In 1962, Herbert Kohl became a teacher at a public school in Harlem where he taught a class of thirty-six sixth grade students. The children were familiar with their own neighbourhood, but not further down the road…
A week after we had gone to the museum I made a general invitation to the class to take a drive with me down Park Avenue. Seven children took me up and at 3.15 on Friday we set out from 120th Street and Park Avenue, passing the covered markets at 116th, the smelly streets down to 110th, and the dismal row upon row of slum clearance projects all the way to 99th Street. On the left of us loomed the elevated tracks of the New York Central Railroad. We ascended from 99th to 96th, reaching the summit of that glorious hill where the tracks sink into the bowels of the city and Park Avenue is metamorphized into a rich man’s fairyland. Down the middle of the street is an island filled with Christmas trees in winter and flowers during the summer, courtesy of The Park Avenue Association. On either side of the broad street opulent apartment buildings, doormen, clean sidewalks. The children couldn’t, wouldn’t believe it.
“Mr Kohl, where are the ash cans?”
“This can’t be Park Avenue.”
“Mr Kohl, something’s wrong …”
It was Pamela, not angry but sad and confused. We passed the gleaming office buildings further downtown. I was about to comment but sensed that the children were tired and restless. They had had enough and I had too. We returned to Harlem and then I drove home back downtown. The city was transformed for me through the eyes of the children.