Though we are living through the dog days of August, we are
on the brink of a new school year. I go back in time to school
days past, before my life as a college professor and newspaper
publisher: my experiences as a home instruction teacher, special
education teacher, hospital teacher and regular education teacher
spanning grades two through twelve. My goal was to provide
outstanding, creative instruction as well as to be sensitive
to the emotional needs of my students, inspiring them to fulfill
I remember Gladys,
an 8th grader who was pregnant and became a home instruction
student because she was not allowed to attend her public
intermediate school in Brooklyn. Gladys lived with her mother,
an alcoholic and abusive parent in the projects in Coney
Island—a building that I visited several times.
The entrance was covered with graffiti, the floor pattern was
obscured by old dirt, the bells didn’t work and when
I finally got in, the elevator provided a rickety ride to 12.
The hall was unlike any I had seen—a long corridor with
bars facing the street on one side and apartments on the other.
The apartment was dark and small; clothes and dirty dishes
were everywhere. There was no place to do schoolwork. Gladys’ mother,
missing several teeth and reeking of alcohol, said hello and
I arranged for Gladys, a bright and enthusiastic teen to meet
me three times a week at the local library. She loved the lessons
we did together. I interwove child development and nutrition
as part of her studies. When she got close to delivery time,
I accompanied her to a local city hospital, giving her lessons
as she waited for her clinic appointment.
Gladys’ boyfriend and the father of her child was also
a teenager and worked at MacDonald’s. They were trying
to save enough money to get married. She explained softly that
he was going to help raise the baby, unlike the father that
had deserted her as an infant.
I continued to see Gladys after she gave birth. She confessed
her deep concern about her mother holding the baby upside-down.
She wanted desperately to move out and start her own family
unit. Our lessons continued.
One day, Gladys dropped
out of school and became an invisible student, counted only
on the medicaid rolls so her mother could collect money.
She became one of Gogol’s “Dead
Souls,” a 19th century Russian novel that underscored
the corruption of the landowners who collected money for serfs
who were deceased.
Gladys is still on
my mind though almost 20 years have passed. We must try to
have a better tracking system of our students who drop out
and perhaps a closer coordination between schools and Medicaid
so that our children do not become “dead