John Turner

Interview Conducted Circa December 1977 by Larry Daloz with John Turner (early CCV Brattleboro employee).

It was in the very early days in Brattleboro.  We had started sort of slower than the other towns (Tom Yahn and Gerry [Hammer]up in Springfield and Carman (? in Bellows Falls).  I was in Brattleboro.  We invited Peter (Smith, the founder and first president of CCV) to come down and talk.  We invited the whole community to come down and learn about the Community College of Vermont.  Peter came down.  Three people showed up.  Peter got into a long discussion with a woman.  It spilled out into the street and just as they were ready to part, a woman who later graduated from CCV, said to Peter, “By the way, what do you do with CCV?”

The other image I have with Peter and some community people [is when in] trying to impress some of the respectable people with the professionalism of the college, and in the process of making a point, he fell over backwards in the chair.

One of my earliest recollections was the very first class, which was held at the Brattleboro Retreat, the oldest private mental hospital in America.  I’d talked to a guy over the phone about teaching creative writing and I’d not had a chance to meet him before the first night of class.  So we had it in the library of this hospital.  I walked in and I found people all over the library, some with their chins on their chests, some looking up at the ceiling, and some twisting their heads around.  I couldn’t figure out which one the teacher was.  They all looked crazy.  I remember going around and saying, “Are you Chuck Miller, are you Chuck Miller?”  It turned out this guy was from the Creative Writers Workshop in Iowa.  He had straggly hair, long beard, and looked like a patient.

Another one we did was one of the first courses when we started to get a “respectable” crowd, some of the mainstream Brattleboro society instead of the commune-hippy crowd.  It was an American Literature course.  The guy who taught it was living in a commune in Putney.  We decided to have the course out at his place.  So, I remember driving these four straight, Presbyterian women up to the course.  He said, “Why don’t we meet outdoors?”  He didn’t have any shoes on.  It was the first time I’d seen him without shoes, and he had purple nail polish on.  So he begins outlining the course and these women are sitting on a wagon, and he’s talking.  Out of the farmhouse bounce four people with a volley ball and proceed to play in front of the class…totally nude.  It was the last time I saw any of these women ever again.

The first time we went into Brattleboro, we invited the editor of the newspaper and all the civic leaders.  The five of us stood up front like a line-up and proceeded to tell these very sophisticated, very tough-minded people we’re going to start a college in your town.  We’re not going to pay teachers any salary; we’re not going to build a campus; we’re going to have a community faculty, and students don’t have to pay anything.  All I remember was the manager of the local radio station saying as politely as he could, “You people will not be around a year from now,” and the editor saying it was a rip off of the taxpayers’ money. [There we were]  Carmen coming in at two hundred pounds; Gerry as skinny as a beanpole; Mike Redmond with an afro and rotten teeth; Tom, the Dartmouth teenager; and myself looking as if some kid had just rolled him in off the street.  It was not a scene to immediately inspire confidence.

[Random Reflections]:

Meetings:   In Gerry Hammer’s house with her six kids running around and Steve Hochschild fresh out of Harvard with his reams of yellow paper trying to help us lay out a planning format.  I remember the responses of people saying< “Who the hell is this guy?  What’s he trying to do?  We’re trying to survive.”  We were meeting for support/therapy.

There was a teacher of poetry who ran away once with one of our student’s poetry.

After two and a half years away, things still hadn’t changed.  There was still that basic dichotomy there, unresolved.  Nancy Chard’s   situation just played out a trend in CCV almost from the beginning.  She lost.  Label it those who seriously want to confront the issue of quality and accountability and the other half who wanted to be fuzzies and supporters at all cost.  If the quality wasn’t good, you still said it was okay because it was more important to be supportive and warm than to quantify or qualify.  Nancy seemed to me to be the next generation qualitatively.  She lost because unlike Peter, she didn’t have the personal skills to soothe the need for touchy-feely relationships.  Intellectually, she probably was smarter than Peter.  Peter’s gift was the ability to put the human together with the leadership.  I would think of picking Nancy’s mind more than of picking Peter’s mind.

Not enough of the people in the college who felt strongly about quality stood up for it.  All of us got sucked into the Gerry Hammer thing of “Don’t pull that Ivy League, highly educated s*** on us.”  We chose too often to placate that.

The college ended up serving itself and its staff.  I looked back on the college and it was an intellectual wading pool.  You could get into it up to about your ankles, but you couldn’t immerse yourself in the process.  Some people had never been in the water, so it was important, but there was no eight foot end.  I still see that pool as pretty level.  A lot of the people who ran that pool were scared to get in themselves.

At meetings we’d touch on issues and then back off—a real reluctance to get involved on issues of importance.  When you did get into it, your got accused of snobbery.

We had a couple teaching Irish literature who quit in the middle of the summer; we never heard from them again.  I think they must have been running guns for the IRA.  Then we had that woman who was arrested as a student for being in the Weathermen.

Ron Krupp did yoga headstands during staff meetings while trying to do needs assessment.  Staff members would disappear for forty minutes a day to meditate.

Once we printed up a thousand Certificates of Achievement with the word achievement misspelled.

I remember Sig Lonegren yelling, “Be here now!”

There was an excessive need for meetings in those days.

Breast feeding picnic; bring your own.

I remember talking to a woman in the early days saying, “Stick with us; it’ll come.”  We didn’t have any degree structure at that time and she wanted a degree.

I saw a light go on in terms of them saying, “Hey, I really have some potential here I didn’t know.”  That’s one of the important goodies I took away.  When you institutionalize, will you destroy those light bulbs going on in the eyes?

A woman took a consciousness-raising course, having been married for forty years during which she’d never been away from her husband for a single night.  After the group she spent a night in a motel in Brattleboro alone.  She came back to the class and said, “It was like going around the world.  I was scared, but I really made it back.”

There was another forty-five year old woman who had put two or three daughters through school and had zero confidence in herself.  She kept saying she couldn’t do anything.  She turned out one of the best early students we had.  She went on to Antioch and now has a master’s degree.  She still tells me, “It was at CCV where I began to believe in myself.”

Peter always had a good sense of humor about himself.  George Billicic (a former president at CCV for a very short time) has been described as a man with humor.  Also, the fuzzies had little humor.  It was the fuzzies that were most destructive toward Nancy and yet who were most filled with talk about compassion.

The majority of the staff had still not come to terms with that do-gooder, social welfare attitude that the client’s always right and should be believed.  Never question or challenge someone you’re trying to “help.”  It is like helping a fat lady get into a bus from behind.  Instead of helping her lose weight, just shove her into the bus.  She was drummed out by the people who would get up on platforms and say we got to care about people.

I always saw it as basically very revolutionary.  I figured if we can give these people [students] an opportunity to take control of their own learning, to have a major voice in what they learn and how they learn it, it has to run over into other aspects of their lives.  That’s important in our increasingly regimented society.  It’s romantic, but the alternative doesn’t impress me.

I think that you [Larry Daloz], individually, were the critical person in legitimizing CCV to the rest of the higher education world.  You, more than even Peter, were important in legitimizing it.

You articulated CCV more effectively to that higher education community.  You were the translator.  I don’t think we’d ever have been accredited.  (????) said CCV can’t die; it’s too important to higher education in America.  I think that you were the reason it was so important.

You were caught up like the rest of us good guys in that b**S***.  I remember you finally letting you anger out and saying B*******.  On the one had you were dealing with people asking hard, academic questions in places like Washington, and on the other hand, you wanted to feel good about working with people because you were the head of the Learning Services program, and also realized that if you were going to translate our position in the field, you had to have some influence there.

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