J.M. Cook, former San Fernando Valley resident

(J.M. Cook sent us this story by e-mail)

Congratulations to CSUN for fifty years! I have enjoyed looking at the CSUN website and going through the timeline. It brings back many memories. I live in northern California now and get down that way very rarely.

I have a small CSUN story, although I never attended there. My family lived on Nordhoff Street between Encino and White Oak, and I attended Prairie Street Elementary School (in case you don’t remember it, it was at the southwest corner of Zelzah and Prairie, long since gone to create parking for CSUN) 1958-1964, Northridge Jr. High, Holmes Jr. High and Cleveland High. We were guinea pigs, if you will, for the SFVSC education students. SFVSC was a constant part of the background reality of elementary school, being that the college surrounded the elementary school on three sides.

Prairie Street School students learned early on that a row of folding chairs set up in the back of a classroom meant that a class of education students would arrive shortly to watch our lesson. Our teachers never told us in advance that the students were coming. When we came into the classroom, either first thing in the morning or from recess, there would be those chairs. The students would file in, take their seats, and watch what happened in our class. They only observed, never spoke, during the proceedings. The only time I saw my fourth grade teacher Mr. Klenes sweat was when we had SFVSC students in the room.

I had several student teachers from SFVSC over the years, from elementary through high school. One who made a great impression on me was Richard Speights, who taught my government class at Cleveland High. Even as a student teacher, he was able to make his points creatively and effectively. On one occasion we were discussing literacy tests for voters, and he demonstrated vividly how such a test can be used to separate people into groups. He went around the room asking each student one question about the Constitution. Students who answered correctly stayed in their seats, and those who answered incorrectly went to the back of the room. When he finished, most of the boys were in their seats and most of the girls were in the back. He had asked the boys the easy questions and the girls got the hard questions. That small lesson has stuck with me ever since. No lectures on discrimination would have made the point as clearly as that spontaneous demonstration. I think Mr. Speights must have become a very fine teacher as his career progressed.

My daughter is in college now, and is considering going to CSUN for her master’s degree. Funny how life goes, isn’t it?