they’re the best.”  Later in the semester, after we had gotten to know each other better, he flattered me by asking me why I wasn’t at Harvard.  Had he seen my high school grade point average or my bank balance he would have understood.  He surprised me at the end of the semester by giving me the only “A” he gave out that semester, and one of the few I earned in my college career.  No grade inflation in those days.

The Classical Lounge, supposedly a place for study, in reality the hangout for the chess players, was once again the place I spent more time than I should have.  However, I also met several other students there who were uninterested in chess, who became good friends, and were absolutely charming and brilliant.  One of them is still writing brilliant books today.  Another had his Ph.D. in math when he was 21, and then declined into madness and death.  Actually, both Brooklyn College and City College were remarkable places in those days, distinguished by their faculties and by their students, who went on to make valuable contributions to American life.  I read somewhere that the college that graduated the largest number of CEO’s in the country in those days was City College.  Brooklyn College, opened in 1930, at the depth of the Great Depression, was 8th in the country in the number of its graduates who went on for doctorates.  And of course, it was all absolutely free.  Eat that Republicans!


About AlexLevy

Dr. Alex Levy is a retired English teacher who survived World War II and the "Final Solution" by hiding in a Catholic orphanage for girls in Belgium for several years.
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6 Responses to More About Brooklyn College

  1. Rick Jones says:

    Nothing is free. Taxpayers funded it. Most of the taxpayers’s children had neither the grades nor the ability to pass the exam to be accepted in to that school at that time. Thus you had a transfer of funds from a lot of working class people to the families of college educated of modest means. In your case to someone who has a high IQ and was from a modest background at the time.

    I went to a city college as well in the early 1970s before transferring to the University of California. The fee structure was similiar to what you paid at Brooklyn College. The difference was that it had open enrollment so that the children of the taxpayers who had funded the school would have a shot at a colleage education. Those that could make the grade could then go on to better universities.

    If you want to create an elite university and publicly fund it you can get very good results. But do not kid yourself. Somebody has to pay for it.

  2. AlexLevy says:

    Taxes are supposed to go to the general welfare, and these went there. The high achieving kids who went to the city colleges (City, Brooklyn, Hunter [for women], and Queens) were not the children of college educated parents. They were the children of the working class. They were an elite of brains and working class virtues. I was just lucky.

    As a footnote, the kids of the college educated of limited means, went to the Ivies, which had been closed to them (yes, they were mostly Jews), but the flood of highly qualified Jewish applicants from New York City made the Ivies rethink their admission criteria.


  3. amy smith says:

    Alex – If I could go back in time and teach at the Brooklyn College you’re writing about, I would still be in academia. Seriously.

    I’m so glad you’re writing this and I, for one, advocate longer posts. Your stories and writing are a pleasure in my morning routine (I’m a day behind obviously).

  4. AlexLevy says:

    Amy, I might be making this a bit dreamier than it really was. There were also the Education Department courses, a subject in which many majored. The rumor was that it was impossible to fail a course in that department, and I tested it. I took eight credits of education courses (just in case. . .) which was all that was required to be qualified to sit for the licensing exam. One of those courses I did absolutely nothing but show up. And I still got a passing grade!
    I’m happy you’re enjoying these little posts (even if you are a day behind ;-)), but I can’t make them longer. Blogs are supposed to be short entries, and I’m exceeding the recommended number of words by over 300 a day! Also, quite frankly, it is somewhat difficult to come up with this material every day. I’m simply not all that creative.
    I think academia lost a great teacher when you gave up on it, but it has changed so much that you would have been unhappy there.

    • amy smith says:


      Thanks for the compliment about teaching. I think I should have taught high school, but unless I could do something like Helen Aslanides’ Seminar Program, I would likely have been unhappy with that too. That experience set my expectations quite high for the value of teaching at any level. Ah well. For now, disability is my sad gig.

      I too am blogging and regularly exceed the recommended word limit. I just have a lot to say, but I definitely do not blog on a daily basis. I have to be moved to do it. So, I can’t really complain about the length of your posts. I just enjoy them a lot. Love, Amy

  5. AlexLevy says:

    I’ve taught 7th Grade through college, and the most fun is high school. I think that you would have enjoyed it also, without being a Helen Aslanides. You would have been you, and that would have been fine. While I liked Helen, and appreciated what she did for you and Melissa, I really felt she didn’t challenge you enough. I was much tougher in what I demanded from my students, and they loved rising to the challenge. Since the school was predominantly Latino, they called me El Exijente. I think that meant “The Demanding One.” You have no idea of how much work it is to squeeze work out of sometimes reluctant students without being a disciplinarian.
    Is your disability a permanent one, or can you look forward to getting better and doing some of the stuff I know you capable of? How do I get to your blog, or is it a private venture?
    Haven’t seen you in a long time, and miss you.

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