A letter from a reader: A Princeton education, 60 years ago

Having enjoyed Evan Thomas on TV from time to time, I thought it graceful and generous of him to confess to projecting on our earlier generations his “untested assumptions” (letters, April 23). Lest Professor Thomas’ protestations themselves be laid to “political correctness,” PAW may be willing to think back about 60 years, specifically to 1947-1951 when our class was in college. Princeton very definitely taught us to discuss “democracy and faith and righteousness and love of unseen things that do not die” (written on the archway between Dickinson and McCosh), even without taking a designed interdisciplinary sequence of courses. It was a fabulous education.

Perhaps the best challenges were history courses by Buzzer Hall, the great champion of Garibaldi (because he never gave up) and one of the few remaining “preceptor guys” recruited by Woodrow Wilson. Buzzer held all his courses at 7:40 a.m. to reduce the enrollment. He taught either all or almost all the precepts. It was for one of his courses that I read Darkness at Noon. In one precept he required us to state whether we believed in hell.  Two of about 10 of us did.  He stated that a good God could not send people to hell. If I had a religious experience it was, after that course, chewing over the issues he made us face. My favorite teacher in the department was Jerry Blum, later chairman of the department, who threw people out of a precept if they had not done the reading. He made me raise my personal standards of writing an exam.

In Art II we learned how each of the great architectural styles of the West reflected the thinking of its time. We learned a great deal about Greek civilization and its focus on man. Rome, the Renaissance, baroque, and rococo followed. Opinions about the architecture of the campus were provoked. Economics 201 was about Keynesian theory but even that, applied as it was, seemed to belong to the equipment of an educated man.

Nantucket, Mass.

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