2009-09-18 / Columnists

School Scope

The Summer of 1969
Commentary By Norman Scott

Welcome back to the school year. So much has been happening since June, I could fill an entire edition of The Wave, but Rockaway would be endangered by the vibrations from all the snooze alarms going off at once. I won't get you up to date in this short space, but refer you to my blog, which has been chronicling what has been going on with the mayoral control battles, the charter school invasions of public schools, the rubber room and ATR situation, social promotion, the new leadership at the UFT and so much more. You have your assignment. There will be a high stakes test next time, where failure will result in a new version of being left back - being forced to read old School Scope columns in an endless loop.

Instead I'm going to share some thoughts about the summer of '69. That summer had many significant events for many people. I was out of the country for all of them, but for me, the summer of '69 was one giant leap.

In case you missed it, this summer was the 40th anniversary of Woodstock. And the moon walk. And the Manson/Sharon Tate murders. And Chappaquiddick. What's with all this 40th anniversary stuff? Some theorize it's because the baby boomers suspect they might not be around to see the 50th. Me, I ignore all the summer of '69 endless drivel (except going to Fort Tilden to see Pete Fornatale's great slide show on Woodstock and buy his book). In those years traveling in Europe, the only way to keep in touch was through reading the International Herald Tribune, if you could get it. And the news was often days late.

In mid-July 1969, armed with a Eurail Pass, Fromer's, and a way too large suitcase, I decided to hop a plane for six weeks in Europe. Alone. "What's the big deal," you ask? "Lots of people went off to Europe in those years by themselves." Not me. I never did anything alone, even in Brooklyn. So this venture was RADICAL. To show you just how clueless I was, I wore a suit on the plane, figuring all those people on TV wear suits on planes. And I packed an enormous amount of stuff into a suitcase that needed a forklift to move it. Not a good move for someone planning to take trains from city to city.

I hesitate to use the hackneyed expression, "He left a boy and came back a man." But I will. Or just did. I did come back so much less clueless than when I left. I whipped off that suit when I got to Paris, threw most of my stuff in the big suitcase and shipped it all off.

Oh, I was lonely and un-Garbo like in that I did not "vant" to be alone. I developed strategies for meeting people. And meet people I did. So many, I lost track. First a medical student from Ohio, who was actually doing Europe on less than $5 a day - 3 months for $400. He was staying in a Parisian dump of a hostel with holes in the floors for bathrooms. He wouldn't take public transportation, so we hoofed it all around Paris and I got to know the city better than I know parts of New York.

A political and Kennedy junkie, I read the Teddy Kennedy/Mary Jo story in the Tribune in disbelief, hungering for more (remember, brother Bobbie had been assassinated only a year earlier). I watched the moon walk with a German student I met at the Paris Museum of Natural History specially set up to show the walk at 6 a.m. to foreigners and locals without TV. I was a major space fan since I was ten and this was a big deal. The Manson/Tate story was big news - Roman Polanski was a noted European director, but the Tribune is not a tabloid and I missed reading all the side stories. I think I was in Zurich at the time.

It was there that I hit it off with two Canadian brothers and asked if I could join them. We traveled to Venice, Trieste, and on to Yugoslavia, which in the summer of '69 was still a unified communist country under the Tito dictatorship. It only recently had been opened up to allow more democracy. You could read American newspapers and magazines. We caught a night boat from Split to Dubrovnik where we met lots of people we hung out with over the next week. There were two native Yugoslav brothers whose dad was stationed at the UN and one of them had graduated from Stuyvesant HS. We had some great discussions about the differences between Yugo and American democracy.

Then onto to Vienna, after which I went off on my own again. I stayed in a hostel in Copenhagen where I joined a bunch of Americans from every part of the nation in a game of touch football on the lawn - to the confusion of our European colleagues. I read about the awful mud and crowds at Woodstock somewhere between Amsterdam and London. It didn't look like fun, but it was the only time I wished I were home.

I returned home in late August 1969 knowing I had been out of real touch with many important events that summer, but with a more complete sense of confidence than I had ever had. I didn't have much time to think about it. School was about to start and I was too busy getting ready for my first full year teaching my own class.

Six months earlier, I had no intention of staying in teaching (I was there only because of the draft deferment). I was a permanent sub in one school - we were actually called ATRs. But I was bored and voluntarily took over an extremely difficult 4th grade class in mid-year (February, 1969) after the teacher left. I don't think I could have gone off to Europe alone without the empowerment I experienced in succeeding with that class beyond my wildest dreams. More on that in a future column.

Note: This is an extract of a longer piece I'm working on for a writing group that touches on the impact teaching had on me, especially in the months before the summer of '69 and the year after.

Norm blogs at: http://ednotesonline. blogspot.com/Email:normsco@gmail. com.

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