Tag Archives: teacher

Excerpt from “36 Children” by Herbert Kohl ~~Park Avenue~~

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…


picture-36Children-KohlA 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.


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Excerpt from “To Sir, With Love” by E.R. Braithwaite ~~Interview~~

picture-ToSirWithLove-BraithwaiteAnd then it was all over. Mr. Symonds, the gentleman who had welcomed me, leaned back in his chair and looked from one to another of his associates. They nodded to him, and he said:

‘Mr. Braithwaite, my associates and I are completely satisfied with your replies and feel sure that in terms of qualification, ability and experience, you are abundantly suited to the post we have in mind. But we are faced with a certain difficulty. Employing would mean placing you in a position of authority over a number of our English employees, many of whom have been with us a very long time, and we feel that such an appointment would adversely affect the balance of a good relationship which has always obtained in this firm. We could not offer you that post without the responsibility, neither would we ask you to accept the one or two other vacancies of a different type which do exist, for they are unsuitable for someone with your high standard of education and ability. So, I’m afraid, we will not be able to use you.’ At this he rose, extending his hand in the courtesy of dismissal.

I felt drained of strength and thought; yet somehow I managed to leave that office, navigate the passage, lift and corridor, and walk out of the building into the busy sunlit street. I had just been brought face to face with something I had either forgotten or completely ignored for more than six exciting years – my black skin. It had not mattered when I volunteered for aircrew service in 1940, it had not mattered during the period of flying training or when I received my wings and was posted to a squadron; it had not mattered in the hectic uncertainties of operational flying, of living and loving from day to day, brothered to men who like myself had no tomorrow and could not afford to fritter away today on the absurdities of prejudice; it had not mattered when, uniformed and winged, I visited theatres and dance-halls, pubs and private houses.

I had forgotten about my black face during those years. I saw it daily yet never noticed its colour. I was an airman in flying kit while on His Majesty’s business, smiled at, encouraged, welcomed by grateful civilians in bars or on the street, who saw not me, but the uniform and its relationship to the glorious, undying Few. Yes, I had forgotten about my skin when I so eagerly discussed my post-war prospects with the Careers Officer and the Appointments people; I had quite forgotten about it as I jauntily entered that grand, imposing building. . . .

Now, as I walked sadly away, I consciously averted my eyes from the sight of my face reflected fleetingly in the large plate glass shop windows. Disappointment and resentment were a solid bitter rising lump inside me; I hurried into the nearest public lavatory and was violently sick.

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Filed under Fiction, Literature