|All interviews were taped and documented. They are available through the Reference Department of the Teaneck Public Library. The Library is not responsible for the accuracy of the statements nor does it necessarily endorse the opinions expressed.|
|INTERVIEWER:||Mary Ellen Zuverink|
|DATE OF INTERVIEW:||December 5, 1984|
|TRANSCRIBER:||Jackie Kinney (12/1985)|
(I) Well I think part of this Oral History Project is to see how Teaneck has really been able to see diversity as strength and what specifically we need to do. Just exactly what you have been telling me.
(N) Yeah, I think to say that all the black and white relationships are perfect, that is baloney. Nobody is going to tell you that. Nobody in their right mind is going to tell you that. But I think what we try to do is face the reality of the whole world and deal with it and that's painful. It really is painful. I was jokingly telling Ward Perrini back in the summer, well we are about ready for another wave upswing of unrest. You know, it has happened. That is our society. And that doesn't scare us much. It says we better be sensitive to the fact that we need change. Flory and I are working right now on a major project for the spring that we want to do bringing all kinds of multi-ethnic writers and authors here to the community for a day, a festival, corner celebration. And we are going to try to do that and we try to do those things all the time. Not to highlight anybody but to let kids see and this would be an all day thing, kids would see it and then at night there would be something with the community, to let people see the diversity and the strength. God, we always hear that diversity is a weakness. We always see it as a struggle and a fight even. Polarization. And I don't know that that is true. I am not so sure about that.
(I) It hasn't been true in your case. From your experience.
(N) No, I think it is a lot, I mean I get very frustrated. I get very annoyed in class when I teach a unit and the kids say things and I say, at that age, you shouldn't still be saying it. And that's, but it doesn't change you see. God, we do enough stuff with human relations activities in regard to our curriculum and also in the Holocaust, we do a lot of stuff. You know you don't change it overnight. And the other thing is, you know, we have those kids who have about five hours a day of instruction, they have nineteen other hours. That's something you don't want to deal with, the fact that when those kids leave, we can't tell them. They are going to do what they want to do. So all we can do is really believe in I think there are two ways of solving the problems of integration in our society. One is interaction, getting kids and adults to know each other as individual human beings and the other one is education. Break down the myths. And if you put them together, we've got it and we can do a lot of it but we can't do it all. And kids tend to reinforce and do the things they do so we keep trying and we will keep trying.
(I) I believe you.
(N) But I do believe that is the answer and the kids do too. The kids ... the other thing I think that ticks me off is we tend to focus on 1% of the population and you know that's who really gets into the paper, the 1%. That 1% if you heard Jim Delaney on the P.A. before, it's not even 1%, they are the ones. We have to put up roofs for this school because some jerks are out there being idiots and we now are going to say, and Jim tries to say it, hey, we know it is not most of you. I don't care if they are white or black. I'd like to isolate those few and really punish them and let them know, that's not acceptable here anymore. Then maybe we can get somewhere. But if that got in to THE RECORD, you see, it would be a big issue of ... and it would be everybody, any more than every teacher is the same.
(I) But they've got to have a new story to write every day.
(N) Yeah, I know, I know. It is distressing. It really is. And they are trying to sell papers. We are just trying to educate kids.
(I) Is there something that I've missed that you feel should be in, should be said?
(N) God only knows. Of course there are lots of things. I am just going to give you a little while to think if there is something that comes up for you that you would just like to dwell on it.
(N) No, just that the future is full of challenge here which I like. I feel very tired right now because we are just, it is like I am standing on the edge of a mountain that we need to climb, all of us. And the climb I see, the challenge of again kind of pulling the pack up on your back and starting your climb to make sure that the program is meeting the needs of today's kids. The same kids I just described to you have certain needs which are different than ten years ago and I think the tired is just the knowing that it is coming and once you start walking, you are going to be fine. I mean once you get that breath of fresh air and you start seeing it and you start going past the mileposts, it is going to be super.
But we've been through it before and we know it is a lot of work and I think that is pretty much where we all stand right now. I get a sense that Gene Mulcahy and the board are very much committed to that. And it is a job we need to do. I don't know where it is going to end up. I don't know which road to take to get up there. I know that at the end, we are going to need to do some things in social studies to streamline. I think a lot of it is going to have to come down in the middle school and the elementary level. I don't think we've done enough down there and that's a frustration I have.
The other frustration I have is I am not so sure how much we should do down there because the emphasis is on math, reading and so on but somehow we have to work that out. I would like to see us do a lot more with interdisciplinary. A lot of stuff with that. Protect what we have, embellish and improve. So I think that that's the kind of thing we need to work on and I'd like to see developed, Marion Berkowitz and I developed some interdisciplinary packets in science, social studies and language arts last year. A lot more of that is possible. The frustration here is where do you get the time, the energy to do it and so on and within the time constraints.
The other thing is you know we are in a new configuration with this reorganization and I think we need to let that settle for a year. We thought there were going to be changes within that also in terms of how things flow and I get the sense right now that they are not flowing and that just bugs me a lot. I think that is just a natural phenomenon. I think it is the fact that there has been, it is like being in shock. When you take a staff as we did and you move wholesale, I mean we were moving people allover the place, we can't even tell, for the first time I don't even know all the staff in this building. I used to know everyone of them. But so much movement that it is really difficult to get a handle on it. That has to settle. And in the second half of the year, I think that will be settled and we can start really mapping where we are going and once we get that sense of purpose and we know where we are going, then we can start going on the journey so I think it is kind of anticipation. So, some people tell me I am too optimistic but again, a lot of people tell me, why don't you ever get down. I won't get down and even if I did get down, I would get out because then you quit and I think a lot of people do get down and quit. Dave Rabitan left Teaneck and left teaching because he was down. He said, I can't do it. I am hurting too many kids. That's exactly what he told me. He said, I am tired and he needed to get out and I think that was a good move for him. But I don't. If I let myself get down, I'd really wonder why I am here. You know, I came into this.
I had dinner with my former boss when I was in industry. I've kept in touch over the years. I still do. He is retired now but he called when he was going to retire and said, hey, let's go out for lunch. It was over the Christmas holidays so I took a day off, vacation day, I met him out on Long Island with another crony that I worked with and we went to lunch. Sat there with his wisened look, now this has been fifteen years since I left the company. He looks at me with his big cigar and he smiles and says, Do you know how much you would be making if you had stayed with us? And I said, I don't want to know. And he told me and I said, up yours. But that's not why you do it. And I got out of industry when I was making pretty good money because I wasn't happy with what I was doing. I was bored, it was dull. And I like kids. I've always liked kids. And I worked in youth groups and in the church in Englewood for years before I, before going into education. (END OF TAPE I - SIDE 2 - BEGIN TAPE 2)
(I) Sounds like you've always had a vision. When you are climbing a mountain, you have a vision of getting to the top, at least to the next rise. And you've always maintained that and that's part of your optimism.
(N) Well I really believe the optimism, I guess Norman Thomas said it, if we are going to make the society better, nobody's done it yet. We keep getting better and when I teach the constitution, I keep telling kids in the Declaration of Independence, it is a goal, and everybody says, we didn't do what the Declaration said. No and the founding fathers knew we wouldn't and they knew the constitution wasn't perfect and they knew we had to keep working on it and that's why we were the nobel experiment and we still are. And the point they have to keep asking is whether we are closer to it now than we were then. And if they look at it in those terms, they tend to see it and I guess that's kind of what I feel. I also believe as Henry Graf said, I was at a meeting with Henry Graf yesterday, the historian. He said, you know the future is our kids and it is really true. He looked at me and said, it scares me every once in a while but we don't have an alternative to that. He says, we are going to turn over, as he put it, he put it very eloquently yesterday, he said we are going to turn this republic over to them and it kind of brought it home. You know, we are. And he wanted to know whether we felt the kids we were working with would be prepared to take the republic and he put it in very personal terms. And I guess that's what it is all about.
I have a pet lesson I do in a number of courses that I teach and it is on three words - on WE THE PEOPLE and what that means. And you try to get kids to understand what Andrew Jackson meant by it, Webster, Lincoln and it is very hard for kids to see that concept. Lincoln's justification of going to war was that he really believed that we didn't have the right to dissolve it because we happened to be the people at that time. That he really believed that his great grandchildren had a right to that same experiment which is why we keep struggling. So I do remain optimistic and I think that kids haven't let me down. They shake me every once in a while but then again, adults shake me a lot more. I don't find kids generally become negative. Some do. But as a general rule, I think kids remain optimistic. For all of the emotion of the moment that they may go through for their kids, I think all in all (inaudible). . . guidance from time to time but then again, so do we all. I am doing what I wanted to do and that's the other thing. A lot of people will ask me about, why don't you go and become a principal? I don't want to become principal. I really don't. I opted a long time ago not to do a couple of thing in my life. One was not to get a doctorate; I think it is a superfluous degree which I have no interest in and I was a straight A student so the work didn't scare me. I just didn't want it. Something also, I guess it is a title I didn't like. I really didn't want to do that.
And the other thing I opted a long time ago was that I did not want to become a line administrator in terms of (inaudible). I really want to work with kids. I want to work with programming teachers and that's my job. We work in two areas - curriculum and instruction - and that's what I like. I like working with teachers, pleasant or unpleasant, and I have to go sometime today and have a very unpleasant conference with a teacher who did a bomb lesson, but that's what I am paid to do. Now if out of that tomorrow I can help that teacher to become a better teacher, that's great. If not, I will have to do it again to the teacher. But that's my role and I like that. Thank God that's less than 1% of my staff but I have to deal with that one and the curriculum is the meat of the job and I love it and I know I am good at it. I guess I take some pride in that. That is great ego satisfaction when you are national and your figure nationally, you are know n, it is an ego satisfaction and the people come to you and tell you that and that is kind of nice. And I got that here and I'll give that back here. I say with great pride, any time I can take teachers to conferences, I will take them because they will always come back and say, thank God I am here. And I mean that. You can talk to any of my teachers who have gone out to national, regional, state or local conferences - they will always come back and say, God, are we lucky.
(I) Now, for what reasons? What reasons do they give you for, I am glad I am here?
(N) I think mostly what we've been talking about. The programs are better. The staff is certainly better. Kids are challenging and exciting, they are not dull. I remember some years ago, I am very active on the North East Regional Planning Committee. They have a meeting each year in Boston, once every four years. And I took a group of three teachers up there and we were doing a presentation and it was the first time they had ever been to a major meeting and it is big - they have 2/3,000 and we did our thing and it was at that time on the development of the American Studies Program. We had a whole workshop on how we did this and how we implemented with the courses and everything. It was a good program. When we were coming home, the teachers all said to me, you know we are way ahead from what they saw. And it was true, we really are. And that's pretty much the opinion of teachers who do go out. I think they find that they are really in the forefront.
The scope and sequence that I mentioned earlier was a disappointment to me in that I don't think it goes far enough. Really it lacks the vision that I think it needs. Hopefully with some support, they will revise it and put ... into it and I think they will do that. But the original document is really a very traditional matter which may be good and maybe that is good for most of the country. It is not good for us. It will hurt us, take us back to where we were. I don't want to do that. I really want to stay where we are and improve it. Now if that means junking some courses, which I am going to recommend, I also do the business department, I am going to recommend we do some revision in that area. That's one of the things I wanted to "mention earlier when you mentioned frustration. One of the frustrations I have, this role has now expanded to a point where we may be reaching an overload. In other words, the supervisor is now taking additional responsibilities.
We went K-12 which was great but now for example, I am now the supervisor of Business Education and Social Studies. And that is happening all over. We know that. You know, Ruth Miller has the Performing Arts as well as Foreign Language. Flory has ESL as well as Language Arts. So what's happening is you get people who are doing a job and they are doing it well, the tendency is that they will throw more work on you. More to do. And sooner or later, the load comes down on you. And that's what we are afraid of. So we are guarded against that. But in the meantime, I think there are things that are needed in Business Education as well in terms of these other ... that whole area which is new to me, I have only had it for a year, but my sense is that is right out of the 1950's, 40's and God knows, (inaudible) and when I see that they are using books from the 1960's, I mean that is crazy. So we are going to make some attempts at updating that whole area. We've got to really move that and that's an area where computers are imperative. Teaching kids how to type on the computers. That is coming. But in there, I will also recommend that we pull some courses (inaudible) that's brand new. We will see. But that will, the expanding role of supervisor has its double edge. It is good in that it gives articulation in more areas. On the other hand, it moves us away from the original intent which was a specialist to work within an area so when I was appointed to this, my job was to articulate a specific area of my expertise and that's what they wanted. Now we are saying philosophically, we are shifting off that a little bit, we are saying, well you are an expert supervisor now, and the other expertise is secondary. My jury is still. out on that. I am not sure. On the other hand, I do understand the dollars are tight and we need the articulation in other areas so we are going to do it. And that's important. Maybe that's the optimism but I can understand that. Thirty hour days will help. That's my latest goal. What else?
(I) Well you've done a splendid (jump in tape)
(N) ... tends to be much more (inaudible) and I think in other areas too. Their teachers feel comfortable, OK, let's read this book. Teaneck, Good God. We do that but we do so much more in terms of classes. We do workshops and we talk about strategies, I have developed my own slide shows, all kinds of stuff beyond the mundane stuff. Role playing. I was in a class down in T.J. last week where the sixth grade teacher, who was doing some excellent just impromptu role playing with kids and those kids snapped it right up so you knew that they had done it before and I think they did and it was cute and the kids were good and they responded well to it. And those teachers there write their own stuff. They really do. They don't, I have teachers guides all over these shelves and outside. Once in a while, a teacher will ask for it but I think most teachers make up their own better. Some of the great fun I've had, I remember when we were teaching American Revolution, there were four of us teaching the course, and we had purchased a simulation game called COLONY. We still have it. And it is produced commercially. It is a great game. It is super. It teaches all the economics that surrounded the American colonies in the crown. It is an extremely good game. So we did, the four of us on a weekend decided we were all going to go up to Carol Botts' house and learn how to play this damn game and we all showed up and we all opened cans of beer and we all sat around - two guys and two gals - and we were going to play this game. Well it was so funny. Four hours later, we had the game figured out. We thought. We did. We came into the classroom and you have to take a day to set it up. It takes five days to play but it is worth it because you get to really see everything. It was terrific. We played the whole game. The kids learned one thing. Well they learned a lot of things but one thing I will never forget - the kids learned they could be the best smugglers in the world which, that's exactly what the American colonists were. That's how John Hancock made his money. But the big message those kids learned in playing that game was - hey, hey, we can smuggle and avoid the system. This is terrific. What a debriefing. Everything we had planned went out the door. But the kids really learned. It was great.
So we also learned that we could make better games ourselves. So the next time we got together, we decided, here's the problem. How are we going to do it? So we developed our own little games. And we have them and we reproduce them and they are on dittos and now teachers who want them, here they are. Some people even have asked us to put some of them in a book. We'll see. We try to do a lot of that. But I think we very much are in tune with the fact that different kids need different things. That's why the multi-text is important. You know, there is a lot of frustration about that. What are you going to do with three books? I just had a teacher come back as a substitute, we have one staff member who is out on a prolonged illness and the guy who came back off an illness filled in for him and he walked in and found out the teacher had given out three different books (inaudible). But we really do try to meet the needs of the kids. And it is fun. You end up running a lot.
(I) Well I really appreciate this. This is I think you have added a lot to the archives, I really do.
(N) I think I belong in the archives.
(Gap in tape)
(I) ... different, do you think?
(N) Geez, I don't know. I can remember a long time ago as a kid in fact I was in elementary school in Englewood and one of my best friends was a kid named Ben and Ben was black. The thing was I didn't realize it. I really didn't realize it. And we were just good friends and I couldn't understand why some of the adults in my family didn't like me to have Ben at the house. It really bugged the hell out of me. I mean I learned as I went through. I then became very active in the West Side Presbyterian Youth program. And I had another friend named Linton and Linton and I went to high school together and I said, why don't you come down to the Youth Group? And he started coming and Linton was super, black, but the kids liked him, we liked him, and Linton's parents started coming to the church and Linton's parents tried to join the church and they were denied and I flipped. I mean I was only, well I was in Senior High Fellowship so I was fifteen, but I went crazy and that became kind of a personal mission to me in the church and over the years, a good many years, I was an ordained elder in my early twenties and let me tell you, that was a war.
But that was a constant struggle and a very activist type thing where we really were involved in meetings and trying to integrate different aspects of the church life. A very, very nice black family wanted to join one of the social groups of the church and Fran and Rufus were not permitted to join. And we happened to know them, my first wife and I, and we decided, the hell with them. We formed our own group and we did. We just formed our own adult group, young adult group, and we called it well there :were two of them - we called them TEENS AND TWENTIES first. Then we got too old so we called it the KEY CLUTCH. And it was. And the church never suspected what we were doing but we had full use of the club and they didn't know it and we did it that way. We used to come in through the back door. And I began to work very closely with a number of very fine black leaders the most notable of which is Jim Wyatt who I still, he was just the moderator of the Presbyterian Council some years ago, and we just began to fight right and left. As an elder, I became chair of the Christian Education Committee. Super. And Jim was on it with me and we decided we would do things and I remember one meeting we had, we were sending a pamphlet out to the community and the community was black. The church didn't like that. And we were inviting everybody to come in and we had a meeting after church one day, two revelations, one was the minister didn't want us doing it and Jim got up at that meeting and I'll never forget it. Jim got up and said, You know, you people are deluding yourself.
You think one of two things are going to happen. You think either I am going to go away or my color is going to go away. And he said, neither is going to happen. Well I applauded. The whole place went crazy. And the second thing I learned that day, I guess I must have been late twenties and I learned that I had misread a whole age group because when the vote came, the people supported us. The little old ladies (inaudible) I told my former wife, I said, I have misread them. And from then on, I learned, that was our biggest support. Biggest support. We tried, the other war we fought was for women. One of the women in our congregation is the wife of a minister. Active in everything. We wanted her on session. They appointed me to the nominating committee so I put her name in. Well, I said, look she is doing this, she is going that. We are going to vote. OK, we will vote. We never did that but we will vote on this case. So we went around the room and there was only one woman, I'll never forget her, she had to be 105 years old. She could hardly walk. Very big woman, white hair, and this chair went around and he called each name. And it went to Louise and she ... and he said, I guess that is it. It is no. I said, wait a minute, hold it. No. I said, I get yes. It was a 3-2 vote, yes. He said, no. 3-2 no. So I said let's go over it again. So we went over it again and Louise had said, he thought she had said no. So he went to her and he said, .Louise, you said no, right? She said, no, I said yes. This woman deserves a chance. I ran over and hugged her. But that was a whole different area and that was kind of ... you know, we never kind of went through that. We never had to go through that here because I think a lot of it had been done. I also think it was much more, I guess, personal because the intimacy of the church relationship was a little bit different, though it is related, it is kind of a different level and I could understand the struggles here. I guess, but I could not understand it in the church.
I could not understand when a minister when I was sick with the flu came to my house to visit me when I had 103 temperature and berated me because I was dating a Catholic girl. I didn't understand that. And I had a lot, you know, I was in high school and I never forgave him for that. To this day, I see that man and I just don't forget that. And I just couldn't understand it. This is a minister. It just doesn't make sense. The same minister was the minister who professed this liberalism but denied Linton, Linton's parents membership in my church. How could you do that? Of course I had to blame the session. That's why my goal was to get on session. That was fine when I came on session. And I quit the church. One year they invited us, it was a big celebration at the church for the Sunday School and at that time, I was the superintendent of the Church School and they asked us to preach and Bob Miller who was then the mayor of Englewood who was also a minister and we were preaching and I got to go first and I never learned to shut my mouth and I didn't and I really told them, I said, you know you people are crazy. I said it nicely. In fact I still have the sermon home. I said, you really are losing the most important support which is your kids and they were. They were just turning them off. They wanted to do things and they just didn't go over big. So I quit. And then about four or five years I didn't go back. I just had had it. It was nothing but frustration and I devoted my time here and then they brought in a new minister and that got me back and he was recommitting to what we had committed. So what he did was like really neat. It was like a homecoming. He brought Jim Wyatt back and he brought all these bodies back from the past and some of the first meetings we had was crying and when I got back involved and Jim had been involved and Jim, called me up and he said, Come on down. I want to see you. So I said OK and I went to his house.
(I) He resurrected the church.
(N) Well I will tell you, when John left, John Fisher was the (inaudible) he left and went to outside Seattle, Aberdeen, and he asked me to come out and preach his charge and I did and I just went back and I was crying and he was crying. But it was good. And that's exactly what he did. He really did. He took, he recommitted, what had happened was in the middle it was like that almost a death gasp of the conservative, white, possessive community and they had the power and they didn't know they had lost it. And when John came in, he just simply started eroding it and he started to stand for things about integration again and it is really, it was so great to be a part of it and to watch it happen. And then to be able to let it go this time because I have remarried now and we go to a different church and I keep in touch with and my former wife and I are still very good friends and she is now an elder. In fact the women are a majority in session now. To see where it has come to and to realize this time, we could let it go and it kept afloat and to know now that they have an Hispanic congregation meeting there in the afternoon with the congregation about 40% black, to know that women have their rightful place on the session. They are making the decisions. My ex-wife was the chair of the nominating committee ... so it was a whole, it was great to know, I could let go and not worry and just to say, hey, if it is going to make it, it is going to make it. That was super. I liked it. I like that. And I will tell you, nothing I say should mean it was me because I was just one piece in a machinery. I happened to have a couple of key roles because of the way things, felt, like pushing that chair. Great place to be. Now you want my birthdate? I have to tell that, hah?
(END OF TAPE)