SCHOOL DAYS SCHOOL WAYS - JuniperCivic.com
Serving Middle Village and Maspeth since 1938.

Originally published in the March 2012 Juniper Berry Magazine

SCHOOL DAYS SCHOOL WAYS

I'm a big sports fan. Since I was a kid I've followed all the major sports. I was lucky enough to go to college on a basketball scholarship. Unfortunately the biggest sports story of the past year, 2011, will be the sex scandal that has rocked the once quiet community of Penn State University. Their football coach, Joe Paterno, was all set to go down in sports history as one of the most revered coaches and mentor of both men and women. He was a man who made students and players' lives better. And I'm sure this fact is true, and yet his legacy will be forever tarnished. His death is sad and tragic. I believe, in the end, he may very well have died from a broken heart.

Whatever he knew about this scandal, what he did or did not do will be his legacy now. It's very unfortunate for all concerned, especially the children who were abused. I feel very sorry for these people. At a time when they were most impressionable, when they were in need of guidance, they were taken advantage of in the most horrific ways imaginable. My sympathies go out to all of them. And I offer a few words of encouragement‒ If revenge is what you want then I say go get it, and get it with vengeance. Whatever gives you peace of mind go after it.

In an odd way this all reminds me of my school days, especially the years 1967-1970, though the weight of pain on the scale is so much lighter. Very little can compare to the tragedy at Penn State, and yet it reminds me of how educators and people in power can let us all down.

During this time period I was a student at Junior High School 73 in Maspeth, Queens, New York. These were some of the worst years of my life. If a scandal like the one at Penn State had occurred during this time period no one, not one of us, would have heard about it. It would have all been neatly tucked away. The accusers would have been banished forever, their claims laughed at. After all teachers protect teachers and students were looked upon as third class citizens who were to do as they're told, speak when spoken to, and respect their elders at all times, no matter what these creatures did. It's the way the world was back then. As Abraham Lincoln so eloquently spoke out ‒To sin by silence when they should protest makes cowards of men.

Culture Shock

In my opinion there were a lot of cowards at J.H.S. 73 from 1967-1970. I'll never forget the first day I walked into this junior high school. I came from a very quiet school, P.S. 102 on Van Horn Street in Elmhurst. I guess the words 'culture shock' would best describe my first impression of the new school. A big red line ran up and down the hallways. The students were quick to learn that one had to stay on the right side of the hall and God forbid you stepped on the red line. If you did a teacher, and I use the term loosely, was standing with a baton waiting to smack you on the butt. A teacher by the name of Mr. Gotkin, whom I had several run-ins, was good at this.

Staircases were labeled UP for going up and DOWN for heading down. If you got caught going UP a DOWN staircase it was not uncommon to be pushed around by a teacher and told about the error of your ways.

Not all the teachers were bad but in my estimation the ones who did not harm the students were just as guilty as the ones who did.

When I was fourteen years old I was already six-feet three inches tall so I stood out at J.H.S. 73. I was the butt of jokes by students and surprisingly teachers. Yes, the teachers cracked jokes and made fun of me. I guess I was a target. I couldn't fight back because, as I was quick to learn, if a bigger student was to beat up a smaller one he would be considered a bully. The fight would be unfair, unless of course in my case, I was to lose. I turned the other cheek for as long as possible.

Success in Sports

Luckily for me I excelled at sports during my time at 73. Basketball and the bowling league was where I shined. I was proud of the trophies I had won, especially the ones from the bowling league. I had the highest average each year and more 200 plus games in the schools history. I kept yearbooks of classmate's pictures but by the time I was lucky enough to be leaving J.H.S. 73 I can recall throwing all of these awards, including my diploma, into the trash. I wanted no memories of this place, none at all. And yet here I am, forty years later, writing about my experiences.

one way of teaching

My turning of the cheek went on as long as it could but I had limits. I learned the hard way. My classmates and I had shop teachers who proudly waved around paddles that they used liberally to smack a student and steer their thoughts in the right direction, their direction. A few had the students drop their pants before the attack would take place. The world is filled with weirdos. And I saw a lot of them. God knows these kinds of instructors only knew one way of teaching, the hard, sadistic way.

I Had Enough

One day during a test a student tossed me a piece of gum. I got up from my seat, just a few feet away, to go get it and was quickly greeted by a teacher whose name escapes me. He smacked me on the side of my face, it hurt, and it hurt a lot. Then as if this was not enough he gave me a quick, rather sloppy, karate chop to the neck. I saw red. I was no longer going to turn the other cheek. I remember being a lot taller than this poor excuse of an educator. My height suddenly became an advantage. I grabbed hold of my teacher and shook him as hard as I could, he felt limp in my arms. I told him about my displeasure of the beating he was trying to give me. Pain goes away and yet humiliation has a way of lingering if you stand idly by. He began to speak and I was not about to listen. I had heard and been witness to enough. I threw him into the coat closet breaking the cheap wooden sliding doors. He turned white as a ghost. I hovered over him. A fellow student grabbed me and I stopped.

I was sent to the principal's office. The principal, a Mr. MaCabe, I believe, was gone for the day. Someone else told me to bring my father to school the next day. My father would have to be told about all the bad things I had done this day, not the teacher's actions I'm sure, just mine. My father was not pleased when I told him he would need to take time off from work. He asked what this was about and I said I didn't know. You learn to lie well when you're outnumbered, when the deck seems stacked against you.

When we did show up the following day all was forgotten. I mean literally forgotten. The principal played dumb, acting like he had no idea as to why I was told to bring my father to school. I could see in the principal's eyes that he knew; he was lying. I'm sure to this day he knew! Maybe he had some sanity and understood what had happened to me was wrong. I'll never know. Being fourteen years old I was no fool so I never said a word about the fight. I never told my father. From that day on no one, especially a teacher at J.H.S. 73 bothered me again. Maybe the principal told the teachers to leave this one, meaning me, alone.

I served my time, passed all my classes, in fact I was an excellent student. What did this all teach me? Well, I certainly can't speak for everyone, but it's my feeling that the teachers of years ago, in J.H.S. 73, were going about the job for the paycheck and the summers off. Quite a few had a sadistic streak lurking inside of them and what better way to put it to use but in a school filled with students who had no rights. Sure, some teachers worked very hard and maybe a few set a good example for the students they taught, but as for me I never met one in J.H.S. 73. I can honestly write that at Junior High School 73 in Maspeth, Queens from 1967-1970 I never met a teacher I respected. I never met one I liked.

Like the 16th President of the United States spoke loudly, eloquently, and confidently...To sin by silence when they should protest makes cowards of men. God bless all the children everywhere. We should never forget them.