“We Are All Reformers” (Part 4)

Taylor Allderdice was a six-year secondary school (it is now a high school). We lived about a mile away and I walked to school daily—but not in the 7th grade. Because of polio, I missed 27 days according to my high school transcript. When I returned to school, my Dad drove me. Breakfast was drinking down a raw egg each morning—doctors said it would strengthen me—and eating a bowl of oatmeal. Then my Dad would drop me off.

Overall, during the six years I spent at Allderdice, I was an average (mediocre?) student racking up “C”s galore. Only in history and science courses did I receive scattered “A”s and “B”s. In English and math, mostly “C”s and “D”s.  I do remember particular teachers. Seemingly, the rhetoric of Progressive policies and pedagogy had not trickled down to these classrooms since I recall during the school day—five subjects plus lunch, physical education and home room guidance– frequent lectures and occasional whole group discussions, oral reports, reading texts, and doing homework in class.

My eighth grade English teacher, Miss Bowlin*, was strict in keeping the class orderly and disciplined in what she taught. We diagrammed sentences and read novels and poems. For example, every student had to memorize a poem and recite it in front of the class without notes. I do recall being assigned the poem “Abou Ben Adhem” and how frightened I was to stand up from my desk, slowly walk down the row toward the teacher’s desk in front of the blackboard, turn around to face my classmates. Then Miss Bowlin signaled me to begin. I recited the poem before hurriedly returning to my seat. I do not remember what the teacher said afterwards or whether there were any student comments.

I did not understand what I recited as I dashed through it. To refresh my memory I looked up “Abou Ben Adhem” before writing these paragraphs. As soon as I saw the first line saying his name with the addition “(may his tribe increase),” fear of Miss Bowlin and relief  came back to me anew.

My tenth grade World History teacher, Miss Bertha Mitchell, opened doors to the past that I relished. Like most of the other teachers at Allderdice, she taught from the textbook, lectured with periodic whole group discussions, and gave quizzes. Much of what we took in was chronological and factual. She encouraged us to get extra points to boost our grades. One option I grabbed: drawing maps of Egypt, Greece, Rome, Mediterranean and European countries. Why I liked cartography—didn’t know the word at the time—I cannot explain. Perhaps it was Miss Mitchell’s positive comments that spurred me. But copying and then embellishing maps I saw in atlases and the text enthralled me. Doing them after I got home and finished my chores was something I looked forward to. And I got an “A” for the first time in a high school course.

Another “A” was in biology. I cannot remember the teacher’s name but was entranced by the study of the human body and animals—less so paramecia and amoebas (it was also the first time I had ever seen and used a microscope). I remember learning the Latinate names for flora and fauna and, yes, memorizing them for quizzes. Dissecting frogs remains vivid in my mind. Actually doing something by hand and exploring the innards of a once living animal captured my curiosity and drove me to stay abreast  of the text and homework and be prepared for the end-of-chapter tests.

Fast forward: Based on this experience, I chose biology as my college minor. That helped me considerably after graduating in 1955 because the only job I could find was teaching biology and general science at McKeesport Technical High school, about 20 miles from where I lived.

And then there was an Allderdice U.S. history teacher who lectured almost every day. We had to read the textbook closely and she tested us frequently. I was enraptured by her voice and the content that she supplied beyond the text. Anna Quattrochi had a doctorate and required students to call her “Dr. Quattrochi.” We did. I got a “B” in her class.

Fast forward: I did major in history in college and graduate school. Bertha Mitchell and Anna Quattrochi, as I look back upon those years, had introduced me to and stimulated thinking about my personal and national past. I taught history for 14 years in Cleveland and Washington, D.C. high schools.

These memories of teachers and classes are surely fragmentary. As is the sketchy recall I have of what occurred outside of classes. One memory is both rich and intense even now. As a senior, I tried out for the class play called Out of the Frying Pan. A comedy about actors in New York City trying desperately to get paid parts in a Broadway play.

I had to look up the play’s plot since I didn’t remember what it was about. The director was a theater arts major at Carnegie Tech (now Carnegie- Mellon) who held after-school auditions. I was cast in small role as one of two policemen who spoke a total of three lines at the very end of the play. My lines brought down the house. I had never been on a stage before and to hear the audience roar with laughter made my skin tingle. For the last few weeks of school, students I hardly knew (there were three thousand in Allderdice at the time) came up to me slapping me on the back and nudging me for my “great” performance. Even the fraternity boys from upper middle-class Jewish families (who I hardly ever spoke with) threw compliments my way.

The Jewish population in Squirrel Hill was divided by social class with many business and professional families living “north of Forbes” and middle- and lower-middle-class families living along Murray Ave (south of Forbes) and its connecting streets—where my family lived. Class differences showed up in the presence of Allderdice fraternities, clothes that students wore—teenage girls “north of Forbes” wore cashmere sweaters and two-colored saddle shoes—and which groups congregated at “The Wall” outside of the building to smoke, exchange gossip, and connect for a Saturday night date.  I seldom joined those groups

While I recall far more about high school classes than my years in earlier grades, both pale in comparison to what I remember about what happened outside of school as a teenager.

____________________

  • I recovered the names of the teachers cited here from The Allderdice, the 1951 Yearbook

2 Comments

Filed under Reforming schools

2 responses to ““We Are All Reformers” (Part 4)

  1. Ann Staley

    I loved reading this, Larry. Learning about your early years and your “best teachers.” I did not know you had polio as a child and it must have been a rough time. I also must be a few years younger than you because I distinctly remember the polio shots, three of them. Your “on stage” story is delightful, and so does the fact that the Jewish community was divisive in terms of “social class.”

    I had many Jewish friends. All of them from the A track. I’m still in touch with several of them and have been since we graduated. I had a terrible crush, for example, on Carl Caplan, though he never noticed and maybe didn’t date anyone even in high school. As it turned out he “ended up” in Medford, Oregon. Married to a high school teacher. He was a lawyer and his son is still alive and running the practice. Carl died about a year ago. I was deeply saddened. My friend, Cynthia Melman lives in Washington D.C. with her partner Joan, and Courtney and I have visited them many times. Wonderful women who have been partners for a long time. Cynthia’s mother was also named Joan (Her father died when she was quite young.) too and I knew she dearly loved me. It was so clear in how she treated me. I swear I would remember her voice if she were to call me on the phone, even today. OTH, my closest friend was Judy Lehrman and we stayed friends through college, though when she married into a very wealthy family, I didn’t hear anything from her…and still haven’t. Barbara Reiter was another Jewish friend.

    And you can imagine exactly who was in the G track: all the Black students! I new even at 12 years old that there was something terribly wrong with that! I was already following the Civil Rights movement, and had a bunch of Black friends, men and women, who played basket-ball with me, or just after the women had finished with the court. There were two older black students, both men, who were particularly friendly and I remember them asking me to sign their yearbooks when they graduated. I felt honored and “seen clearly.”

    I also was in only one play, and had the first three lines of the play. And that was all. I was completely uncomfortable “on stage” although I competed in many sports (competitive swimming, field hockey, basket-ball, track, and was a cheerleader, too. The tallest one they’d ever seen. But I knew so much about sports, read Sports Illustrated cover-to-cover, understood football so that I was the one who told the Captain of the Cheerleading Squad, which chants were appropriate and when.

    All of this is probably more than you ever wanted to know about my early life, but I took your Part 4 quite seriously and loved reading about your early years. Oh, yes, the cartography. For 8th grade Geography we made maps of every country we studied, adding cities, rivers, prominent mountains and etc. I loved doing them, too.

    Hey! It’s a new decade, 2020, and a pretty neat number which also =s perfect vision. As soon as I take off my tri-focals, the world will go hazy. I hope I live to see Trump impeached and/or defeated. I hope you do, too.

    much affection, Ann

    p.s. book #5 should be published in February. It’s my second “smaller book” titled, Fire In The Desert. I’ll send you a copy when I get them from the printer, Franklin Press, here in Corvallis. A couple of sisters using their father’s press. How cool is that!

    >

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