HAAREN HIGH SCHOOL

There were only three things that I learned about Haaren High School before I began my teaching career. It was called DeWitt Clinton High School in some past time, and that Robert Mitchum and John Carradine both went there. The last two items came from an old teacher and attendance officer. I make no claim that they are correct. Haaren had been built in the gargoyle style of the 1890’s, sometimes called Tammany Hall Gothic. It had a faded red brick look and was encircled by a fence close to the building walls. Inside it was inhospitable, dark and without any sign of learning. Rooms were often dark, except those, like mine, with a view of the Hudson River. All in all a building that could have been the scene of Bel Kaufman’s Up the Down Staircase.
The students came from all parts of the city, including local kids from a Ukrainian Catholic school, a Chinese community, African American and Puerto Rican kids and working class white kids. We started out with 2,300 students on the rolls and ended up with 1,400 officially at the end of the school year. In one year, we graduated fifty young men. Oh yes, it was all male.

I prepared ferociously for my first day of classes. The first set of students were to be my homeroom and there were a number of logistical chores that I had to do with them. However, I was not prepared to receive my first jolt, when an officious gentleman, someone whom I had never seen, came into my room about 10 minutes before homeroom and gave me a new list of thirty four things that I had to do with my homeroom class. I was shocked and depressed for the next ten minutes and then the kids came in.

Some came in with smiles on their faces, some with scowls and others pathetic looking in their kind of street clothes. I greeted them all warmly. Some had been part of a return to school program that the New York City schools were attempting. Students who had been out of school, for a while, but were under 21 were encouraged to finish their high school careers. I was twenty two at the time and Jose Rosa was 20. In actuality, the older kids were very helpful to me in keeping things in order in my class.

I actually got through all of the minutia within the prescribed time, dismissed my homeroom class and began the act of teaching. “ Hello there, I am Mr. Hillman and I will be your teacher for the next year. This class is ( economic geography, world history, U.S. history, civics) and there are some things I want to talk to you about.” I began with asking them to tell me their names and tell me a bit about themselves. That was the most interesting part of the day. I found out that Leong had just come from Shanghai and was not at all conversant with the English language and that Yuri was not at all interested in American history, but wanted to know all about the heroes of Ukrainian history, that Carlos’ family came from Puerto Rico and did not care at all about history, but liked music. Allen Bonds told me that he was first cousin to Gary U.S, Bonds of rock and roll fame. Melvin told me that he wanted to finish high school and that he would be the first one in his family to finish. It was a startling introduction to my first day of teaching. How was I going to get through to any of these kids on the subjects that I was supposed to teach?All at once it seemed to fall apart after the first day. There had to be some commonality of interest among all of the kids. What was it that was going to draw them together so that we could move ahead in our studies?

Turned out the common thread among all of my students in all of my six classes was ME. They were exceptionally interested in what I had done in my life and how I had come from my background to this place and time. The older students like Jose wanted to know about the military and where I had been stationed ( a perfect in to geography). Since Africa was in the news on an almost daily basis, countries gaining their freedom, the idea of history, slavery in particularly, engrossed the African American students. The Ukrainian kids loved the fact that I knew something about their country ( I appeared to know something because I had read some and could say a couple of words in Russian from my grandmother). I could do very little with Leong and the Chinese kids. They did not speak up in class , probably because they couldn’t. However, on any test that they took, they aced them all. They listened and read. The others were mostly interested in the sounds coming out of my mouth and rarely did any assignments.

I had come to the realization that I could not do beautiful lesson plans and expect to get through them on any given day. I made general sketches of what I wanted to do and visualized my room and what my students looked like. The process by which I taught was as eclectic as anything that I did subsequently. These students were a challenge. That is the 1950’s 1960’s use of the word challenge. I then began to lose them. I don’t mean in the classroom, but they did not come to school anymore. The absentee list, on a daily basis, looked like this: Lopez 18/34, Stevenson 20/34, Ivanovich 29/34. That means that some of the kids, on the 34th day were absent those many days.

I asked some of the kids like Carlos de Los Santos why so many of the others were not coming to school. He told me, “ Mister Hillman, it’s not that they don’t like school, some come only for lunch and gym and leave to work or take care of their moms or brothers or sisters and some even have no place to sleep at night and sleep someplace during the day.” I began to ask more questions and wound up helping some of the kids with places to be, money and learned all about social services and what to do when you had no place to be. It may have helped my sense of ego to do those things, but not much for the kids.

After a few months of dealing with lunch duty, absentees and bureaucracy, I decided to focus on those who actually came to school on a regular basis. Those who continued to come seemed to enjoy my style of teaching, the thought cards that I believed that I had invented,and the introduction of Fred McCarty as an Alaskan explorer and scrimshaw expert. After an intense first semester, I began to relax a bit and sort of see my life again through the fog. I was continually going down to Beaver College. It was getting serious and Carol and I began talking of the future.

My immediate future was instigated by my fellow new teacher Ed Strom. It was only two years later that he told me that his name was Ernie. I asked him why he waited so long to tell me. He said it was not worth the bother correcting every one. Ernie was going to enroll at the New School for Social Research way downtown in Manhattan. He kind of gave me a rundown about the place and I enrolled. Because of my lack of understanding of graduate school and working full time, I took 9 credits each semester till I graduated in 1963.

I loved the new school- Paul Tillich ( eminent theologist), Saul Padover ( renowned Jefferson expert), Otto Kircheimer ( advisor to President Kennedy), Erich Hula, Dorian Cairns ( whose lectures in philosophy I am sure I still do not understand), Frederick Burin , O. Edmund Clubb, whose knowledge of China was firsthand, being the last person out of China in our delegation in 1949.These were all towering people. I was just a young man who wandered in off the street. The New School was so advanced that it gave out a degree above the doctorate, Doctor of Social Science. The dean had that degree and one other person whom I have met in my lifetime.

I know that I appreciated the intellectual exercises that I went through at the New School. However, I did not appreciate it as much as I do know, because I remember so much of what I learned and still apply some of that learning today. I can recall during the Cuban Missile crisis, as we were listening to our little radios in class, Dr. Hula criticized Adlai Stevenson, then ambassador to the U.N., for using the wrong part of the U.N. Charter to base our actions in blockading Cuba. The next day Stevenson corrected himself using Hula’s words. Those were heady days for my intellectual growth.I majored in Political Science and minored in philosophy. It would become apparent to me later on in life that I would need a philosophical underpinning for everything that I did and that the political science I learned would be my armor and my shield in future battles.

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LEARNING TO BE UNPREPARED

Did you ever read Marcel Proust? I read some of Remembrance of Things Past in college. It is 3,000 pages in its entirety and I could not will myself to read anymore than I had to, especially in French. The work is disconnected in many ways, and is so particularistic that the wiping of one’s nose with a hankie takes on the appearance of a major event in one’s life. Somehow, I would want to emulate Proust, but I know that you would not be held to the page for more than a few seconds before you either put it down, cursed me or barf. I therefore continue to tell my story in the often hop scotch way that my mind works.

My college career, my academic career that is, was lackluster. I use that word in its clearest sense. I did nothing to distinguish myself be getting all A’s, write any glowing treatises or engage in Socratic colloquies with any of my professors. I dutifully sat in class and absorbed, by hearing ( I am an auditory learner) the lines of the day put forth by my professors.

I have wrestled with a concept that many children , who have lost one or both of their parents, that surrounds them for a good part of their lives. From the time I was in my teens till I was in my early thirties, I searched for a mentor, a role model, a substitute male figure that I could look to for advice, counsel and general discussion without fear. Sometime at the end of my college career, I ran into an ed. Professor named Leonard Kornberg. He was bright, soft, easy to talk to and just a nice guy. He got me involved in something called the Little White House Conference on Education. I was to be one of the co-chairpeople. It was the first time, outside of my military and fraternity life that I was somewhat in charge.

I was kind of surprised that Dr. Kornberg chose me. I guess I had some of the traits that he needed to carry this off and I was a bit older than most and had the ability to think and speak on my feet. The conference was a success and I was enthralled with the idea that someone, other than me, had confidence in my abilities. Strange thing- after the conference my relationship with Dr. Kornberg ended. I was not saddened by the inaction, must somewhat curious. I continued to search for someone in my spare time, but never did succeed.

My education practicum (visiting schools and speaking with teachers, and observing classes) and my student teaching experience made me certain that teaching was for me. I understood what it meant to be in a classroom with 25-30 kids ( I have always used that word, now it is not politically correct) helping them to achieve using some form of higher order thinking skills. It is a daunting task and one that folks believe anyone can do. That is so wrong. Great teachers begin with a gift and work at it every day of their lives. I live with one, and although she has not taught large groups of kids in a while, she still maintains that high oxygen content way of preparing for any task. She now deals with individual kids in a scholarship program and her manner of approaching students has not changed. She is truly a great teacher.

I graduated from Queens College in 1961 in between going down to visit Carol and spending time with her each Summer. I began looking for a job in suburban New York City. Little did I know that social studies teachers were a glut on the market, other than elementary school teachers. I was beginning to lose confidence towards the beginning of September when I began to visit New York City High Schools. I would go into each office and offer my services. There were some funny scenes in each of them, but at the time I was not amused. My final stop and the beginning of my teaching career, was Haaren High School on 59th St. and 10th Avenue in Manhattan. I was interviewed by the principal, Mr. Israel, the head of the social studies department, Mr. Margolis and Mr. Warren. Their questions were kind of perfunctory and they engaged me in kind of an interview that did not elicit academic responses, only human ones. I was hired on the spot as a full time substitute social studies teacher and began my teacher career about a week later. It was an auspicious beginning and I tremble to think how unprepared I was.

STANLEY APPEARS

Stan Sanders is one of the smartest people that I have ever met. That will be the nicest thing that I will say about Stan, who has been my brother in law for the past 60 years. My opinion of Stanley is colored by his interaction with other human beings. He entered by life in 1949 and in September of 1950 he married by sister Renee. He grew up in semi- poverty and spent a good deal of his early youth involved in working for pocket change. He never grew out of his depression mentality. He sometimes slept with me in my bed. He had very little in the way of home life and preferred to be with our family.

Grandma approved him because he was Jewish, a go-getter and he did not sniff in her presence like Uncle Joe. However, because of his size, about 5-7 she referred to him as the vonz( little bug). He was polite, a good card player and a not so bad basketball player. Sometimes, he would bring his buddies around and he would play with me. He was ultra competitive and really hated to lose. This brings us to Stanley’s qualities as a person. He hates to lose. He hates others to outshine him ( including Renee) and creates word games that he can present as tests of people’s intelligence and then squash them flat. He would do this to me constantly until I got old enough to see what the game was. Today at age 80, he is still doing it to his children and grandchildren and still attempts to do it to my wife Carol ( to whom he prophesied that she would not last with me). Renee has long ago stopped playing the game and kind of tells him where to stick it.

In the early 1950’s Stanley got jobs as a customer man for a number of Wall Street firms. He was reasonably successful and made a pile of money for many of his customers. He achieved a Master’s Degree from the City College of New York and was on his way up the ladder. He constantly predicted that the United States was doing to hell in a handbasket during every administration from Truman to Obama and is gleeful that the recession began last October. He has always been an economic and political conservative and believes, with Ayn Rand, that the strong and intellectually capable should rule the world- he, of course, among them.

Renee’s early relationship with her husband was bright and cheery with the birth of their three children. Stanley made sure that his first two daughters went to medical school. They are now both doctors. Their third child is still in the throes of what to do as an adult. He schooled his children in the “Game” which they now see for what it is and do not practice it on their own children.

When Renee went back to school to achieve her degree and then a couple of Master’s Degrees, their relationship changed. Renee became the leader in the house and her word was the final one in the relationship. When Renee went out to work, the relationship changed again and Renee became independent. As Stanley approached the zenith of his career, he became the President of a securities firm on Wall St. The firm toppled during the 1987 bust and he retreated to his former role as a customer man. He has foreseen every tragedy in the economy in the United States and has made others money during all of that time.

Renee kind of treats her husband as an antique. She is not his vassal any longer and she sometimes treats him in an off handed way. His current comings and goings with dialysis do not affect Renee as it would other spouses in the same situation. She tells him to get in his car and go to dialysis and let her know when he is coming home. She insisted that there not be a 50th anniversary party and there certainly will not be any 60th.

CAROL

The most important and significant thing that has happened to me in my life is meeting my wife, Carol Hacker ( now Hillman). A serendipitous event began it all fifty years ago and it has been my great fortune to have met such a person. Let me go back to a moment in time when the planets converged to bring two disparate people together.

My relationship with women has always been kind of easy for me. I was raised by women, my grandmother, mother and older sister. Men in my family were 4 ft. 11 inches, consummate smokers and night fry chefs or deceased. Not sure what a role model is, but they were not them. During my reentry period in Queens College, I met a number of young woman who seemed to find me interesting, easy to talk to, available and willing to treat them to a movie, a dinner once in a while and some smooching. After a number of months of doing this kind of thing at Q.C., I somehow ran into a young lady that I had known prior to leaving for the service.

Barbara was a senior in high school and anxious to go out, have a good time, or stay indoors and have fun. She was a very pleasant person, erudite ( I believe she went on to law school) and happy to be with me most of the time. Somehow over the next seven or eight months, we seem to tire of each other. I am not sure how we ended it, but it was not with a final crescendo, but with a whimper. It was probably my doing and I did not call her afterwards. I kind of drifted around, dating here and there and going to PLD fraternity parties and hanging out with young ladies in my neighborhood.

On a warm Summer night in July of 1960, Fred ( now Hanoch) called and asked me if I wanted to go to a going away party for Eileen. I said I did not know Eileen. Fred said that she was Stan’s friend and that he would pick us up. I guessed that there were not enough boys going to this self created going away party. Stan picked both of us up and we headed to Whitestone in Queens. We drove through neighborhoods that I was not familiar with. As provincial as rural people are about where they live, city people are the same about neighborhoods. We arrived at the party about 7:30 and I was not enthused at all. I was just doing someone a favor and really did not want to be there.

Sometime during the night I saw this young lady wearing a blue and white striped shirt dress. She was the cutest person that I had ever seen. I was attracted to her immediately. There was something about her that made me think that this was not just an idle feeling, but a precursor of things to come. Carol tells me that she did not feel that way. I walked over to her and asked her to dance. She felt perfect in my arms. We danced for the next couple of hours just talking and once in while me singing.

Fred and Stan touched my shoulder and told me that it was time for us to leave. It was about 1l o’clock. I told them that I was not ready to leave. Carol asked if I would walk her home. She told me that she did not live very far from there. I told Fred and Stan that I would somehow find my way home and that they should go. They were not particularly happy, but left anyway. Carol and I continued to dance for a while and then left the party.

I guess Carol really wanted me to walk her home because she really lived a number of miles away, probably about five. We had a wonderful time walking and talking and I even carried her across a very puddle street. We arrived at her house at about 1:30 went in and talked some more, among other things. I kissed her good night and told her that I would call her the next day. I had to take three buses to get home. I there at about two o’clock went into my room and put on my pj’s, turned the bed down and went into the bathroom to wash and brush my teeth. When I came back, my bed was remade. Somehow, my mother thought the bed was not made and got up and made it.

I did not call Carol the next day or the day after. What I had forgotten was that I was still obligated to go to once a month meetings in my reserve unit. What I did not know was that Carol was upset that I had not called the next day and was certain that things had not gone well. I was of another mind. I could not wait to talk to her and to see her. We arranged for a date within the next two weeks. I took Carol to a movie and then went out for Chinese food. She had soup and I had a full meal. It’s been that way ever since.

Carol was going away to Beaver College in September and I was going back to Queens College to finish my senior year. For the next three years, I would travel down to Beaver on weekends, spend time with Carol and then come back to New York. We wrote letters to each other rather frequently. The more we saw each other during the year and during the Summer, the more I knew she was going to be with me for a lifetime. Carol wasn’t so sure, but she went along for the ride anyway. That was fifty years ago and we are still travelling. There will be more about Carol later in this tome.

BACK TO Q.C. AND DISCOVER MY LIFE’S WORK

It was January of 1959 and I was a newly minted veteran. I was 20 years old and had no idea what I wanted to do for the near future, other than return to Queens College and finish my degree. I moved back into my mom’s home and discovered that my baby sister Sheryl Ann was already 8 years old. She was just a sprout when I had left and now she was a big girl who was happy to see her brother. I had been Sherie’s constant babysitter when she was growing up and we had become attached to each other. She was always a sweet kid who followed her brother around wherever I went. She had the same feeling for me that I had for my older sister who had done the babysitting thing for me when I was young.

When I got back onto campus, I realized that the people that I had left behind were now in their senior year and though they remembered me, they were onto new things. I got back to my fraternity Phi Lambda Delta and became even more active than I had been when I left ( more of that later). Since I now had to make some sort of decision about my future studies I chose to major in the one thing that I had sort of a connection with and that was history. I was always a trivia kind of person and the understandings that I had accumulated about Jewish history at the yeshiva, attracted me to this part of the curriculum. I thoroughly enjoyed all of my history, geography and less so my economics courses. I was through with accounting and did not even think about the subject till I later became a superintendent of schools.

My minor in education came to me through some sort of fluke. I was talking to a young lady, who I later dated, about what she was going to do with her life. She told me that she was a math major and was considering going on to become a math teacher. I did not realize until that moment that I really enjoyed teaching. I had done some teaching while I was in the service, on a very limited basis, helping some of the NCO’s who were about to take an intelligence test so that the army would not throw them out. I liked the feel of teaching and connections to other people. I had spent some time explaining things to some of the fellows in our outfit about the Jewish religion, living in a city, and other subjects. Those folks seemed to listen to me and I realize now, that I must have really loved it.

I began to take courses in education- the history, the philosophy, the methods, psych, abnormal psych, child development, practicum and student teaching. I have forgotten many more of the courses that I took, but they are in there somewhere. Is teaching a science, or an inherent skill or art? In my now 49 years in education I tilt towards teaching as an art form. Can you make yourself a better teacher. Sure you can. However, there are just some people who step into the classroom on the first day and “get it.”

My social life centered about Phi Lambda Delta. As the first semester back progressed I realized that the members of the fraternity now viewed me as kind of an older person. I was given a bit of respect because I had been in the military. This was prior to Vietnam and most of these fellows had not served and thought that the military was an honorable endeavor. By the end of my first semester, I was elected Chancellor of Phi Lambda Delta.

Although our fraternity had always been integrated, the number of young Jewish men predominated. People like Alan Handlesman, Paul Herman, Paul Friedman, Gideon Eisenberg, Lee Robert Berkson and his brother Stanley, and in the center of it all Fred (now Hanoch) McCarty. Fred was a special kind of guy. He had tried mightly to flunk out of Queens and had done an excellent job. He petitioned Dr. Hortense Powdermaker ( a colleague of Margaret Meade) to get back into school and she granted him permission to stay. Fred was a troublemaker par excellence in a brilliant manner. His compendium of, “Sounds of the Human Body,” parts 1 to 13 predate all of the Gerge Carlin bits.

Fred was the first person in college history to start a food fight ( in the college cafeteria). He instigated many such activities like having us dress up as Fidel Castro and run games of chance at a Queens College Function. He had us take a roll of toilet paper and stretch it out from 42nd St. and Broadway to 46th St. and Broadway and wear bedsheets and sell 25 cent tickets to the end of the world. In later years Fred would be at the forefront of making fun of the residents of his apartment building who were complaining about a low income high rise being built next door by playing the Drums of Olatunji in his elevator.

He was a clever writer and helped to create a language, with me, that included words such as frabning and crawb, which we placed in most of our English papers. No professor ever caught it. Fred claims that my affect on him was great and we became, and still are friends. He went on to be a maven on values clarification, helped pen one of the Chicken Soup for the Soul books and is a sought after speaker around the country.

Our fraternity dabbled in social issues and became well known for being anti-establishment. The President of Queens College, Harold Stoke, found that out when we invited him to one of our seminars and would not let him leave till 2:00 a.m. To say that I enjoyed PLD is an understatement. It figured prominently in my re-integration into society.

TIME OUT

Dear Everyone in General,

Sorry for the lack of communications during the entire year. We have been so busy, that we just could not put pen to paper or finger to touch pad. Can you believe that after all of these years, that we finally have a kitchen? We had been using a hotplate and logs in a burn barrel to make most of our meals. The fire department came by at the beginning of last year and told us that if we did not get some sort of regular stove and a kitchen that we would be thrown out of the truck that we live in. Fortunately, we went to the city dump and scrounged an old stove and some wooden boxes for cabinets and an old ice box to use. WE have been putting ice from the lake and snow to keep things cold. It all working for the better.

Vance started a new job this past year. His unemployment and welfare ran out at the same time and he was forced to look for some work. He thought about hiring himself out as a bottle opener at various bars in the area, but with the advent of twist off caps, there did not seem to be any call for that skill. He finally found a job at a movie theater in the neighborhood where he scrapes gum off the floors and seats. They give him a can of carbon dioxide and he freezes the gum and it cracks in his hands. He does get some overtime work, once in a while, vacuuming ujp public hairs in the restrooms.

I am still working at K-Mart as a part time greeter and handicapped assistant in the ladies room. If there are any people with disabilities, I go into the bathroom and their wheelchairs, help them onto the john and wipe their parts when they are through. I have met some interesting people that way. I am up for promotion soon and hope to become the person who empties out the combustible trash from the paint department.

Right after Vance got his new job, we thought about getting a car. We looked all around and found a small used car called a Corvair. We saw it in a garage near to where we live. The only thing wrong with it were the burn marks on the back. However, we did open the hood and saw that the motor was perfectly clean. As a matter of fact, you couldn’t really tell that it was a motor it was so spotless. We had go get a new batter, 4 new tires and something called a universal joint. We hope that we will be able to drive it in the Spring.

We have been kind of busy visiting with people and going to various functions. At the beginning of last year, Imelda Feldspar, Vance’s sister got pregnant by her dad Aloysius. We had a big party and a baby naming. Imelda’s boyfriend Harley was there and he did not look too happy. The baby was named Ringworm, after Vance’s grandfather.

We also went to a dance at the American Legion. They had the greatest music. They played all of my old favorites from World War iI. Commander Ferd Cornhusker gave the most patriotic speech that I have ever heard. He talked about all the young men who had given their lives for their country and the families that stayed home to support them by dancing to all of the tunes from those years.

Vance and I celebrated our 10th year anniversary by going to a movie sponsored by the local Alanon chapter. We were lucky enough to be there for the music of the Renal Failures and their lead singer Simon Cirrhosis. We danced the night away. The chips and pop flowed like the stink from an overloaded garbage truck. We had a great time .During the Christmas season, we went back for a reunion of our old elementary school. Most of the teachers that we had were dead or retired or could not make it. The students who were there seemed to have a good time remembering all of our merry pranks. Funny, how you remember the good times- like blowing up the teacher’s lavaratory, Supergluing Mr. Pedophile’s tie to his shirt, outing Lavernia Misanthrope to the whole school and stuff like that. The learning part seems to have gotten lost in our brains. Just wondering if things would have changed if we went past 5th grade. Oh, well no use complaining, no one listens.

We had so many wonderful events to go to this past year- so many celebrations. Our good friends, the Nebbishes had a wedding reception at the Grange for their daughter Ima after she and her boyfriend had some kids. It was a real wingding of an event-lots of aged malt liquor, sandwiches on white bread, and good snacks. I wish all of you could have been at this party. We were sick for three days afterwards from botulism poisoning. It was worth every trip to the bathroom.

We also made some cultural trips this year. We went to the farm show arena and saw the manufactured housing show. You know that they unveil their newest double-wides each year. I really want one those when we have enough money. We also saw two movies- Revenge of the Nerds and Gidget goes to Hawaii. We also saw a travel video at Marcia and Hal Lampoon’s trailer called Debbie Does Dallas. I’m still not sure what all of that had to do with travelling to Texas, but you know these modern film makers.

Our best cultural event was when we went to Philadelphia and saw the front steps of the Art Museum where they made the picture, “Rocky.” I was never so thrilled. Vance wanted to go inside and see what they had in there, but I told him it could not be as good as seeing the steps and statue.

That was our year. We hope that you a great 2009 and have our good wishes go with you for 2010.

Vance and Verna Feldspar