Monday, February 07, 2005

The Stuyvesant Story (6): Ten years later - a surprising vindication

Time: The 1990s.

Elswhere has finished grad school, having moved her activism to the Pacific Northwest.

P., graduated from Stuyvesant High School (where he did make new friends) and from college (Math major), is happily married to Pippi Bluestocking in the Pacific Southwest.

I've left the "empty nest" in suburban New Jersey and moved to urban Tel Aviv. I'm sitting in my kitchen one day, reading 'Tis by Frank McCourt. I come upon the chapter about his enrollment at NYU night school, and the wonderful writing teacher he encounters there: Charles Calitri! I count some years on my fingers and decide it has to be the same extraordinary teacher I had for high school English. Ohmygod! Frank McCourt and I had the same writing teacher! I call my high school classmate in New York to share the news!

I resume reading 'Tis and learn that Frank (hiya, Frank!) spent years teaching English in the NYC public school system, first on Staten Island and then at Stuyvesant High School. I count some more years on my fingers (Math major too), and call P.

Me: "Who was your English teacher at Stuyvesant?"
P: "Which one?" [aaargh! toujours precise, this guy]
Me: "Did you have a famous one?"
P:"Oh, yeah. Frank McCourt."
Me: "Was he good?"
P: "He was great. He told great stories. But he was off doing theater stuff with his brother a lot."

Ohmygod again! My faith in the public school system has been vindicated! In a city of millions, my great high school teacher taught my son's great high school teacher! Just like a small town! Engineering works! Will one of Mr. McCourt's students teach one of my grandchildren? Where? Tune in in another 12 years or so. The story is definitely not over! (although I will try to control the exclamation points from now on.)

Update February 2004: Frank McCourt comes to Israel as a U.S.-sponsored "cultural ambassador."

Update January 31, 2005: The following post appears on Smartmom's new blog:
Literary Fundraiser
On Wednesday February 9th at 7 p.m., Brooklyn-born author Frank McCourt will be reading at MS 51 on Fifth Avenue between 5th and 6th Streets.

A fund raiser for the talent programs at Park Slope's illustrious Middle School 51, McCourt will be reading excerpts from his new book about teaching English at Stuyvesant High School, "Tis," and "Angela's Ashes."

A reception will follow at the Stone House in the Park at Third Street and Fifth Avenue.

Arise, you Brooklynites! Get yourselves over to Park Slope's MS 51 this Wednesday, February 9, by 7PM, and tell Frank McCourt that Savtadotty and Smartmom sent you.

**********The End**********

This series is dedicated to immigrants who study, and to their teachers.

An Evening Trade Class, Stuyvesant High School, circa 1896

Photo Source: Board of Education. City of New York. The First Fifty Years: A Brief Review of Progress. 1898-1948. Fiftieth Annual Report of the Superintendent of Schools, Board of Education, The City of New York (New York, 1948). NYC Board of Education Archives, Milbank Memorial Library, Teachers College, Columbia University


Udge said...

Wow, that is a tremendous (wonderful) coincidence - or not. Success breeds success, it can be done.

I'd love to go and listen to Frank, but we are both in the same wrong timezone. Angela's Ashes was just horrifying, I read it with a murmured "Dear God, tell me that this is fiction!"

Udge said...

I hit "publish" by accident, while reaching for the coffee cup.

Thank you very much for publishing the story of your family, it was fascinating.

Third Street said...

I cut and pasted The Stuyvesant Story into a MS word document. It's 13 pages (slightly shorter single spaced)

It's a great read with a great ending.

Do you think I should give it to Frank McCourt on Wednesday? What do you think? I could write an intro so that he knows how to get in touch with you...

I love the dedication.

Savtadotty said...

I'll be happy to e-mail you my MS Word version...(or some reason, it's only 10 pages - save a tree)! Of course I'd be thrilled if you could get it into Frank McCourt's hands...I mailed a shorter version to his publisher a few years ago, but never heard any response. I also sent a copy of the short version to someone I guessed is Charles Calitri's son (a high school principal), but I don't know whether it reached him or whether he was in fact related.

The Lioness said...

I'm loving the series - and frank McCourt? BRIL!

The Lioness said...

All right, I've now finished reading it all, I LOVED it, S.! Thanks! (I can only comment sometimes and only in some posts, says Blogger. So I'm hoping this one will go through as well. I'll presevere)

I am now expecting a How I Came to Israel series - please please please!

Savtadotty said...

Lioness: Thanks for the request, but I don't want to compete for the same audience with Lisa's ( excellent "How I Came To Israel" series (until a respectable time has elapsed). Savlanut! I've been working on my own "How I Came To Israel" blog since way before the Joy of Blogging, so it's on my "to-do" list for polishing and posting. My shaliach (emissary of the Jewish Agency) told me (back in 1987) the reasons people come are often not the reasons they stay, so I'll have to do a follow-up series, "Why I Stayed in Israel." tfu tfu tfu

The Lioness said...

I think we'd all love to know why bloggers chose to make allyah and yes, brilliantly said, chose to stay. That's even more interesting, I think. I don't think anyone would mind if you did it now but I'm prepared to wait. Since I must. Though I hate it. Which is bizarre, since I'm not an impatient person. As you know. Take your time but HURRY UP!

(And I do know how to spell persevere, I just type too fast and my pride gets slaughtered in the process. In fact, I just had to edit that last sentence - 5 TYPOS!!!)

Terri said...

I SO thoroughly enjoyed your story. It was just great and what a surprise ending.
I had the pleasure of meeting Frank McCourt at a writers conference a few years ago at USF in St. Pete, Florida. I attended his workshops and he is indeed a very special human being.
Again...thank you for sharing your family story.