Richard J. Garfunkel
July 26, 2007
Hello, and welcome to our program, “The Advocates” on WVOX-AM. My name is Richard J. Garfunkel, and I am the host of this weekly forum. This program is coming live from New Rochelle, the Queen City, located on the Long Island Sound, and it can also be heard streaming live on www.wvox.com. One can also call directly to the station at 914-636-0110. Our guest this morning is Mr. Paul Court, the long-time lead Social Studies teacher at Mount Vernon High School. By the way, a few weeks ago I told our WVOX listeners that Bill O’Shaughnessy talks about Mario’s on Arthur Avenue, but my wife and I eat there. We were there again last Saturday night with my tennis buddy Wally Kopelowitz and his wife Ronnie, and the place was jammed. The Yankees, with their usual Stadium sell-out crowd, had just broken in the Bronx, and I am positive that half of them wound up on Arthur Avenue.
Meanwhile, getting back to our guest, Mr. Paul Court has been associated with Westchester County throughout his life and career. He is a native son of Mount Vernon, where he attended the public schools and graduated from MVHS. He also has earned undergraduate and graduate degrees from Iona College, which to all of you whom are unfamiliar with the City of New Rochelle is located on North Avenue, not too many blocks from our studio. Paul, who has been on the educational staff of Mount Vernon HS for twenty-seven years, is the type of teacher who likes to know his students and find out what makes them tick.
As I say each week, the mission of the “The Advocates” is to bring to the public differing views on current “public policy” issues. “Public policy”, therefore, is what we as a nation legally and traditionally follow. Over the years the “public policy” of the United States has changed or has been modified greatly. As an example “free public education” is the public policy of the United States. Also, over time, great struggles have ensued over control of the direction of “public policy.” For example: free trade versus protectionism, slavery versus emancipation, state’s rights versus Federalism, and an all-volunteer army or a draft.
The subject of today’s conversation is about the teaching of history. In other words, is history teaching as relevant today as it was a generation ago and if it isn’t what can we do about it?
Looking back over a quarter century as a teacher and almost 35 years as a student what are your impressions regarding the changes?
Meanwhile, I was a resident of Mount Vernon from 1945 through 1965 and I was also educated in Mount Vernon school system, and have remained in the Westchester area throughout my life. Of course my impressions of Mount Vernon, when I graduated 45 years ago, was that the town had not changed much from the previous decades. But of course since the late 1960’s there has been a profound change. By the way Paul, how did your people come to Mount Vernon?
Paul is the fourth lead Social Studies teacher going back to and including the late great Henry Littlefield, who toiled in that department from the late 1950’s until 1967. Henry loved the narrative of American history and was a great believer in the thematic teaching of the subject. Paul, how do you see yourself in that mold, and do today’s students relate to the panorama that makes up our country’s history?
During the second half of our program I want to discuss with Paul the changing curriculum we see in the high schools, and what has been de-emphasized in light of political correctness, and what has become more important in the eyes of the State education policy-makers.
Welcome back to the “Advocates,” a program devoted to exploring large public-policy issues. Today’s program is about the teaching of American history, and we have as our guest Mr. Paul Court, a native Westchester resident, who has been the lead Social Studies at MVHS for many years.
Of course over the last 50 years since I was in junior high school, we seem to have become much more self-critical of ourselves as a nation. I wonder whether our changing demographics have made us more sensitive as a people, or whether different people are now in power. As William Marcy said in the United States Senate in 1832, “…to the victor belong the spoils…” and from some later poet “the victors write the history.” Therefore is our history
I can clearly recall that we did not dwell in a critical way on American imperialism in the Caribbean from 1898 to the 1920’s, the issue of the economic rational of the American revolution wasn’t talked about too much, the social flaws in Woodrow Wilson’s administration wasn’t emphasized, and FDR and the New Deal, along with WWII were crowded into the last few days of the school year.
Has that changed?
How would you measure the importance NY State gives to the “Japanese Internment” during WII, with the Rape of Nanking and the obvious pass the Japanese fascist government received during the early days of the Cold War?
Do students relate to political scandals and contentious ideological struggles like Teapot Dome, Alger Hiss, The Army-McCarthy Hearings and McCarthyism, Watergate, Whitewater, Katrina and the flooding of New Orleans, and the current one called Gonzogate, regarding the firing of the 8 or 9 US Attorneys?
Do your students see historical parallels between these events, the fall the Alamo, the firing on Fort Sumter, the sinking of the Maine, the sinking of the Lusitania, the attack on Pearl Harbor and 9/11 World Trade center attack, which at different times stirred American patriotic fervor stirred American?