Volume XXXXI, No.3 October 17, 2003


By PCT President Morty Rosenfeld

    For the past fifteen years or so, I’ve focused my teaching energies on the less able students in our high school, trying to make school a little less of a hostile environment for students who find it difficult to succeed at academic tasks, particularly English. This year, needing a change, I decided to return to where I began, teaching honor students.

    Readers of my columns know that I have been challenging the slide in serious academic standards in American schools for some time. I was, however, always open to the charge that in working with less able students, I really wasn’t aware of the outstanding accomplishments of our more able young people.

    I’m sorry to report that this year will do nothing to abate my criticism of what is currently fashionable in education. This year I have met twenty or so of perfectly bright, very nice young people who are as culturally impoverished as it is possible to imagine. They candidly tell me that they hate to read and don’t really understand what some of the adults in their lives see in that activity.

    Recently, we’ve begun reading The Scarlet Letter. The nineteenth century prose style has always been forbidding to young readers, so I wasn’t surprised at their initial distaste for it. Experience suggested that once they got into it a bit, started to understand the issues it raised, they would come to appreciate why it is still considered a masterpiece. Experience, however, was to prove of little help in understanding the reaction of these young people.

    It has become increasingly clear that one of the reasons they find reading literature a daunting chore is their almost total lack of a cultural frame of reference within which to make sense of what they read. My readers will find it hard to believe, but only one of the twenty students in the class could accurately tell me what sin meant, and he a boy who was born in Russia. He and a Muslim boy born in Afghanistan were the only ones able to tell me what people who call themselves Christian believe, even though there are Christians in the class, or the meaning of the Genesis story of the Old Testament. They sat in rapt fascination as I suggested to them that writers and artists of all kinds make an assumption that those who engage their arts share a common culture that the artists may allude to in their work and count on people understanding. Perhaps, I suggested, they were very much like foreigners in relation to our art in that they do not have the cultural knowledge presumed by the artists they are reading. For all intents and purposes, the "classics" we give them to read might just as well be written in a foreign tongue.

    The encouraging thing is that some of my students think it is a possibility that this is true and seem willing to explore this thesis. They were moved further along in this belief by the experience of one of their peers who recounted how she was waiting in a doctor’s office reading The Scarlet Letter when a ninety year old man began to talk to her about the book and his love for it. As he asked her questions about it, as they discussed their views of the issues raised by Hawthorne’s masterpiece, the age gulf between this sixteen year old girl and this ninety year old stranger was bridged by this little bit of our culture they now had in common. The most important part of the story is that both enjoyed the experience, and both felt more human for it.


    At its September meeting, Jolynn Gabel was appointed by the PCT Executive Board to serve as Elementary Vice-President until there is an election to fill the position vacated by the resignation of Lori Stitt. That election has now been announced.

    Any elementary teacher wishing to run for the position of PCT Vice-President for Elementary Schools can do so by submitting a nominating petition containing the signatures of ten (10 ) PCT members in good standing to the PCT Office by October 24, 2003. Petition forms are available from the PCT Office.

    The election for PCT Vice President for Elementary Schools will be held on Friday, October 31, 2003. Voting will take place in each elementary school. In the event that there is only one candidate for this position, the PCT Constitution provides that the PCT Secretary will cast one (1) vote and the Executive Board declare the one candidate elected.


    At the October 7 meeting of the PCT Executive Board, President Morty Rosenfeld informed the assembled representatives that the Deer Park Teachers Association voted in September to disaffiliate from NEA/New York, our state organization.

    Deer Parks departure, leaves Plainview, Hicksville, Sewanhaka and Wyandanch as the remaining teacher locals on Long Island.

    Rosenfeld also announced that the leaders of these NEA/New York locals would be meeting to discuss the ramifications of Deer Park’s disaffiliation. He went on to discuss the growing economic crisis facing NEA/New York owing to membership losses as a result of other disaffiliations and layoffs upstate.


    The PCT Executive Board has accepted the recommendation of the officers of our union to hire Mr. Barry Peek, a partner in the law firm Meyer, Suozzi, English and Klein. Peek will also serve as the attorney to the Welfare Fund.

    A magna cum laude graduate of Brooklyn College and Hofstra Law School, Mr. Peek is a very experienced labor lawyer with a strong commitment to the rights of working people. Additionally, by retaining him, the PCT and Welfare Fund gain access to the services of a large law firm with specialists in many areas of the law.


    Soon, each PCT member will receive a Data Correction Form. On it is all of the information in the database maintained at the PCT and Welfare Fund Office. It is essential that this information be accurate for us to continue to provide the excellent processing of claims members have become accustomed to.

    Members are asked to review their data carefully, making any necessary corrections in red and returning corrected sheets to the PCT Office. If all of the information is correct, there is no need to return the form.


    It’s still not too late to sign up for the fall offering of the PCT Defensive Driving Course, a New York State approved series of lectures that qualifies participants to a ten percent (10%) reduction on their automobile liability insurance and a reduction of up to four (4) violation points on their licenses.

    The PCT Defensive Driving Course will be held on October 27 & 28, from 4:00 to 7:00 PM in the Choral Room of the Plainview-Old Bethpage Middle School.

    PCT members wishing to enroll should call the PCT Office immediately and send a check made payable to PCT for thirty dollars ($30.00) to the office.



    We were saddened to learn of the death of Jackie Pekar, an officer of the Retiree Chapter of the PCT and for forty-two years a beloved kindergarten teacher in our district.

    Jackie was one of those rarest of rare teachers who connect with children in ways that most adults cannot even imagine. The children entering her room felt immediately comfortable, secure and excited by the wonderfully imaginative world created by this gifted teacher. Her impression on them was so strong and lasting, numbers of them remained in contact with her into their adulthood.

    Above all, Jackie was a caring human being. If people needed money, Jackie shared hers with them. If they were sick or unable to do things for themselves, Jackie was in constant motion on their behalf. When the PCT had a job to be done, Jackie was the first to volunteer. The world is a much poorer place for her absence.

    A memorial ceremony in the school district is being planned. Watch the Pledge for further details.

    We have also lost Ann Kushner, a recently retired member of the Kindergarten Center staff. Ann Kushner was extraordinarily brave, generous, wise, witty, loving and dedicated. We’d like to remember her by placing a bench in the Kindergarten Center playground inscribed with her name. Here, teachers and their children can enjoy storytime which Ann loved so much. If you would like to contribute to this special dedication, please contact Dawn Castagne at the KG Center or Eleanor Shapiro or Rose Weiner at Stratford Road School.


    The Syosset Teachers’ Association and the Plainview Congress of Teachers are pleased to announce the formation of the Leonard and Miriam Berkowitz Scholarship Fund, a fund provided for in the last will and testament of Leonard (Lenny) Berkowitz, a psychologist in the Plainview-Old Bethpage schools for over forty years. The fund has been established to honor the contribution made by Lenny and his wife Miriam (Mimi), an elementary teacher for many years in the Syosset Schools, to the children of Plainview-Old Bethpage and Syosset. Annually, the fund will award four (4) five thousand dollar ($5,000) scholarships, two to graduating seniors of each district’s high school.

    Committed to the education labor movement as they were, Leonard and Mimi Berkowitz provided that their scholarship fund be overseen by a board of trustees comprised of the Presidents of the Syosset Teachers’ Association and the Plainview Congress of Teachers and the executor of Mr. Berkowitz’s will. The Trustees of the fund shall also select the recipients of the scholarships from nominees provided by the guidance department of each district’s high school.

    Candidates for the Berkowitz Scholarship must demonstrate strong academic achievement. Syosset candidates, in honor of Mimi Berkowitz must demonstrate a strong interest in a future career in education. Plainview candidates are obliged to show a commitment to pursue a solid liberal arts education.



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