In May of 2015 my old elementary school, Public School (PS) 110 in lower Manhattan, celebrated its 110-year anniversary. In honor of the occasion, the school published a special commemorative issue featuring “then and now” photos comparing students from 2015 with those of 1905. But what really piqued my interest in the commemorative issue was a two-page article from the May 29th, 1910 edition of the New York Times, which discussed in great detail the student self-government program at PS 110 and how it was turning “foreign children (overwhelmingly Jewish and Italian) into good Americans.” The excerpts below from the Times articles offer great insights into how educators over a century ago were instrumental in making the great Melting Pot.
When the new school building was erected five years ago, the student “government” had been extended, and it served as a great help in solving problems with the foreign students. Classes were formed for defective children, for the blind, and for children who speak no English. These learn our language in a most amazing manner.
“In two to six weeks the foreign children were able to take their place in regular classes,” said Miss Adeline Simpson, the school principal. “The work for defective children also is accomplishing great good. The citizens of the two student governments, boys and girls, have been taught it is wrong to tease them, and any child who does so quickly will have charges preferred by some citizen.”
Each student city is governed under a charter modeled on that of New York. In this charter the officers are named, their duties outlined, and the rights and duties of citizens plainly stated. For five years these two student cities have been thriving, and they have changed what was practically an ungovernable student body into one that well might be taken as a model for the city.
The school government, like real governments, is divided into three branches, legislative, executive, and judicial. The judicial branch is the Board of Aldermen, which consists of one member from each “borough,” as the classes are called, elected by the citizens and serving for a school term. The executive branch consists of the mayor, who, to aid him, appoints commissioners of police, health, and public works.
But the most interesting branch of this government is the judicial, power being vested in three judges who are elected by the citizens (students). Before this real tribunal, offenders are arraigned by the District Attorney and his assistant, and no such offender “shall be denied the right of being represented by counsel, or of calling witnesses, or of trial by jury.” The jury consists of two judges of the court and three other citizens. The Chief Justice presides.
Those who read thus far may get the impression that all this detail is supervised by the teachers or the Principal. They are wrong if they have. In no particular way do the teachers or the Principal interfere with the government except that the latter may pardon offenders, mitigate sentences of the court, or veto laws passed. It is interesting to note that never has the Principal done so.
Today, the student body of PS 110 consists of a disproportionately large immigrant population from all over the world – Philippines, Ukraine, Latin America, Bosnia, Afghanistan, China, Korea, Guyana, and the Caribbean. But in 2015 the PS 110 Principal boasts – not of making good Americans out of these students – but rather making them “citizens of the world,” whatever the heck that means.
They say that the definition of insanity is doing the same thing over and over again when you know the result will not change. To that I would like to add my definition of stupidity: the replacement of the proven processes and methods that worked well in the past for things which do not work well today, such as multiculturalism and bi-lingual education. Given this tendency to eschew the successful approaches used so effectively by earlier generations of educators, is it any wonder we have college students who do not understand our Constitution, the First Amendment, or the workings of American federalism, and who demand protection from “microaggression”?