I'd sniffed enough of the fragrance of the late 60s to believe the do-your-own-thing way of life wasn't just silliness. That notion was nothing I'd picked up from the college where I attended, where beads and bellbottoms and love-ins had been simply relegated to the deviltry of the drug culture.
I remember a prof explaining the concept of freedom this way: you're driving a car, freely, right? The fact is, if you want to stay free, you have to stay on the highway If you suddenly get the urge to veer right and into the ditch, to exercise your freedom, you'll go nowhere fast and you and your freedom will get stuck in the cattails. Thus, he said, freedom requires rules. Cute, but stupid, I thought.
To push that argument reductum ad absurdum would be to say, somehow, that more rules really means more freedom. That, I knew, was lunacy, so I just chucked the whole argument. Besides, my goodness, it was the age of Woodstock. And Hair--the musical. And Magical Mystery Tour. And Parsley, Sage, Rosemary, and Thyme.
So my first writing assignment--fall, 1970--was perfectly hip. "Write about whatever you'd like," I told them, confident they'd turn in greatness. The only assignment was to write--about anything. Do your own thing.
That was a one-time assignment. What they handed in wasn't worth reading, not because the kids were idiots, but because, for the most part, they'd all veered quickly into the ditch.
I was no more than two weeks into the first school year of my teaching life, but I learned that ye olde car-in-the-ditch argument wasn't absolute falsehood. These students of mine didn't like "write-about-anything" assignments, and, as a teacher, once I had what they'd written in my hand I certainly didn't know what on earth to do with them--how do you grade "write-about-anything"?
They needed a highway, and I had to build it. That's what I learned.
Of course, on Fridays, for poetry, I'd take along my Simon and Garfunkel. They liked that. So did their bell-bottomed teacher.