Blast from the Past…
by Retired Prof
I decided to drop out of Ambassador College sometime during my second semester there, but didn’t tell anybody. I intended to keep my grades up and finish the semester, hoping I might be able to transfer the credits to another school. Some credits, of course, would never transfer, including ones from the religion class taught by Rod Meredith. I kept attending it and smiling and nodding because I didn’t want to call attention to myself. Anyone who showed signs of a bad attitude would be counseled by a minister, and I wanted to avoid such a scene at all costs. But I didn’t do much else connected to the class, because it bored me and the grade no longer mattered. Figuring nobody would call me on the carpet merely for low grades, I quit studying the readings, so of course performed poorly on tests. I was running a risk here, because Meredith (as his nickname “Rod of Iron” implies) had high standards and enforced them sternly. If he did call me in for counseling, it was almost guaranteed he would inflict deep humiliation. Fortunately I guessed right about how much I could afford to slack off without attracting attention. Meredith didn’t counsel me, nor did anyone else, for the whole second half of the semester.
Thus I was able to get out of Pasadena and go home to Arkansas with no awkward encounters. Almost.
Our big final out-of-class assignment was to turn in an outline of Edward Gibbon’s The Decline and Fall of the Roman Empire. I couldn’t stand to do it. If we had been required to focus on one event or character in it and do an analysis, I might have felt intrigued and challenged, but the requirement just to spit the whole thing back in outline form turned me right off. I made up my mind not to mess around with mediocre performance in Meredith’s class; I would shoot for the lowest grade possible. I would flunk that sucker. So I didn’t even read Decline and Fall. Still haven’t, after all these years. I know it’s a monument of Western culture and all that, but no. Willful ignorance.
(To all you young people reading this page I hereby offer myself as a bad example—but not bad in all respects. Learn from my mistake. Don’t revel in your ignorance. Read Gibbon. Ponder its implications. Outline the book if it helps you understand it. Just don’t let anybody force you to.)
Anyway, after final tests were over and I was packing for the trip home on a Greyhound Bus, I got a telephone call from Meredith’s paper grader, one of the top senior students. I forget his name, but he always struck me as a decent fellow, and this call strengthened that impression. He was doing his job conscientiously, and he seemed sincerely concerned.
Politely, he said, “I was grading the Gibbon outlines, and I couldn’t find yours.”
Politely, I said, “No. That’s because I didn’t turn one in.”
“Oh . . . . Well, how soon did you plan to do that?”
“Actually, I didn’t plan to do it at all.” I kept my voice matter-of-fact. I offered no explanations.
His exact words after that I do not recall—he didn’t say much—but I clearly remember his tone. The poor guy was totally nonplussed. He quickly hung up. I figured my F was in the bag, because I had (politely) demonstrated that I deserved it.
Imagine my disappointment back in Arkansas when grades finally came in the mail, and I saw that Meredith had given me a D!
Some ten years later I began my career as a college English teacher. Over the next thirty-five years I regularly told this story to students, always reassuring them that I would never award them a grade they had not earned. I would conclude by saying, “I don’t want you to lose respect for me the way I lost respect for Roderick Meredith.”
Some of my English teacher colleagues who heard this story over the years believed I was too hard on Meredith. One of them said, “You don’t know what he was thinking. You kept on going to class; maybe he thought you were really trying.” Another said, “or maybe he counted attendance as a bigger part of your grade than you thought.” Another pointed out that the outline assignment, even though it was a requirement, might not have counted for a very high percentage of the total points in the course. Well, maybe they’re right. Also I sometimes guess that he gave me a D because he thought an F might cause me to drop out. Ironic, hunh?
The weakest defense any of my colleagues offered was, “He was just being kind to you.” I entirely discounted that explanation.