John "Jack" Richardson, Class of '63, Oral History Interview
October 4, 2013
Interviewed by Jennifer Payne
JENNIFER PAYNE: This is Jennifer Payne with the Norwich Voices Oral HistoryProject. Today is October 4, 2013 and I'm with John "Jack" Richardson, Class of '63. Thank you so much for being here.
JOHN RICHARDSON: I'm very glad to be here.
JP: So, you were just talking --
JR: I was just talking about walking around in Northfield. Because I came alittle early, I had some time, and I said, "Well, let me park down in Northfield and see if I can recognize anything in the town." What I aimed for was the train station because my -- one of my memories is of coming back from Boston after Christmas vacation my freshman year. And we had had about -- a huge snow storm so there was like over a foot of snow everywhere. And you arrive in that train station at, whatever it was, 9 or 10:00 at night. It was late. And there's this all white world out there. And I've got my bags. And I've got to walk all the ways back from there to Ransom Hall (chuckles) where my room was. (Laughs) So, that was, that was good memory.
It was this experience of the train, all the ways up to White River Junction andhaving to then exchange trains, so you had to wait for the train to leave White River to come back up to Northfield. And, it was -- you look back on that train ride and it was fun. I mean, I was always adventurous so I was ready for any kind of adventure and this was -- eventually I got into airplanes. But at that time, it was -- trains were a wonderful thing. Actually, taking off to some distant place was my idea of having lots of fun.
JP: Where were you born? When you talk about coming from Boston.
JR: Yes. So. So, this is growing up in the city, in Dorchester which is a suburbof Boston. And, going to a high school in Boston where I had to get on a bus, take the bus into a train station, take the train into the center of Boston, Park Street Station, and then get on a trolley that then took me out to where it was a 10-minute walk to the high school.
JP: What high school did you attend?
JR: Boston Latin.
JP: You went to Boston Latin?
JP: It's a good school.
JR: Very classical. Lots of languages. Latin and Greek and German and French.English grammar. I was so fed up with classical education by the time I graduated, I was saying, "All I want is science and engineering. Let me out of here."
JP: Is that how you picked Norwich?
JR: That was one factor -- was the whole idea of getting into science and havingthis, what seemed to be a very good department where you had electrical engineering, mechanical engineering, civil engineering, a nice physics department. And of course, that's -- given who I was, it was almost inevitable that I would end up in the physics department. So, it was -- that's sort of what happened. I loved taking all the engineering courses. But the problem that I had in that environment was my classical education. I never took chemistry.
So, when you get into that program, they -- everyone else had had chemistry inhigh school. And I didn't have chemistry. So, it was like, you've got all these courses and all the military stuff going on. And, trying to catch up with the chemistry was a nightmare. And, you sort of fell behind. And this was -- you know, you look at the different ways in which Norwich was formative, and this was one of them, because it really got me to think about education and how to do it properly. What worked and what didn't work.
So, finding myself where being somewhat of a dean's list type of person, to failchemistry was like (laughs) Oh my God! This is a disaster! Or this is terrible. It really wasn't a disaster because it allowed me to get into the summer program where I had Dr. Baker. I don't know if you know Pearly (sp?) [0:04:58] Baker, just about all to myself. I think there was one other person in the class.
So, this was a makeup summer class. And there I was at Norwich. No military.Just this wonderful, happy life of a morning class with Pearly Baker. Afternoon of golfing. And some studying in the evening. And flying through the class like it was a breeze.
So, it was like it right in a way that was fun and finally got the chemistrydown and understood what all of this stuff was all about. That was a terrific experience. Because again, you're getting the faculty member on one-on-one and this is the kind of thing that I liked where there was this real interaction. Where if I had a question it wasn't like he had to deal with a million other students. He could focus in and we could really get into the chemistry.
And it was sort of at that time I had decided I was going into the physicsdepartment. Now at that time, physics -- there was only four of us. So, you had three faculty for four students. (Chuckles) Talk about another tutoring kind of environment. And physics at that time was still struggling to figure out what was happening.
You had these atom smashers that were smashing protons together and all thesefunny particles were coming out that no one -- what it this? We're getting all these strange particles coming out when we smash these protons and no one could understand what was going on. And it was in that period, from the '60s through the 70s, that what's now called the standard theory of physics emerged in which they realized, hey, the proton is made up of smaller particles and they ended up calling them quarks, of all things. A name like 'quark' out of this (laughs). And it turns out, there were six different kinds of quarks. So, depending on its spin and other kinds of characteristics, they could determine what these different ones (?) [0:07:20] were and they were able to figure out how they made up these other kinds of things that were flying out and would suddenly disappear. So, that the timeframe in which these particles stayed in existence is milliseconds. It was very short periods of time they had to try and figure all this out.
So, that was the physics that I was getting into at the time. But the thing forme, physics for me was all about figuring out reality. What is reality? And what is physical reality? And, so this was just the, when you look at a formative experience, there's this transition where I got a chance to really get a good grasp of the chemistry under Dr. Baker. And then go into the physics from there with nuclear physics being my favorite subject. (Chuckles)
At that time, Norwich had an affiliation with the nuclear facility, I forgetwhere it is here in Vermont, but it's one of the first nuclear plants. And the faculty at Norwich was sort of advisory to that plant in terms of -- and they got all kinds of different equipment from the government as a part of whatever research they were doing in conjunction with the nuclear plant.
So, we were sitting there with all of these devices that measured one thing oranother, in the nuclear physics class all was using this equipment to figure out one thing or another. So, (chuckles) that was a lot of fun.
And, but, it was during that time that this other factor in my life became moreprevalent. This gets into three other factors that were the other really influential ones for me.
The first one was the Poet in Residence, Jack Brownfield. I don't know how muchthe school remembers him and because he was very young at the time. He couldn't have been much more than 30 and I don't think he stayed very long. And he really wasn't a Norwich type. It was strange seeing him in a uniform. (Laughs) Because he was a poetical type. But he was a significant influence that I'll get into. And then you had Father Sutfin (sp?) [0:10:02], the art history, that whole thing with him. That was another big thing. And the other big one was Dr. Hart, Loring Hart, who eventually became president. Which is just amazing because when you see someone who is on my wavelength, the one who is very influential in the decisions that I made after I graduated from Norwich. Because I immediately went into -- I'd been offered to go into the graduate program in physics at UNH. But I turned that down because I was -- as a result of Dr. Hart, I was now a big fan of American literature and I was going to get a master's in that.
So, I ended up going to UMass Amherst in American literature. And this was Dr.Hart's influence. That was a real factor. And the head of the physics department at that time, George Lange, Dr. Lange (sp?) [0:11:05] was worried about me because he was saying, "You're not taking the math courses you need to have for the physics degree and you're electing art history and a seminar on William Faulkner. What's going on here?" (Chuckles) So, I was -- it was more, he was a wonderful person and he was concerned about my career and he was concerned I was jeopardizing it by not taking the math courses that would be needed if I were going to go on in the world of physics. So, that -- I appreciated his concern (chuckles) as much as I still -- going my own way because I was, in my own way, very independent. So, I was very much a free spirit, a free thinker, someone who was confident in my own ability to figure things out and do what I wanted to do and being adventurous enough to do what I wanted to do. So, that was all at play in all of this.
But what I wanted to do, just to take us through, I'm going to systematically gothrough that time at Norwich, is to go back to coming out of the city life in Boston because the education there was a classical education. And, I would be able to do it.
And part of the reason my mother, she took me out of a St. Anne's School, whichis a Catholic school, when I was in the sixth grade and put me into Boston Latin. Because she was saying to the headmaster at St. Anne's School, "You know, he doesn't study at all and he's getting all As. He's not being challenged where he is. I've got to put him in a tougher school." And she had a big fight with the headmistress there about doing this.
But, so it was -- while I was in there, my father was the kind of person whosaid, "Children are to be observed and not heard." He wasn't interested in what I had to say or what my thoughts were. It was what his thoughts were and I should listen to his observations. And, my mother sort of followed him, but differently.
And that -- my world, at that time, basketball and baseball and sports and thekind of things I was reading, was totally outside of -- She was very much this Irish girl from County Clare. Grew up on a farm. And when I went to that farm when I was 12 years old, it had no running water. So, they had to go to a well about two hundred yards away and bring in buckets of water for their water. And, no outdoor facilities. It was just the barn. So, this was really rural Ireland that she came from.
So, for her, America was this amazing, wonderful place. And I look back on mygrandmother on her side, and how sad is was. Here was a woman who had nine children. Five girls, four boys. And they oldest girl was a part of the Irish rebellion in that 1918 period. And, so, they were so afraid she was going to be put in jail by the British, so they sent her to live with an aunt in America.
Well, she gets to America and now she's homesick and lonely and says, "I can'ttake it." So, they send the second sister to be with her so that she wouldn't be lonely. And they ended up in Boston because this really wonderful aunt of theirs lived in Cambridge and she had an extra room in her house that they were able to stay in. One of these big, two-story houses. And her son was a doctor.
So, there he is in Cambridge and he's this very intellectual doctor who's got ahuge library and I'm going to get to him later on because he's another influence on me that I need to get into.
So, the stories came back to family in Ireland about the adventures the twogirls were having here in America. The next thing you know, my mother and her sister, Nora, they want to go. So, they leave. And, bit by bit, there was only one son who stayed. One of the sons went to England. Another one moved up to another part of Ireland and the other son came to America. And he was a bus driver in New York City all his life. Drove a bus all his life in New York City. He never had an accident. (Laughs)
JR: Very impressive. I'd say, "Uncle Pat, you were pretty good!" So, and thenthe fifth sister, the youngest child, she finally comes to America, too. And, she just passed away just this last year. So, the last of the children. So, my mother lived to be 98. This is a very long-lived family. Her mother, my grandmother was 98 when she passed on. My mother was 98. And her sister, Rita, lived to be 104.
JP: Oh my.
JR: So, these are very -- a certain type of rugged people that can handle anykind of difficulty. So, she was someone who was smart in her own way. But, basically liked the role of the housewife and so she was -- we lived with my aunt and uncle. This is another thing that was sort of unusual, in that my aunt and uncle could only buy the house if my mother and father rent rooms in the house.
So, my aunt and uncle lived in the upstairs, one-half of the upstairs in thehouse and we lived downstairs. So, it was having this sort of two parent kind of family, which was wonderful. Because my aunt, she had no children, so we were her children. This was a wonderful environment. And she was the one that always wanted to go shopping in town.
Christmas, she bought all the gifts. She had that kind of any influence whereshe was always doing things for us and taking us places and so forth. So that was great.
So, here I have this extended family of my mother who very much came together asa family. So, and we, my parents rented a house down at the beach in Nantasket. This is this beach area south of Boston. It had, at that time, a great big amusement park with a roller coaster and Ferris wheel and all that kind of stuff. And, so we spent our summers down there all the time. So, I would be running around in just a bathing suit, no shoes, brown as a berry from being out in the sun all day. Wonderful life. And all of these relatives would come down and spend time there because this house that they rented had this big wrap around porch that sort of looked out on a pond in the back, toward the beach and the coast in the other direction. And, everyone would come down. And I still remember playing horseshoe and all kinds of stuff (inaudible) [0:19:40].
JR: So, it's a wonderful family environment, but they, none of them reallyunderstood what kind of person I was. The only one that did was the oldest one. The one who was the rebellious one that they had to send away first. She and I would sit out on the porch. And she was the one who actually taught me to drive a car because she drove this old 1938 Buick. One of these great, big monster cars. And at that time it was already nearly 20 years old. And she drove it like 15 miles an hour down the road. So, everyone would go nuts because she never drove fast! (Laughs)
So, she took me out into this huge parking area. There was pretty much no carsaround and when I was 14, she showed me how to drive the car. So, that's how I learned to drive. No license or anything. Just, "Go ahead! Take the wheel!"
JP: Was it a stick or on the column?
JR: It was a stick. Yes, so this automatic shift and all that kind of stuff,that was like sort of today's kind of car.
So, that's what she was. But she and I would sit out on that porch. The thingthat I remember why she connected with me better than the other ones is, we would look at the clouds floating by and imagine what that cloud looked like. And, how the cloud was changing. And, so something that seemed real, "Gee, that looks like a dog. Isn't that a dog's head up there?" and that kind of thing and you'd see the cloud dissipate and you got a sense of impermanence. This idea that the world would take on certain shapes and then disappear. And, there was that connection on that level that I had with her that I didn't have with the other ones.
So, anyway, that was the kind of family environment I came out of. And, so, forme, it was too limiting. By the time I was a senior in high school and I'm applying to all these different colleges, I still am amazed today that I was applying to West Point, Coast Guard Academy, the Naval Academy and came close on this, but it's really in some ways some of these things are more politics. You've got to know the right politician that kind of make it easy to get in. But it was in that context that I came across Norwich and its whole catalog. And I had this kind of -- because I was going away to high school, all across the city, the friends I had at the school didn't live near me. So, I would only see them when I was in school. And, there weren't the kind of kids that I played with weren't kids that I could connect with. I could play with them. I'd play basketball and a pickup game or something but it was never something where you'd really get to know them and share my outlook on the world and so forth.
So, I had this kind of private, inner life that I wasn't sharing either with myparents or any of these kids. So, Norwich -- and because I was private like that, they never quite -- if you're too private and don't share what your inner world is like, you don't get any corrective, you don't have anyone sort of saying, "Well, I don't really think Norwich is going to be the way you think it is." (Laughs)
Because I had this notion of a band of brothers that this was going to be allthese wonderful people to welcome me, "Oh, we're so happy to have you come to this school and we're going to do all these wonderful things with you. We have this wonderful ski area. We'll teach you to ski. We have this wonderful mountain and cold weather. We'll train you to live out in the woods. We have this wonderful river you can go canoeing on." That was -- granted I was very interested in the science and the engineering piece, but that was another big piece, was riding tanks, being on the rifle team, kind of target shooting. It was this kind of young boy imaginary fantasy of the school. So, when I look back on him arriving there, in the summer of '89, a nice day, sort of like today. And, sitting up there with, I remember, my mother and one of the mothers of this other boy. His name was Drea Zigarmi. He became my roommate my sophomore year. And, he was the first person that really got to know me. So, I want to get into that a little later on.
You can see how -- (laughs)
JP: So, wait. What year was this?
JR: This was '59.
JP: '59. It's the freshmen arrival at Norwich, the summer of '59. And I'm sortof looking at that time. And, they had a luncheon for the parents and the young boys, the young men coming for this first time as freshmen. So, it was at that luncheon that my mother and I sat down with Drea's mother and him. There's the four of us at this table, I forget where my father was during all of this. Whether he was off in town checking something out or something. So, it was -- my mother really connected to this Mrs. Zigarmi and even much later on, she could remember that time sitting there and how much she enjoyed talking with her. Sort of sharing with her about their two sons coming away to college for the first time and all that thing that they talked about. And, I found that interesting because you sort of look -- here's the transition point in which this very nave and innocent and idealistic young man is about to get a big surprise! (Laughs) So, it's a -- and it's only when you have this kind of experience that you being to realize who you are. Because now you're saying -- you discover who you are by the way in which you respond to the situation you find yourself in.
So, the analogy I like to use about this is to imagine yourself as a 17-year-oldFrench boy in France in 1942 and saying, "There you are in France, 1942, 17 years old. Where do you stand?" (Laughs) Are you with the Vichy regime and the collaborators? Do you sort of see what sort of government has been imposed there? It's "Of course I would be with the resistance!" For me there was no question. It was, you know in that situation who you are and where you stand. For me, it wouldn't have been any hesitation. It would be clear cut. That's how you know who you are. Because you're saying I'm someone who would naturally be in the resistance in that situation.
Now, it's not a perfect analogy. But, coming in with this idealistic view ofNorwich was this wonderful band of brothers who'd be welcoming just dying to do all kinds of great things with you. Let me show you this. Let me do this wonderful thing with you.
Getting the haircut, the crewcut didn't bother me at all. That was nothing. Andthat was sort of, to me, the idea of dressing up in a uniform, that was nice too. So, I had no trouble. That fit in with my fantasy. I had no trouble with all of that. It was then discovering what then happens.
So, I had -- got my uniform. Got my clothes. Bought some books. Get settled inthe room. And it's like the parents then leave it. I think it was 3:00. All the parents have to go and you're in the room and you meet your roommate for the first time. And, all of a sudden, there's this maniac screaming out in the corridor. Having no idea of what it was supposed to be like, the way in which the military works and how they want to do things. And, screaming about getting out in the corridor, get up against the wall. And this idiot yelling in your face saying, "Press against, hard against, straighten up!"
So, that was that introductory life in which you have these sophomores, becauseessentially this is who does this. You're sort of supervised by your sergeant. The officers are sort of in the background. You might have the sergeant, but he wouldn't even be there necessarily. It was basically this group of corporals that carried on this activity.
And, so that was this world of -- sort of -- I wouldn't call it bullying or evenhazing because it was still -- these weren't bad people at all. But, they had a job to do. The (chuckles) was to put us in our place. Put us through the various routines of the world as it was lived at that time that had an edge to it. That was a total shock for me. I was like, I was dumbfounded. What is this?
And, this gets sort of back to the idea of "I Will Try." I notice that was insome of the questions you had. It's one thing to try when it emerges from yourself. In other words, in which you're choosing something and saying, "Yes, I'm choosing this. I will try in this situation." It's something else when someone's telling you what to do and you're saying, "I will try or I'll try." It's not the same kind of thing. The motivational aspect isn't there. So, if it emerges from an inner part of you, you can commit, you can excel, you can do your best and make sure you're successful. Whereas, if it's someone else imposing this, then that doesn't work.
And this is -- I sort of really found this out when we went to summer camp atFt. Gordon. So, the way things work, is the end of your junior year, all the people are going to become commissioned officers and the end of the senior year, go to summer camp, that sort of is getting you ready for becoming an officer. And, I enjoyed it. This is down in Georgia. Hot. It was during the summer. It's hot down there. And we drove down with three other guys in my class and thought nothing of driving through the night, just taking turns driving and drove straight through. Whatever it was. A day and a half. And for me, it was sort of semi-fun. The difference is that you're not treated quite like a rook. Yes, it's a summer camp. Yes, you're being told what to do. But you're still sort of officers in waiting, you might say.
But, here's the difference. When you look at "I Will Try." For me, this was justgoing through the motions. I was, I sort of enjoyed it. I did what I was told. Did what I was asked to do, but it wasn't from a real commitment. It was, well, just going through the motions. Doing -- so they picked up on this. Something that I wasn't aware of, but the people overseeing it were very much aware of. And they said, "This guy's not good officer material." (Laughs) Which is probably true in that once you take it further on. In certain ways, I would because I'm an independent thinker, I woud be very good at being behind the lines and operating that way. But, charging up a hill against an obvious machine gun nest or Pickett's charge, for example, that would not be something I would be sort of fighting doing that because I'd being saying, "This is crazy. You're not going to be successful doing that kind of thing."
So, I would be too independent to fit into what the military wanted was takingorders. You don't question orders. You take the orders and you do what you're told to do.
Although, the thing about that time at Ft. Gordon was, we had -- you're sort ofbilleted in this large -- it's not a bunk house, I forget what they call the building, but it's where it's one huge room and it's all bunk beds all through the room. And you have a master sergeant, the regular -- not officer, but regular army master sergeant. His room is at the end of the corridor. And he -- this is -- that memory of what a real -- the kind of person you would really respect in the military, this guy was everything you could want.
He had been in the Korean War and he had been a part of the retreat in Korea.Because what had happened is, the American army had pushed right to the Chinese border and the Chinese said we can't tolerate that. So, they sent a million men, suddenly, across the Yellow River, attached the Americans and they had to retreat. But the retreat was in winter. And the soldiers hadn't got winter clothing. Talk about being unprepared for -- on many levels. So, you had this horendous retreat, in winter, so they're trying to fight off the huge, thousands of Chinese charging after them.
Well, he's a part of that whole retreat. And, so you have him ten years laterand he would share some of those experiences with us. But here was someone who was not a big guy, 5'9", 160 pounds, something like that. But he could do everything better than us. Anything. You name it. Whether it was pushup or pullups. Whether it was long marches, heavy pack, whatever it was, he would do better than anyone. So, this guy was quiet, soft-spoken but totally worthy of respect in every way.
So, he's my image of what -- the kind of person I would want to be in themilitary with. This is someone -- but, nevertheless, it had to have been part of his observations of me that said, "This is not officer material." (Laughs)
So, anyway, that was that side of it. Well, the problem that I had as a freshmanwas that this realizing, sort of gradually, after I got over the shock of my fantasy being broken, it was -- there was a kind of a gradual defiance that sort of took over. A quiet defiance.
So, my roommate at that time was Ernie Marnet (sp?) [0:38:05]. And he was veryintimated by the whole thing. And he would snap to attention whenever they came to inspect the room in the morning. And, I was always a second slower and I never was quite stiff enough (chuckles) so when they looked at me, it was like, "We're going to find something to give you a demerit on." So, they searched extra hard to find something that -- and it was something that you could get a demerit for but it was going out of their way to find something.
So, as you might imagine, it would build up quite a substantial number ofdemerits given this attitude among the -- because you're getting inspected all the time. You're marching in formation, there's all kinds of ways they can find something that isn't quite right. So, this is where Jack Brownfield comes in to the story. Because he was my English teacher and one of the wonderful things he did for me was, after you get -- I don't know whether it was once you're over five demerits, you have to do an hour on the parade ground.
Well, I was clearly going to be doing many hours on the parade group. But,however, this got negotiated by the faculty. The faculty had the ability, if they had a project they needed help on from one or more of the cadets, you could help them on a weekend with their project. And if you had demerits, an hour on the project was the equivalent of marching around the parade ground. (Laughs)
So, this was I think of Jack Brownfield, I say, "Oh, you were my lifesaver."(Laughs) Because every weekend I would go to meet with him in his office there on Saturday afternoons. And there was four hours off the parade group and it was wonderful. So, you add that up over, it probably started sometime in November. So, you go from November to May and you think of all the weekends and take four hours out of those, it was probably four times -- it had to be at least 20 weekends. It was right up there. It took off -- I would have been doing the parade ground forever if I hadn't had him. And he was enough, being sort of the Poet in Residence. He was the English teacher but he saw himself as a poet. And what I was doing was typing up his poetry. So, it wasn't like I was doing nothing when I was with him. He was writing all this poetry and he needed to have it typed up. He wanted to do -- publish and so forth and all that kind of stuff.
I looked him up on Google. As far as I know, he never published anything.(Laughs) He's not even on Google. So, I don't know whether he passed on or what happened to him afterwards. But, he -- this is where I made one of the real connections with a faculty member. And I still remember it to this day, was in his English class, the thing that he most wanted us to read and think about was Plato's Allegory of the Cave because this is Socrates talking to one of his students, Glaucon. And it's talking about these prisoners in a cave and they're seeing all of these -- they're chained up in such a way that they can't move their head. And they can't go anywhere. Now, granted this wouldn't work in real life but it's to get an idea across. And it's like all they're seeing are voices in the background and images moving across the wall of the cave. There's some sort of fire in the background so all they're seeing are shadows and images. And this is their whole life. This is all they know. So, reality for them are all the shadowy things and strange voices in the background that they associate with these shadowy shapes. Well, one day they're released and they're taken out to the front of the cave and there's the world out there. And it's bright, and dazzling and it's hard to get a handle on because you're saying, you're seeing reality for the first time and it's very challenging to deal with. You can't make the adjustment. So, I can add on to Plato's Allegory and say they would rush back in the cave and want to settle back in to their old world because there's a little too much to deal with.
But that Allegory of describing the human race as this is their life of seeingnothing but the shadows, thinking that's reality and that had a huge effect on me. Even to the point where I'm emotional about it. Because it kind of gave me the basic perspective that was sort of guided my philosophical thinking from that point on. And when I -- I might say, my philosophical explorations, because it's -- I don't feel like I have to answer to anything, but I certainly have been willing to explore what the human race has discovered about all kinds of things over its history.
So, this is a part of that, when you look at Norwich as a formative environment,this was where I made the transition to sort of this broader world in which you're coming out of this very private, fantasy life growing up in my high school period and now opening up, not only to the way in which the world can be a little harsh. My little rook world. To sort of the broader perspective about, "Hey, what you think is reality may not be quite what it actually is." So, that has led to a lot of things that I've done since then.
And the physics world has this. Someone who's familiar with even the physics oftoday, because they went beyond the standard theory was pretty much formulated by 1980. Where you understood that protons are made of these smaller particles called quarks. But, what then began to happen is beyond that they began to realize that the larger universe -- physical matter only makes up about 5% of the larger universe. When you hear 5% you say, "Well, that's impossible. Everything we see is out there. How could all of that only be 5% of what's out there?"
So, this has been one of the great, big things in physics today, is tounderstand another 20% is what's called "dark matter." And, the rest of it is called "dark energy." And they don't know what it is. This is why physicists today are really struggling to understand it. Because they realize this whole thing about the reality that they don't know. (Chuckles)
But now, they sort of have -- they know it numerically in the sense ofapproximate amounts. So, some of the things being launched into space lately, go directly to this. They're trying to do certain kind of measurements on gravity waves and various other ways to get at what this dark matter is. And the dark energy piece is -- galaxies are normally what happens because of -- matter attracts each other. You should have in the universe all of these galaxies should sort of pull each other together. So even if some kind of explosion was causing it to push out, the gravitational traction should cause it to come back to slow down. So, there would be this slowing of the rate of expansion.
Well, that's what they thought should happen. But when they actually started totake the right measurements of the galaxies and the way in which they were moving relative to each other, they have discovered the universe, the expansion is accelerating. So, it's going faster which is violating the basic idea of matter attracting matter.
So, there's some kind of energy that has the opposite effect of gravity that iscurrently being explored today. And, so as I'm saying, the physics today is very inter -- just as interesting in its own way as it was in my time when we were trying to figure out what all these mesons were. So, that was -- so this is why when I talk about reality, it's so fascinating on so many levels. And physics for me is like natural philosophy. I look at it as what's going on here in terms of the way in which the physical world in constructed. And we're at a stage now, because this is sort of talking about the galaxy, universe, macro kind of stuff.
On the micro stage, it's even more amazing. And which physicists knew even backin the 60s that electrons were never -- could be anywhere. Relative to the proton and the nucleus, if you think of a golf ball in the middle of a baseball field, say you're on the pitcher's mound. You have a golf ball. And you think way out in the stands, if you say the atom, the golf ball would be the proton and the whole stands, all around the field would be the field in which the electron operates. The relative size of this is a huge amount of space between the golf ball and its surrounding electron field. And this is a hydrogen atom. It gets more complicated as you get bigger and bigger atoms.
So, that -- even at the micro world, the space environment is huge. There's alot of empty space in what looks like solid matter. (Chuckles) So, even at that level it's amazing. But the -- they're now building devices based on the quantum effects within the atom that involve the fact that you can have information. You can connect two particles in such a way that the information that's happening in one particle is instantly available in the other particle. And they're finding they can separate these particles more and more at greater and greater distances and have these same effects occur. It's like instant correspondence. So, if you measure spin a certain in a particle here, 200 miles away this other particle you're getting the same effect. So, this is a whole new technology of communication that's being built on this that's going to emerge over the next 10 years or so. So, the quantum world is interesting in its own way.
Oh, don't want to go on. (Laughs) Because I could go on this stuff for the nexttwo hours. But, getting back to Norwich, Jack Brownfield and that period with him really activated this philosophical part in me. And then you had Father Sutfin there with his art history class. And, so again, I was being, as much as I liked the science, I was being drawn into these other areas by Father Sutfin and later on by Dr. Hart.
So, with art history, now what the human race had been doing from an artist'spoint of view, you suddenly start to see what the history of all of this. How rich it is. How much was accomplished 2,000 years ago. You're looking at many of the artwork of the Greeks. You're saying, "This is this long time ago when you think of people being fairly primitive, well they did some terrific artistic works that long time ago." And so, there was that whole aspect of richness of what was out there in human history with respect to art and beauty and all these different things beyond just literature that were there to be sort of understood. And how did this happen? How do these particular skills occur?
So, what is was doing, was it was broadening my perspective on the human race,and what it had accomplished over this period of time. That 2,000 years ago, they weren't primitive. They were much more advanced and capable in many different ways than I had realized. So, that was a big impact.
And at the same time, with Father Sutfin, there was this discussion ofexistentialism that I had that, it really was not the brand of Camus and Jean-Paul Sartre, which is sort of atheistic and existentialism. This was existentialism of Soren Kierkegaard. He was a 19th century -- in Denmark. And, what he emphasized was concrete reality versus abstractions. And he was sort of engaged with the Danish church at the time over the practice of Christianity. And he, talk about "I Will Try," and commitment, saying if you believe in this, you have to commit to what the teachings were. It can't be just an hour on Sunday singing some songs. It has to be a total life commitment that is involved. Every aspect of your life, your day, what you do so that it influences every choice you make in your daily life.
So, this was Kierkegaard having this really big impact during that period inwhich, here I am with all this science that I'm trying to keep up with, but I'm drawn into these other areas at the same time by certain people I interacted with at Norwich. Father Sutfin being one of them. And I still see him standing there sort of shaking our hands on the way out of the chapel. And at that time, it was a very non-denominational kind of chapel in which sort of every faith was welcome. So, that fit with my world view as well. That was -- it was like, everyone has their own insights about life and finding out what those are. A lot of times it connects to something that's worth knowing about.
So, that was that piece. What you also had as I went into my sophomore year wasNorwich, while I was a freshman, had an outstanding debate team. They had, I don't know how many tournaments they won, but they were very successful. So, I think, I could be wrong, but I think Jack Brownfield was the faculty member that oversaw -- all these people graduated. They had been seniors at the time. And, he influenced me into joining the debate team my sophomore year.
So, I was there with -- he would have been a junior at that time, Dick Starrett.I don't know it that name stands out. But, if you go to Athol, Massachusetts, there's this famous manufacturing company called Starrett. He came from that family. So, he was one of the Starretts. And, that year we were debating national health care. This was all about -- when I talk about resonating with today -- and this is before Medicare. So, this is in that '60 -- '61 timeframe, that this was the topic for the year. So, the way debating works in colleges is there's this topic that's the common topic that you all have to be able to debate. And it's the basis for the debating going on through the whole year.
So, that was where I really learned this process of -- it's competitive and thismastery of the material. And it was tough to be taking all of these courses and at that point it was now physics courses with all the math that goes with it and try to master all of this huge amount of material about national health care. And all the issues involving that and the way the history of how this developed in the United States. All the things Obama had to try to figure out when he was coming up with what the plan was going to be. And, in that case, that was health insurance.
But, we were talking about something that was the equivalent of Medicare. So,this was, it was really saying, should you have the equivalent of Medicare for everyone? Where it would be a government program. Everyone would get health care. Health care is a right so the government will find a way to get it funded and make sure everyone has it. And so, you're debating the pros and cons of all of that.
Well, the memory I have of this, it's amazing. It connects with -- of going toHarvard University. This was in February. This would have been February of '61, I think. It would have been my sophomore year. It would be '61. And, we're debating at Harvard. So, we were there with all these different debate teams and it's like a -- you go up against other college teams. And there's multiple ones. So, you are with Dartmouth for one session. And then you're with Cornell for another one. Or whatever it might be. And, I think it was only about four of them. Some kind of -- if you're successful, you go on. But, there's more than one before they figure out who goes to the next level.
Well, we just weren't that good. (Laughs) I really got a chance to see whathigher level of competition was really like. And, I think back, and my friend in high school, his name was Elliott Burg (sp?) [1:00:19]. And he was outstanding in math, in high school. And, he got the maximum score on math in the college boards, so he got 800. Lots of us at Latin School were getting 800s. This was not unusual for my fellow high school classmates.
So, he goes to MIT. And, all of a sudden, he finds himself getting Cs. Here's aguy who got straight As in math. The highest score in the math exam and now he finds himself with a whole other level of ability and skill and mastery of the field. And, so it was a real shock to him. So, I -- when I went to UMass after -- you can see how I -- (laughs)
JP: You're good. You're fine.
JR: I can make it to 11, no problem. If you need to stop your sound device --
JR: -- feel free to do so.
JP: No. We're fine. We're fine.
JR: Okay. Alright. He got in touch with me as I graduated from Norwich and said,"You know, I'm going to UMass. I heard you're going to UMass to grad school. Let's room together." And so, that's how I was finding out what happened to him at MIT. Now, he's going to grad school to get a master's in math at UMass Amherst. But he was telling me about what his first year or two was like. That it was like, I couldn't believe that I couldn't keep up with these other people. It was like another whole level of ability that he hadn't experienced until he got to MIT.
JR: So that was, yes, gee -- talking about him. He and I took a room in this --this is sort of -- a lot of graduate students do. You purchase a small apartment local to the school. And in this case, this was an apartment in the second floor of a house. Did she have children? I don't remember her having any kids in the house but at some time I vaguely remember some kind of children there. Anyway, this woman, Mrs. Kelly, this very nice, friendly woman. This is part of the reason why I guess we enjoyed renting an apartment from her.
I arrive in September to go to school and move into the apartment. And there areall these cars parked outside. And, gee, what's going on here? It looks -- there's a zillion cars here. And I go inside and there's Mrs. Kelly in this big, black dress. Tears in her face. She comes up and is holding onto me for dear life. And it turns out her husband had just died. And the husband was in his coffin right there in the living room. (Laughs)
JR: -- walking into this (makes crying sounds). So that was my introduction tomy new world at UMass in Amherst and Mrs. Kelly and her apartment.
JP: And her husband.
JR: And her husband who had just passed on, right there.
JP: What did you do? How did you get from UMass to the Peace Corps?
JR: Well, the Peace Corps is three years later. So, I'm -- essentially theproblem I had in going into the master's program at UMass, it's amazing how flexible things were in those days. That I could just apply for it and get accepted into the program. But they said, "You know, we're going to take you but you've got to make up all the undergraduate work in literature." So, I had to take -- I could still use what I had at Norwich but I had to make up all the rest to get to the level where you can start the graduate courses.
So, my first year there was making all that up. And then I had two years of thegraduate courses to complete. So, when I -- at the point that I left to go into the Peace Corps, which is at the end of the third year there. This would have been '66. I had just to take a graduate record exam in French and then write a master's thesis. I said, "Well, while I'm in the Peace Corps, I'll think about the thesis and be ready to go when I come back and whip that off and go from there." (Laughs)
So, I hadn't actually, totally completed the degree. I had those two things leftto do. And, this gets -- I guess I'm far enough along with the discussion to get into -- at that time, this was -- this is now '63. And I need to spend some time on Jack Kennedy. Because this is the -- in order to get to the Peace Corps, you need to see my connection with Kennedy. Because he, being the Massachusetts senator in this sort of Irish kind of community, they would have his picture up next to the picture of the Pope. It was like (laughs) he was in the same category in some of these Irish households. It was unbelievable the way in which -- but it was like he had the idealism that appealed to me. This guy who had -- could imagine the whole space program which is another thing that's been a big thing for me and you had -- what did he call the connection with Latin America? It was, there was a name for that that I'm forgetting. But again, that was rebuilding the whole American relationship with Latin America because that had been problematic on a lot of levels for decades.
And the Peace Corps was the other big thing to say, "We need to find a way inwhich the idealism of the young American people can be focused in a way that is positive and improves the world." So, I had, I sort of have a nat -- maybe something about the Irish, they have a natural, political orientation. (Chuckles) Our control of politics or our interest of that aspect of it. So, I had been following his run for the presidency all that time. Even at the high school level. Because he was making the decision to run back in '58. Even before then. He had been nominated, not nominated but been under discussion to be Stevenson's VP. And _______ (?) [1:08:04] went out in that decision.
But, Kennedy had been sort of right up there in terms of someone that had theright characteristics to run for president, as young as he was. So here was a guy who, when he became president he was 43. But at that time, it's just early 40s. Still a very young man. As it turned out, he was sick. He had Addison's Disease that was kind of covered up all the time.
But, so I followed his campaign against Humphrey. Going through those primariesand how he was able to win those, bit by bit. So, when, at the end of my freshman year and I was in summer school, taking chemistry, that was the period in which you had the nominating convention. So, I'm there. I forget what building had the tv. I was in there following that whole campaign and all excited that he got the nomination and all a part of that whole Kennedy thing. Following the debate with Nixon. All of that stuff I was totally a part of.
And, I still remember being there in my room in Mrs. Kelly's house when he wasshot in November. I had just been at UMass for two months and that shock of hearing this was like, devastating. I get home. My mother and aunt are crying. It was real big. It was just like a member of the family.
So, anyway, there was that element that I was naturally drawn to. When I'mfinishing up this master's course work for the master's program, sort of looking at what do I want to do next. It was like the most natural thing. It was like. As I was -- you had already had the beginnings of the Vietnam War getting going at that time. It had progressed. In '65, Johnson decides we're going to put a large number of troops into Vietnam. So, you had that element but at that time it wasn't drawing a big, negative response.
But, I was with a Quaker group at UMass that was already starting the anti-war(chuckles) thing going on in which it was -- the thing about Norwich is because you get so much military history in what the military does, you're part of being a part of the process of being prepared to do what it has to do. You sort of know what you'd be getting into.
This is what I was trying to tell people is, it's -- war is a nightmare. War isthe last thing you want to do if you have -- it's -- making a commitment to serve in the military is a serious commitment. This gets back to Kierkegaard. When you're committing to something, you have to know what you're committing to do. And be prepared to do. Now, it may be for very honorable reasons in which -- and I look at that master sergeant and I think of him as this outstanding, honorable person. And, today, when you look at today's military where it's a volunteer military, these are the most honorable people. They're taking this huge responsibility that is very admirable.
But, a lot of them are young. You'd like to be able to say, "Let me tell youwhat you're going to get into and its effect on you, so that you're making an informed decision. So, that when, out of the goodness of your heart, you're volunteering like this, you should know what it means to do this. Because it's a very serious choice you're making.
And, that's what I wanted. I -- what bothered me about the draft was you're justsnapping people up without really providing that kind of freedom of choice. And that to get someone who's really good at what the military needs to the extent that it comes from them and they're made an informed choice and they prepare themselves for how horrible it is. You're able to deal with it as best you can. It's still terrible. But it's -- but you can function.
Now, I'm thinking of my brother. At that time, he was -- went in as a medic. So,he was a medic in Vietnam. So, he goes as the medic with one of the -- I don't think it was marines, I think it was a regular army group. Because he'd been in airborne and -- all the time as a medic, not an officer. So, he was, I don't know if he was a corporal or first sergeant or something.
Well, his military platoon was in all the fighting. And out of the 50 guys inthat platoon, there were only five that weren't either killed or wounded. And, as the medic, he was having to take care of all of them as they were either shot and dealing with all that happens. So, he's had a very difficult time the rest of his life dealing with this and then a policeman in Boston. Typical job for an Irish person. And, sort of had a lot of difficulty dealing with this through his whole life.
So, you know, I can still see the effects on him, to this day, of what heexperienced. But, again trying to do something good. So, I admire him for his service.
So, anyway, in that period while I was sort of agitating (chuckles) against --with the Quakers against -- just arbitrarily signing up for the draft. Just letting people draft you and not taking a stand. It's one thing if you believe in what you're doing. You know what you're getting into. And you take a stand. I accept the draft and I'm in. That's wonderful. But it's just sort of allowing yourself to be drawn in without thinking through what it meant and what you're committing to. That's what I was up against. That's what I was advocating that people do.
So, I was active in that group at UMass during that '66 period. And, so thenwhen I'm looking at -- here's the Peace Corps coming up. And this was like the natural thing for me to do. Again, the same thing as "Who are you? Where do you stand? What is it -- what do you want to do with your life?"
So, I was ready to go right off. And, I was interested in India. The idea of --there were a lot of attractions for me about India. But, at the time the first group that was available that was being -- the training was at Columbia College in New York City. I was starting up the end of June. So, here I am finishing up the course work in early June. And the program was starting up later that month. So, I went right from school right into the Peace Corp.
And, that very same month, my father dies. So, I was dealing with my mother.And, it was much harder on her because my father was at sea all the time. He was the communications officer on the oil tankers. So, he was away at sea. It was like 80 days at sea, 40 days home. A lot of times, when I was at school, I wasn't seeing him when he was home. So, I wasn't as connected with him as I might have been in different circumstances. But, it was an overwhelming disaster for my mother. She was heartbroken and (inaudible) [1:18:01] and yet here she lived on.
When I did her eulogy when she passed on in 2005, I was talking about this. Thekind of strength it took when she was devastated, to carry on and be the center of her grandchildren's lives. So, I was describing how my brother and I sort of financed a little place down on the cape and this was a recapitulation of what had happened for us. We're doing it now for the grandchildren. So, they all gathered together and spent their summers at this place with my mother. Their grandmother. And got all the bonding that carries on to today. So, when I saw all of them show up to my, the youngest nephew's wedding a couple of years ago, I was thinking about that. Of how all that bonding had taken place so that all these shared experiences that they had that they wouldn't have had otherwise, because they spent their summers together at this place on the cape.
So, here I am off to Columbia College, staying in one of the dorms. They were at110th Street area. I think of Obama going there himself. So, there's a little bit of an overlap with him. And, what was interesting about that is, it was a couple of things. Being a community organizer, to the Peace Corps, this is the mindset of the Peace Corps is you're going out into this new community. It's going to be a challenge. Foreign country. People don't speak English. I had to learn Twi, the Ashanti language --
JR: Yes. It's T-W-I. Twi is the way they pronounce it. I've forgotten it allnow. I probably couldn't even say hello in Twi at this point because I haven't done anything with it. And, the thing about Ghana was that, in school everyone had to speak English. English was -- if they didn't do that, you'd have all this tribal conflict. Like about which one's language was going to be the dominant one, but English was the one that got around that problem. So, that was true in a lot of these African countries, is that deal with certain kinds of conflicts. The colonial influence is much bigger than you might have thought it would be. And it was useful in certain ways and this was one of them.
So, as much as I'm anti-colonialist as well, (laughs) I can see some of thebenefits it would have at that time.
So, that one thing, was we were given a street in New York where we had to be acommunity organizer for six weeks. And to learn what that was like. Knocking on doors. Talking about what's going on and where certain organization thing could be done. And getting a sense of how, what that might be and then coming back and presenting ideas about that to see how well it was accepted. All of what Obama was going through when he was in Chicago. I'm familiar with from those six weeks there in New York doing that.
At the same time, we were also teaching. So, we had -- I'm going there as aphysics teacher. So, this is what they wanted in Ghana. This was -- we need science teachers. And that's where we lack, in our education department.
And, so, there I was having to get back in my physics. So, I had been threeyears now in American literature. Now, I'm coming back into my physics world in order to teach in summer school for these students in -- I don't think it was Harlem, but it was another part of New York City that was where you had a lot of kids that needed to go to summer school.
And, that was good. I don't remember any problems doing that. You see movies onteaching and (chuckles) --
JR: -- and the kind of difficulties teachers get into in those environments, butI don't remember any big difficulties at all.
So, that part of the program was good. So, you're learning Twi. You're doing thecommunity organizing. Doing the teaching. And, amazing as it was, here I was only 24 years old, but I was like the senior person in that group. These are all undergraduates who are 21, 22 and at least from whoever was running the Peace Corps program, I was like the old man in the group at 24. (Laughs)
And, I had just about completed a master's degree, so I was saying to them, "Youknow, look, you can do anything you want. I can teach history. I can teach literature as well as all the science stuff." Science is the big thing for where you're going, but we'll tell you what. We'll put you into the capital city where this community college there or the next sort of first two years of college is located there. And, you can still be doing your physics and be available to do whatever the community college wanted you to do.
JP: Wow. So, how long were you in Ghana?
JR: Two years.
JR: And that headmaster of that school, I can still remember the struggle withhim. He didn't want me to leave. He was begging me to stay a third year. And, that was -- it was hard to resist him because he -- they just didn't have a replacement. This was the problem -- is that, I don't know what happened with Peace Corps with following on programs, but they just didn't have enough science teachers coming in the next group. So, he was going to be -- and he was a biologist.
What was great about him was he took care of snakes. He provided the antivenomfor the local hospitals. So, he kept different varieties of snakes in his office in cages. So, if you came into his office, on the sides of the walls were all these cages. And, you had to have each type of snake so you had to have the venom -- someone get bit by a certain type of snake, you need to have that kind of venom, antivenom made. So, he would milk the snakes for the venom and deliver it to the local hospital to make the antivenom.
JP: How many snakes?
JR: He must have had a least six. It might have been more. It might have beeneight or ten. I only remember -- it's -- the thing that sort of stood out -- the biggest cage -- it might have been at least as big as this --
JP: Two x four.
JR: Yes. This whole thing. And the snake was all curled up in it. Sort of wide,like this. And, it had kind of a glass covering on it so you could see the snake clearly. And, this particular snake was called a gaboon viper. And its head is the size of my whole wrist. The fangs are that long.
JP: As your finger.
JR: Yes, as the finger. And the snake is thick. It's like, the body of the snakeis about that long.
JP: Four inches.
JR: And it's about six feet. So, in this space, when that thing is all curledup, it looks huge. And, what he would do when he's feeding the snake, is he'd open the very corner of the cage, at the very top and drop a mouse inside.
JP: A live one?
JR: Yes. So, in goes the mouse and the snake is curled up back here. And, as themouse drops in and its -- doesn't quite know -- it's getting oriented after having fallen down into this space. And it's sort of scurrying around in that back corner. The speed at which that head had the mouse in its mouth, it was like, you couldn't -- you'd have to film it with high speed photography it was so fast. I guess the snake knew this was feeding time and he was in position. He was all curled up with the head ready to go. Down comes the mouse and (makes noise). And you're watching that and it had these vents in its head so it made this snorting sound. So, periodically you'd get that particular kind of snort that came from the snake that was somehow coming out of these vents in its head. So, instead of like a rattlesnake rattles a tail, this one snorted.
And, I was staying at the school in a small, little, tiny house. Small as youcould imagine with -- I was sharing it with the chemistry teacher. Another Peace Corps volunteer that's a year ahead of me. And, but it was at one corner of the school compound. And if you're coming in from town, into the school, you had to cut across this section in which there was this creek that ran through the middle of the school compound. And there were, sort of, bushes on either side of the creek. So, you'd walk along this little trail, cross over the creek and then down along the trail to get to where my little house was. And, I would do that periodically.
Sometimes at night, if I were in town on the weekend, and usually there'd besomething going on at the British Embassy, because that was -- seemed to be where they had different activities. And while (? Hard to hear) [1:29:46] coming back from one of those, at night, the carpenter had, I think it was goats. So, one of the goats was just -- had settled for the night in that bush area. And darned if the goat didn't make a sound that sounded just like the snake! I must have jumped (laughs)! I was nervous walking that trail at night! And let me tell you, it was -- because the other thing about it was, I was only at the school one week when the school carpenter found a spitting cobra in one of the classrooms.
Because the problem with the creek is, he had this chicken coup with all thesechickens chirping away, not far from this little creek that ran through the school compound. Nothing big. It was -- one end to the other couldn't have been more than the size of this room.
JP: Ten feet.
JR: But, it was a route that a snake would travel to move around without gettingcaught. And, the snake had been attracted to the chicken coup and all the chickens. And he was nearby to one of the classrooms and I guess somehow it how gone into one of the classrooms. (Laughs)
JP: That's a very poisonous snake.
JR: Yes, it is. And, it's not only poisonous if you get bitten, but because it'sa spitting cobra, what it does is it aims this spit at your eyes. And that's what happened to the carpenter is, when he came across this snake, the snake spit at him and he got it in his eyes. And so, there's a whole thing going on at the school about -- the headmaster was sort of a biologist, semi-doctor-type guy, so he took care of him. But it was just the fact that he had his eyesight was bad for like the next month from this stuff that he got into his eyes from the snake.
Yes, so I'm having this, my first week in the school (laughs). That was -- I wasalways nervous going down that trail to the house at night because of that. Wondering when you're going to encounter one of these things. Listening for anything. Anything that sounded a little unusual. (Laughs)
But, that -- it was at Norwich where what I was doing at that school came intoplay. Because it was my experience taking those engineering courses. And, particularly the problem with chemistry during my freshman year at Norwich, in which I said the way they're doing this, there's a problem with it. The education methodology is problematic here because I should not be failing a class. Something has to be done differently. So, I, at that time, got that sense of what's going on that education needs to be done differently. So, I carried that with me to when I was teaching at this school in Ghana.
And, I'd been sort of thinking about this again, education philosophy saying myphilosophy goes a lot of different directions. In this case, this is education. And, it gets into -- again, I'm sort of elaborating John Dewey now. This is education is growth. This is his big theory. So, here's this great, famous American philosopher back in the turn of the century with a lot of influence on the way education was talked about at that time. And, what this involves is that education is an organic process in which you start with sort of a core and if you can establish that core fundamental, it then is a(n) intellectual construction that's being made that is a -- sort of growing.
So, as you assimilate some new experience, new material, you attempt toaccommodate what's called accommodate that or restructure that into your intellectual view of reality. And, as long as you take the proper amount of time and do it properly or thoroughly, then it gets fully integrated and now you have -- can work with this new material and be effective with it.
If you try to do it too fast, where it doesn't get properly accommodated intoyour intellectual structures, then it's, it becomes problematic. Where you then can't solve -- you're given a certain problem to solve. You can't do it because you haven't quite understood all of the -- what you need to know about the material.
And this is what, today is so significant about Salman Khan and what's calledKhan Academy. I don't know if you've heard of this. Oh, you have. Wonderful. Because he is doing exactly what I was advocating. Where you provide ten minutes of instruction on a very precise chunk of information. And where the student can go back and watch this over and over again if they need to. But, then you provide all of the activities around that piece of information to judge how well it's been understood and accommodated into your intellectual structures. And where there's a bunch of different problems or different activities and that's what the teacher does. The teacher monitors how well the student has absorbed that chunk of material and says, you know, you still need a little more work. Why don't you watch it one more time and then we'll talk about it some more? That kind of thing.
Well, this is what I was doing in Ghana. The advantage I had is that these werevery disciplined kids. They all came from extended families where they were the bright one in the family. And the whole family looked at them as the family breadwinner. That they were going to go on, be successful and there'd be all this income for the family. Because it was like you never get away from your family here. (Laughs) You're -- we want you to be successful. We're there looking over your shoulder every day. Encouraging you to be -- so that's good on one level, but it creates tremendous pressure on these kids on another level. And, in Ghana they used the British system in which you had to achieve a certain level of success in the exams at the end of the year to go onto the next grade. They sort of raised this enough so that it weeded out half the kids as you went on from grade to grade.
So, if you're a senior in what would be a senior in high school taking myphysics class, you're looking at being able to get onto the next college level, which is the hard thing to do. And, so for them, this was very scary with a lot of pressure. So, when I -- that allowed me to do with them, which is wonderful, was you could always count that they would do the work. So, we're saying okay, we're getting into this particular subject matter in physics. So, read these three or four pages or five pages, whatever it would be, and I will call on one of you to teach the class. So, they did not know who I would call on. So, depending on the difficulty of the material, I would -- if it was real difficult, I knew who to get up there. And if that kid couldn't understand it, then I know we really need to get back and work some more on that material.
And, so what this gave them the ability to do, was to realize they -- if youhave to teach the material, you have to really understand it to teach it. You realize how well do you understand it if you can get up and talk about it and explain it all clearly. You know, you've got that pretty good.
So, what this allowed me to do, I would sit in the back of the class and listento the presentation and you could see where certain things weren't clear. And that's where I could step in. So, just like with Salman Khan, you're finding where they didn't quite get some aspect of it. And focusing in on that. So, you're not spending your time just doing the initial presentation. The teacher's role is really to get that simulation and accommodation clear.
So, that was a wonderful experience. This was teaching the way I wanted to doit. And, so I loved it there. And this was -- and of course, being there in west Africa, you've got a whole other world of experience. So, this is now -- you look at Norwich being an opening in a certain way in which I'm sort of seeing the larger world for the first time. Well, with west Africa, you're now really out there seeing the rest of the world and the way it actually is. So, realizing how different America is from their world and their life and what they're coping with. That was very eye-opening to be a part of that whole experience. And, we were unusual in that they were just coming out of the British colonialism. So, Ghana at that time had made the transition into initially a democracy. But, under Nkrumah -- but the problem with all countries is that it's one thing to talk democracy and say how wonderful it is. It's another whole thing to have it really ingrained in the people.
So, you had in all these countries a problem with the military -- is that themilitary didn't buy into democracy. They were ready to have a coup whenever they could organize one. So, just before we came, there had been this coup where, these were junior officers, like lieutenants who organized a group of about 50 soldiers and they only had to take over three places. The radio station, there was this one military base and I forget -- the presidential palace. And those would be the three things.
And, they nearly -- they soon (?) [1:42:24] they took over the radio station,the president had to escape out to his palace on the ocean. He had to escape out the back door and got away that way. And, fortunately there was some people at the military base who opposed this. And, so these guys didn't get too far. But, there were a lot of bullets that flew around and there were actually some buildings near to the school where you can see bullet marks on the walls and of course, this kind of thing.
So, while I was there, they had the public execution of these lieutenants thatorganized this coup. And, again, same kind of thing. You see the difference with the way things are done in America, versus how brutal it can be in some of these other countries.
JP: So, the coup happened while you were there?
JR: Yes. This was -- it had happened before I got there but the public executionoccurred after I was there.
JP: And how did they execute them?
JR: It was firing squad, up against some wall in a public stadium, I think.
JP: What was that like?
JR: Sort of like what was happening in Afghanistan where you would have asimilar kind of thing happen. I think in Afghanistan they would stone people to death out in some public stadium. So, these countries -- it's a whole other world that you --
So, all of that was eye-opening in its own way. But, being adventurous, I was --every time -- every chance I got, I was off and running to --
In one case, this was -- the next country over from Ghana is the Ivory Coast.And, that was a French colony so in -- I'm trying to remember the capital, the name of the capital there -- but it was like being in the old part of the city was like being in Paris. It was totally French-ified (sic). So, this was where the French, the colonial presence, this is where they dominated that. It wasn't a big section. It was maybe four blocks. But it was like being in France.
And, so to get from where I was in Ghana to this capital -- boy, I have thatname of that capital on my tongue -- it was about a couple hundred miles. So, it's like a lorry trip. And, you're riding in these odura (?) [1:45:08] vans. So, it's like a small truck and you have benches on either side and you're riding back -- they don't go until it's full. (Chuckles) So, it waits there. Once the thing is packed full, then it takes off.
And we were unusual in that no white people would do this. So, coming from thecolonial period they always had their own car or special arrangements. So, they never rode with the local people in the lorries. So, it was always a strange thing for them, for the Ghanaians to see me or some of my friends riding with them in these lorries.
So, that trip to that -- boy, I'm mad at myself for forgetting the name of thecapital. You then took a train to what's now called Burkina Faso. At that time, it was called Upper Volta. And, the capital is Ouagadougou. And, I remember getting up there and seeking out the American Embassy and being invited, one of the people at the embassy invited us over for dinner at his place. And, the thing that stands out from that visit was listening to Beethoven's 5th Symphony because all I had in my little cottage was this tiny, little radio that was a shortwave radio that allowed me to pick up the BBC.
So, I could get the news and I could get whatever music the BBC was playing. Butotherwise, any other station was all the Ghanaian music, which is enjoyable in its own way, but after a while you kind of want something different. (Chuckles) Or at least I did.
The idea of -- this was still one of the plastic-style record players at thattime. What do you want to call those?
JR: Turntables with the needle and you think back, gee this is not quite 50years ago, but the technology at that time was very different. But, hearing Beethoven's 5th Symphony, it was kind of a powerful musical experience because it just jolted me out of what I had been experiencing for the previous year. And I still remember that as one of the highlights of being there in Ouagadougou which was right on the edge of the Sahara Desert. So, you're -- you go a little further north and out of town and you start getting into where the vegetation just starts disappearing and you're heading toward sand dunes.
But, from there, then took a lorry south. So, I wanted to see northern Ghana.The capitol up there is Tamale. And, but again it's a very, not deserted, but it's very rural and very, not much of anything. Scattered little houses and farms here or there. But not much else. So, very simple kind of rural environment.
And then, we flew home from Tamale on a little Cloud Hopper. It couldn't havehad more than ten seats for -- five on one side and five on the other side. I said, I hope this pilot knows how to fly. (Laughs) But, we made it okay and that worked out good.
But, during the summer vacation, that following summer, myself and three otherPeace Corps volunteers flew out to east Africa into Kampala of -- why am I forgetting the name of the country. Uganda. And, at that time, this was before Idi Amin took over and also just been sort of freed from British colonial rule, and had a reasonable, functional government at that time.
And, so we rented a car and drove north out of Uganda towards this, what'scalled the Blue Nile. So, the Nile River has its origins in these sort of mountainous areas south of Egypt. And it flows from there all the way up to the Mediterranean. But, in this part it's very tropical. And, so there was this lodge that was right there on the river that we were aiming for. And it provided a cruise up the river where you can kind of get a sense of what the overall environment was like.
Well, we arrive at this lodge. Beautiful place. Clearly something the Britishmust have somehow in their heyday used a lot or whatever. But, now we were the only ones in there for that dinner that evening. So, it was like we're sitting at the main table, the four of us, with all of these waiters with nothing else to do except wait on us. It was the strangest kind of experience.
And then the next day, being out on the Blue Nile with sort of crocodileseverywhere. It seemed like everywhere you looked, there was this one or that one off to the side. And on all the trees all along the whole way were baboons. Hundreds of baboons.
JR: They're all up doing their thing. Moving around from limb to limb. Therewas, of course, all kinds of birds and everything else. So, there's quite a sight where you're seeing something that you would see in a zoo, now you're seeing in their real environment. And that was, that's a special thing. Now you're seeing nature as it actually is.
So, that -- when we came back, we came back to Nairobi and then started out.Rented another car. In this case, it was a small Volkswagen and I was sitting in the passenger seat. And what we were doing is we were driving from Nairobi through this large game park to the border with Tanzania where Mt. Kilimanjaro is located. And, I still remember sitting there in the passenger seat as we were going through the dirt road in the game park and this huge elephant is out there, down the road. And the elephant spots us and turns around and starts heading right towards us. Right down the road. (Chuckles) And there's nowhere else to go. You're stuck on this little dirt road. You can't really back up. And here's the massive elephant, as big as you can get them, coming right for us. And, you're looking at tusks the whole length of my arms sticking up.
And, I had just been reading a story in Time Magazine about an elephant that hadsat on a Volkswagen. I don't know how, the coincidence of this, seemed kind of amazing.
So, he came up. He was just curious. He just came right up within 15 feet of thecar. And, I'm looking at the tusks, saying -- watching that thing coming through the window. (Laughs) He looked at us for maybe five seconds, and then just wandered off to the side. And we continued on. But that experience of five seconds of terror you might say (makes sighing noise). So, close. And, you know, with no protection so if he wanted to charge us? We were stuck.
JP: You were in an open vehicle?
JR: No, it wasn't open but it was -- a Volkswagen at that time was just thistiny car --
JP: Oh, right.
JR: -- where your -- there's no front to the car. So, you're essentially righton the windshield and if that tusk comes through the windshield, there's no space to move. (Chuckles)
JP: Oh my gosh.
JR: You could try to slide off to the side I suppose, but -- so that was thisfun experience on the way to Kilimanjaro and there we're able to rent all the equipment so we didn't bring any equipment. We rented everything, including the porters to carry the food. So, you can't carry any -- the problem with anyone doing what we were doing, is you don't have time to acclimate. You're going up high so quickly, in a couple of days that your body isn't acclimated to the lack of oxygen. Because once you get up to 15,000 feet, the oxygen difference is huge. And you don't have time to adjust. So, the porters, who are doing this all the time, their bodies made all the adjustments and they can handle carrying things which we really couldn't. So, all we could do was just take ourselves and the porters carried whatever was needed. And this would be the winter clothing because the cabin -- there are two cabins that you use getting up there. It's the first day, you've got to the point where you're pretty much through a tropical forest because there's like a cloud cover that sits around -- covers the whole base of the mountain in the morning. And it creates a very moist environment. It's very tropical.
Now this is still at 10,000 feet, but it's warm enough and moist enough you getall of that. Well, in order to get to the first cabin that you're staying in that first night, it's about a 20-mile hike and you're going up all the time.
JR: And, you come out and they're all -- it gets more scrub. So, you come out ofthe tropical forest and now everything is like scrub bushes. And, a lot of up and down ravines, sort of rocky kind of terrain.
And so, stay overnight in that first cabin. And we were going up with othergroups. It wasn't just the four of us. It was, I think there was space enough for about 20 people in these cabins. And there was a least 16 other people in the cabin --
JR: -- when we were there. Well, the second day, you're getting now to the cabinat 15,000 foot which is at the base of the mountain. Because, at that time, just north of that, the ice and snow started. So, the sky was just low enough it was below the snow line. But you're right there.
JR: Well, it took all day to make it to that second cabin. So, we're gettingthere at like 6:00 at night, right as it's getting dark. So, you're getting up at dawn in the first cabin. Hiking all day to get to the second cabin.
Now, here's where it really gets hairy. Because now you're at 15,000 feet. It'svery difficult to breathe. So, different people have -- get sick, even at that level.
Well, the way this works, is you start out that next morning at 3:00 in themorning. Because the idea is in six hours you want to make it to the top.
JR: See, you know, the sunrise and get to the top. Sort of look around a littlebit. Enjoy the scenery for ten minutes. And, now from that point, you've got to make it not down to the cabin that you started from, but all the ways down to the other cabin. (Laughs) That had to be really one of my tougher days, physically anyway. Because you're 3:00 in the morning. Get to the top. Look around. I still remember how enjoyable it was sliding back down. You kind of ride the snow and you're zipping back down after all that work, to make it up to that point.
And, I think we made it to the cabin, back to the first cabin by 11:00 in themorning. And now we had to make it. You can't fool around because you've got to get to the other cabin before dark. And I remember making it there. It was a little after dark. It was just enough twilight so you could see where you're going, but it was like 7:00 in the evening before I finally made it to that second cabin.
And, it's -- you're constantly in this downward kind of -- your knees are really-- start becoming problematic as that constant pressure on them take hold. I kind of learned -- I don't know if I want to be doing this mountain climbing all that much! (Laughs)
JP: Oh my gosh.
JR: But, it was great experience.
JP: I think we have to wrap it up. Can I ask you one last question?
JR: Yes. Sure!
JP: Is there any advice you would give a rook today? What kind of advice wouldyou give a rook today?
JR: It's taking the military seriously. It's realizing it has a role and apurpose. But that role is going to have a tremendous effect on you. And you have to know you're committed and understand what you're committing to. And, what a -- and when you commit, really knowing what's involved, and what you're really signing up for, you're a hero if you commit to do that.
JP: Oh. Thank you so much for a fascinating, fascinating story on the progressand story of it.
JR: You're very welcome.
(end of audio)