“Celebrating Teachers”
25th Anniversary of the Yale-New Haven Teachers Institute

Omni Hotel
New Haven, Connecticut
November 13, 2002
Transcript


Calvin Trillin

Peyton R. Patterson
President
New Haven Savings Bank

Reginald R. Mayo
Superintendent
New Haven Public Schools

Richard C. Levin
President
Yale University

Calvin Trillin

Daniel W. Kops
Chairman
Anniversary Celebration Committee

Howard R. Lamar
Sterling Professor Emeritus of History
Former President of Yale University

Michele Pierce
Principal
Harriet Tubman Charter School

Bill Cosby


Calvin Trillin

Could all of you take your seats please. Thank you. I am Calvin Trillin and I would like to welcome you to the 25th Anniversary Celebration of the Yale-New Haven Teachers Institute, which is tonight celebrating teachers. We have a few people who are going to say a few words now, and then we will come back after dessert with another program. The first one is the President, whose bank I have just forgotten. New Haven Savings Bank. The check has been stopped. And they know how to stop checks, too. The New Haven Savings Bank?

Peyton Patterson

Yes!

Calvin Trillin

I knew it. It just seemed too simple to me — the New Haven Savings Bank. Banks now usually have four or five names. And I actually wrote a poem once called “A bank has swallowed up a bank that swallowed up my bank.” But this is just an old fashioned bank, and the lead sponsor of this evening’s event: Peyton Patterson.

Peyton Patterson

I guess that is a sure sign I have got to up my advertising budget. I think I need brand-name awareness. But thank you, Calvin, for that introduction. It is very much my pleasure to be here this evening to honor the 25th anniversary of what should be considered a real model in the educational system. To have the Yale-New Haven Teachers Institute be able to come together and to do these really wonderful things, to bring teachers together to learn from each other, is really a phenomenal undertaking. To be able to sustain that over 25 years is quite remarkable.

When I was asked to speak at tonight’s engagement and to actually act as a corporate sponsor for this event, it was a very easy decision. As a mother, as a parent and an advocate for the educational system in general, I think that all of us in the room probably share the same goal — which is making sure that our teachers are well equipped and able to get out there and give our children, and our friends, and families the best education possible. I can’t think of a greater venue than the greater New Haven area, with Yale University and the public school systems and all the really fine colleges that are represented here. This should be considered a center of excellence for education in general. So I am very, very proud to be here. Now my colleagues told me at the bank actually to keep it short. To not try to be half as dynamic as Calvin. Of course, when he couldn’t remember the name of my bank, I won’t take that seriously. And I was told most particularly, “don’t try to be as funny as Bill Cosby.” So, having said that, I thought, well, I’ll just get up here as one of those bankers and really, really try to communicate as I can, very personally and very professionally. It is an honor to sponsor this and to be a part of it.

And I know our honoree tonight, Howard Lamar — in fact we met really for the first time just up on the 19th floor — and I wanted to make sure that I had the opportunity to meet him. There are so many people that I have met in this community, but I always tend to know so much about them even before I meet them. And Howard, you were somebody that I was told so much about — what you have done for the community, what you have done at Yale — and really, when you were the acting President, for the year that you were there — really what you have done. And then when I asked you just a few moments ago, “well, how much are you doing at Yale now?” And he is like, “well, Levin just keeps signing me up for all these things!” So, I just want to say it is an honor — and you can see from everybody here that we are here to honor you tonight, and I think we have some wonderful guests. I just want to say thank you for having us. On behalf of New Haven Savings Bank, our biggest and largest hometown community bank, it is an honor. The advertising is starting. Thank you.

to the top of Celebrating Teachers 25th Anniversary of the Yale-New Haven Teachers Institute

Calvin Trillin

Thank you, Ms. Patterson. She is with the New Haven Savings Bank. And if you need anything — a mortgage, or a loan, or anything — I think you will find the folks down at New Haven Savings Bank extremely friendly. I was at a celebration once at Washington University for Mark Twain for, I think it was, the hundredth anniversary of Huckleberry Finn — or something like that. It was sponsored by the Mark Twain Bank in Saint Louis. And the Vice-President said that it was — he thought it was appropriate — because it was not only the 100th anniversary of Huckleberry Finn and the 75th of something else of Mark Twain’s, but the 85th anniversary of his bankruptcy. A friend of Kansas City of Mark Twain Bank was successful. A friend of mine in Kansas City was on the board of a bank with one of those unwieldy bank names — unlike the simple and elegant name, New Haven Savings Bank. And the people thought maybe they could name the bank after another well-known Missourian, particularly if they had one who had some banking connection. My friend suggested the Jesse James Bank. I had a fantasy when I was on the Yale Corporation. (I was at one point the least respectable trustee of the Yale Corporation.) That was that I walked into the office of the superintendent of schools in New Haven, and I said “We’ve got all of these fantastically energetic, empathetic Yale students with all their energy directed in one direction toward reading. We are going to get every single student in New Haven in the third-grade grade level. Think of the headlines when we say, “pass Greenwich.” It is going to say, “New Haven passes Greenwich and then New Haven passes Darien.” And soon everyone will be reading.

I probably would have a receptive person because Reginald Mayo has been a big supporter of innovations and ways to improve the education of New Haven, particularly the Teachers Institute. So, Reginald Mayo, the Superintendent of Schools of New Haven.

Reginald Mayo

Thank you very much. It is certainly my pleasure to be here on this very memorable occasion. My introduction in a real way to the Yale-New Haven Teachers Institute was a meeting with Jim Vivian when I first became superintendent. I heard half of what Jim said in his quiet way at Mory’s for lunch. When I got back to my office I suddenly realized I had been taken for $25,000. Let me just say that Yale’s faculty and New Haven Public School teachers have thrived for twenty-five years on the common theme of love of teaching for children in the New Haven public school system.

I just want to take a few moments to thank someone because it is my feeling that anytime anything survives for twenty-five years something had to be an engine, something had to be a catalyst to hold it together for that long. I would just like to pay tribute and acknowledge Jim Vivian. I have never done that publicly, and I have spoken at events for Jim telling individuals what a great program it has been for our teachers. But I have never taken a moment to say, “thank you,” and to acknowledge what I think he has done in the development of this Institute, and what it has done for teachers in this City of New Haven. Certainly there were teachers. Thank you.

I did a little bit of research, and I did find out that there were some teachers who did have a hand in founding this Institute. It was in 1970, I guess, a group of history teachers at Richard C. Lee High School. They came to Yale’s History Department with a proposal to create a series of summer seminars and certainly wanted it led by the Yale faculty. The teachers in turn would develop short mini-series for their students based on what they had learned from the staff at Yale. Jim Vivian, who graduated from Yale in 1968, had returned as a graduate student in History and embarked on a new career path when he prepared a grant application for what would become the Teachers Institute. Back then Jim thought he was only going to write a grant proposal. Nevertheless, the National Endowment for the Humanities wanted to see a project director. Jim put his name down, and he figured that this would be a short commitment. But some twenty-five years later, Jim, you are still putting your name down for the Teachers Institute in the City of New Haven.

I certainly owe Jim a lot in terms of gratitude. We want to keep the Institute alive, and he has done that. He has worked for many administrations here at Yale and certainly has raised phenomenal amounts of money including getting a few dollars from me. Certainly he has created an endowment so that this Institute will continue forever and ever. But most importantly, Jim has taken our best teachers, and our brightest, and has made them even better. He has kindled what is best in our teachers with enthusiasm and has certainly created more love for them of teaching. So I would like to call Jim, and I don’t know, Jim where are you? Jim Vivian?

to the top of Celebrating Teachers 25th Anniversary of the Yale-New Haven Teachers Institute

Calvin Trillin

He went home.

Reginald Mayo

Jim is still working on endowments. Jim, you’ve got the twenty-five thou this year. Come on up here a minute. Come on up (long applause).

This [plaque] is from Dr. Torre, the President of the Board of Education, and this is really on behalf of the Board of Ed and Mayor John DeStefano, and certainly all of the teachers who have gone through the Institute, and those to come. It simply says: “Saluting James Vivian and the Yale-New Haven Teachers Institute for twenty-five years of outstanding dedication to New Haven teachers,” and it goes on with the list of people congratulating. Congratulations for a fine job done.

Calvin Trillin

Jim’s class, the class of 1968, as you probably know, is also the President’s class. But I want you to know Jim’s transcript was a little stronger. When George Bush’s Yale transcript was leaked — how I don’t know — during dinner maybe President Levin can fill us in on that — but during the campaign it seemed to have no effect on the campaign. I wrote a poem that was, “obliviously on he sails, with marks not quite as good as Quayle’s.” Of course the fact that those marks got him into Harvard Business School is another confirmation of which class of Americans the original affirmative action system was designed to benefit. (laughter/applause)

A number of Presidents of Yale have been great supporters of the Institute. Bart Giamatti actually, I think, when he was made President, was preparing to teach one of the seminars — lead one of the seminars. The same was true of Rick Levin. Also, in this evening of celebrating teaching, I should say that I have heard from people who had Rick Levin as a teacher — I have heard people say, “He’s almost a good a teacher as his wife Jane.” Which is a great compliment. The President of Yale, Rick Levin.

Richard C. Levin

I suppose I should start by saying one word about President Bush’s transcript, and that is that I wish I hadn’t given the key to the storage vault where the transcripts are kept to Calvin Trillin.

This is a wonderful occasion, and it celebrates a truly extraordinary and unique enterprise, the Yale-New Haven Teachers Institute which, as we just heard, was started at the initiative of a handful of New Haven school teachers and Jim Vivian and his mentor in the Yale History Department, Howard Lamar, with the idea that teaching is a common enterprise. Here we are in a city where the public schools are so important to the well-being of our children, and where we have a great university and great scholars available to provide help and assistance. It is just such a natural and compelling idea to bring together scholars — and I look around the room and I see some of the leading scholars in America sitting here — who have been devoted over the years to this idea of getting together in the summers with a small group of New Haven school teachers to work together as colleagues, as colleagues with an interest in teaching to help develop curriculum for the school children of America based on the scholarship and research that Yale’s faculty are undertaking. It was a fabulous idea when it started. It is a fabulous idea twenty-five years later. It is an idea that in the last five years has taken hold, thanks again to Jim Vivian’s prodigious efforts, in four other cities in America — in Albuquerque, New Mexico, Santa Ana, California, in Houston and in Pittsburgh. We are hoping to do it in more places if we can get the resources to do that. The idea of partnering with the local schools is just what America’s universities ought to be doing to make a contribution to public education throughout this country. This project has been supported steadfastly on both sides, and that is another great testimony to the partnership that, I must say, in 1977 was still on most fronts only incipient between the University and the City. Today, where we have a much wider range of partnerships between the University and the City, the Yale-New Haven Teachers Institute stands as a pioneering example of what it takes to have a great collaboration. And a great collaboration means the commitment of a lot of people, the commitment of the participants on both sides to the common enterprise.

I want to say one more thing about that. You know, it is easy to conceive of this as Yale’s great scholars sharing their wisdom with New Haven school teachers as though this were something like a one-way flow. But I have to tell you that I have heard again and again from Yale faculty who participated in these seminars, that this is a two way street, that they are energized by their interaction with the New Haven school teachers, with their enthusiasm for learning, with their enthusiasm for children. It is rejeuvenating for everyone, and the benefits accrue on both sides of the partnership. And that of course is why it has sustained itself so well: because, in that sense, there is something in it for everyone who participates. That is a great testimony to the vision and wisdom of Jim and of Howard in founding this initiative twenty-five years ago. So, I just want to thank all of you who are here tonight who, by virtue of your attendance and by virtue of those who have sponsored your tables, are supporting this terrific and very worthwhile example of how a great university and a great city can work together in a common enterprise. Thank you.

to the top of Celebrating Teachers 25th Anniversary of the Yale-New Haven Teachers Institute

Calvin Trillin

Just before we eat I want to mention some special guests we have tonight. Of course the sponsors and patrons of this evening. No one, of course, nearly of the magnitude of the New Haven Savings Bank. But in their own small way trying to help out. Members of the Institute’s National Advisory Committee are here. Members of the New Haven Public Schools’ administration. Frank Logue, who was the mayor when the Institute was established. People from the Pittsburgh and Houston Teachers Institutes are here. And this next group of people I would like to have stand, and those are the Yale faculty members who have been seminar leaders. Could you stand please. And if you remain standing, now I would like to have stand the New Haven teachers who have been Fellows in these seminars. These are the people who have done it. Now, we will be back after dessert.

Calvin Trillin

Could I ask you to take your seats please. I want to start out saying in this evening about schooling that my best subject was geography. A subject that is not taught very much anymore. You can imagine how I feel when they have these surveys that show that the average American high school senior thinks Alabama is the capital of Chicago, or something like that. I knew a lot of state capitals. I knew major mineral resources: Missouri, lead and zinc, there’s an example right there. I actually knew so many geographical facts that I have been trying to forget them so I’ll have room in my mind for more important things. I don’t hold with the theory that we are only using only a little bit of our grey matter. I think we are all going flat out. For years, for instance, I have been trying forget the longest word in the English language, which I had to learn for a high school club, nemonultramicorscopicsilicovolcanoconiosis. I find that I don’t use it very much. It is not easy to work into the conversation. Occasionally I’ll be able to say something like, “speaking of diseases contracted through the inhalation of quartz dust, . . . ” but not very often. I finally was able to spell it. And that allowed me to remember my army serial number. But it was somewhat after I left the Army. I have admitted this before, my worst subject was math. I wasn’t able to persuade my mathematics teacher that many of my answers were meant ironically. Some of you may know that some years ago the Texas state legislature passed a resolution in favor of making pi an even three. I was for it.

I share something with Howard: I was reading in the program that Howard Lamar, in Alabama during the Depression, that the schools closed early because they ran out of money. I would like to say, not to boast, but the schools in Kansas City closed early one year. They ran out of money not because of the Depression — they just didn’t want to spend the money. So, my father thought that children should not be on the streets in April, May, whatever it was. And he also thought that people should know how to type. So, I am probably the only person in this room who is a graduate of Sarshawn Hoolie Secretarial School. This is when I was in eighth grade, and this is hard to believe for you educators here, particularly the younger ones, but until about three or four years before I was due to go to eighth grade, Kansas City did not have eighth grade. I don’t mean that they called it something else. They did not have eighth grade. You went seven grades in primary school, “elementary school” it was called. And then you were a freshman in high school. In fact, I objected when they put in eighth grade. I said you are changing the rules right in the middle of the game here. We were told we only had to go seven grades and then become freshmen. I find often when I speak to teachers and I say, “what’s the most difficult grade to teach?” Invariably, “eighth grade.” The kids are at a bad age; they don’t exactly know what to teach them. I said, well we had a solution to that in Kansas City, we just didn’t have eighth grade.

Just behind math were my really weak subjects, languages. We didn’t have really brilliant language instruction in Southwest High School. I went to a place called Southwest High School which, after integration, people would say to me, “Isn’t it terrible what happened to Southwest, one of the jewels of the educational firmament” and all that. Sounded sort of like Exeter the way they talked about it. But actually, we had two languages, French and Spanish. I was taught French by Mademoiselle McCloud, who I do not think had a command of the language herself. We spent a lot of time making Joyeux Noel booklets. So I don’t speak French really. I used to do — one of the things — I speak a little bit. I don’t do verbs in French. I find that verbs can just ruin a vacation. I used to know some verbs like, I even knew some what we called at home Sunday-go-to-meeting-verbs — Ou se trouve la plage? “Where does it find itself the beach.” But I even gave that one up. The beach knows where it is. I came closest to speaking Spanish. My elder daughter is now fluent in Spanish, and I am just miserable with envy that she can speak it. I actually wrote a piece about it called “Abagail y Yo.” I have attacked the Spanish language for thirty years. I think of it sometimes when you see pictures of those DEA raids against drug dealers where they are trying to pound the door down with a log or something and they all have jackets on that say DEA or FBI — that’s the way I think of my assault on the Spanish language. My jacket says “Yo hablo Espanol.” But I have finally decided I will never learn another language and I used to think, particularly when I traveled a lot and was running for airplanes, I used to think about what my obituary might say because one of the few side benefits of the trade I’m in is that you get a decent obituary. So, we think about our obituaries a lot. I thought that the subhead on my obituary would say, “monolingual reporter succumbs.”

I am astonished now that some kids at Yale and places like Yale study Chinese and Japanese and things. I did carry for awhile, for use in Chinatown, a little card that said in Mandarin: “Please bring me some of what the people at the next table are having.” I actually knew a food and wine writer named Finnegan who . . . a more conscientious food writer, what do they call it, a grown-up food writer who was going to Japan and took the trouble to learn enough Japanese to get around restaurants. He was eating in Tokyo and saw somebody at the next table eating something that looked absolutely magnificent. Finnegan called the waiter over and said in Japanese, “could you please bring me some of what the man at the next table is eating.” The waiter looked a bit puzzled, shrugged, went over, spoke to the man, and brought Finnegan what he was eating.

I am very pleased to be at a gathering that celebrates teaching because I am really the only one in my family who has not been a teacher. Both of my girls were in Teach for America, and so we went through all those desperate evenings — long distance because they were in Los Angeles — about whether the lesson plan was ready for tomorrow. I know what hard work it is. The lesson plan is sort of the equivalent of college English. I heard some professor had said to another professor about a novel, “Have you read it?” And he said, “read it? I haven’t even taught it.” But my girls managed to stay a day or two ahead the whole time and they had wonderful classes. They also had the excitement of teaching. My older daughter Abigail taught at Inglewood near the Los Angeles Airport in a bi-lingual third grade and taught partly in Spanish and taught kind of basics in reading — for instance in Spanish. The idea was that, as the English improved, the kid would switch over to English. I remember the day when she called and said, “Oswaldo read in English today.” A tremendous triumph that you get in teaching.

My wife did many things, but she always thought of herself as a teacher. She started out teaching at Hofstra. She had a degree from Yale, and as underprepared students came in the 60's we said she worked her way down from Shakespeare to the simple sentence. She was interested in basic skills and taught in the Seek Program at City University, and was a teacher all of her life. Even when she was doing other things she would stop and team teach a semester at NYU Medical School on doctor-patient relationships. A few years ago she was at Sing-Sing — taught communications. She liked them — they always did their homework. They didn’t have a whole lot to do. They came in with the assignment.

Actually, I once did a piece at a comedy club called “The Improvisation,” I guess the original comedy club, many many years ago. I spent all week there. One of my favorite comedians was a comedian named Jimmy Walker, kind of a skinny guy who was later on a sitcom and had a wonderful act. Finally on Saturday night Alice came with me to see a couple of the acts. We got to the door and Jimmy Walker was standing there, and he looked at her and said, “Mrs. Trillin, you flunked me.” And she had. She said he was very charming, but never did the stuff.

I have also sort of obviously been involved in education as a parent. I think we have all gone through the various sorts of parental problems with education about kids worried about how they are doing on their tests and everything. Of course, what looms large is the SAT, that is the big thing that kids worry about. And I thought I would read a short piece about the SATs. Which may be familiar to some of you.

Things have finally returned to normal among the teenagers I know after a spring filled with vocabulary tension brought on by the Scholastic Aptitude Tests. “Relax,” I kept saying to S, a teenager I know best, as the pressure in her crowd mounted, “I read that a lot of colleges don’t pay much attention to SAT scores anyway. Also, we can always go to work in the dime store.” Relaxing is the Herculean task. Meaning a task very difficult to perform, it said. Because among my friends there is no dearth of anxieties. A dearth is like a paucity. A scarcity or scanty supply. In fact, most of the people I know have a plethora of anxieties, a surfeit, an overabundance. All of us, as friends, were talking that way. One evening while we were giving S’s friend D a ride uptown, D said, “I’ll be on the corner of 13th and 6th Avenue in proximity to the mail box.” “In proximity,” I said? “Kind of in juxtaposition to the mailbox,” D said. That’s a placing close together or side by side. “If I get tired while I’m waiting, you’ll find me contiguous to the mailbox.” “What if someone wants to mail a letter?” I said. “If that eventuality, that contingent event, that possible occurrence or circumstance occurs,” D said, “I’ll move.” This is not the way teenagers normally speak. Ordinarily they don’t need many long words, or for that matter, many words of any size. Some of them can make do for days on end with hardly any words at all beyond the word “like.” As in the sentence, “like I said like what? And he was like, like O.K.” As it happens, listening to someone who says “like” every second or third word can get irritating. S’s father occasionally brings that fact to her attention, in an appropriately courteous and dignified manner by saying, “If you utter the word ‘like’ once more at this dinner table you’re going to be put in a foster home.” S can explain why each use of the word “like” is absolutely logical. Her explanations sound persuasive, which her father finds almost as irritating as listening to someone who says “like” every second or third word. In fact S has logical explanations for a lot of teenage talk. She could explain why it is O.K. to use “stupid” or “crazy” as adverbs, meaning very or truly. So that you could say both, that guy is “stupid crazy.” Or if he happens to be stupider than he is crazy, that guy is “crazy stupid.” S is like a scholar of teenspeak. When I thought about that fact this spring, it occurred to me that teenagers I know wouldn’t have been under any tension at all if only the SAT’s were given in their own language, Teenspeak. A sample question would be, “Like is to like as A: Like is to Like, or B: Like is to Like.” The problem emerged from the Educational Testing Service’s stubborn insistence on giving the tests in English. Think of how difficult it would be for non-teenagers to bone up on vocabulary if they were required to take a test in Teenspeak. I can imagine, say, two golfers of middle years and competitive temperaments ready to hit their drives on the first green. Al swats his drive right down the center of the fairway. “Superfly fresh!” Al says. That, as you may know Jack, is an exclamation indicating approval or delight. “The vocabulary test is not for another month,” Jack says irritably as he tees up. He hits a dribbler and starts pounding a nearby bush with his driver. “Chill money,” Al says. Which is to say, “Relax. Speak English!”, Jack shouts. “Like take a chill,” Al says. Jack turns towards Al waving his driver in the air menacingly. Suddenly S emerges from behind the bush. “It is understandable that you may have a plethora of anxieties,” she tells Jack. “But you have to make a Herculean effort to control them.” Jack seeing the logic in that puts the driver in his golf bag and apologizes for the outburst. “It was stupid crazy of me,” he says.

The chairman of this celebration is Daniel Kops who has long been active in community affairs in New Haven in business affairs. He wishes he were connected in some way with the New Haven Savings Bank. But other than that he has conquered all the world. Daniel Kops.

to the top of Calvin Trillin's remarks | to the top of Celebrating Teachers 25th Anniversary of the Yale-New Haven Teachers Institute

Daniel W. Kops

I had hoped, when I saw Calvin’s name on the program above mine, that I would come out of it at least chairman of the board of a local bank. But life has its disappointments and one goes on.

Come join me in a well-deserved tribute to Howard Roberts Lamar. We know him as a tower of strength at Yale, and we know him as a staunch advocate for our New Haven school system. Nationally, he is recognized as an eminent historian.

You know, Howard was himself a public school graduate. He believed in supporting the school systems. As a matter of course, he and Shirley sent their daughters, Susan and Sarah, to public schools. Howard never ceased to be active on behalf of the schools. In time, his commitment to helping schools became a passion.

As you well know by now, tonight we are celebrating the 25th anniversary of the Yale-New Haven Teachers Institute. Since earliest times, the Institute has been one of the major beneficiaries of Howard’s interest. It was Howard who conducted the first seminar on New Haven history.

Now, stay with me for a moment while we follow his career. From 1951-53 he served on the New Haven Board of Aldermen. That’s right, the New Haven Board of Alderman. He came to Yale in 1944 and received his M.A. followed by his Ph.D. By 1987 he received the prestigious post of Sterling Professor of History at Yale. In the years that followed he was chairman of the History Department and Dean of Yale College. Next, Howard, former alderman, was appointed Acting President, later President of Yale University.

As for history, it has always been a labor of love for Howard. He focused particularly on the American West which in earlier days had been neglected by historians. It didn’t take long for Howard to become known as the prime authority on the American West.

We know him as a man of absolute integrity who righted the wrongs of a century and half of American history. He told the true story of the American Indians, their courage and their culture. The good and the bad. A prolific writer, he has written ten major books, thirty articles, and countless book reviews on the West.

You know, the years roll by. Next week he will have another birthday which probably won’t draw much fuss or attention. His life has been filled with so many local and national accomplishments. He is still going strong. And we’re so proud of him. Howard, we’re here because we have been enriched by the times you have touched our lives. I would ask you to join me here on the platform.

Would you like to open that Howard?

to the top of Celebrating Teachers 25th Anniversary of the Yale-New Haven Teachers Institute

Howard R. Lamar

All right. I think it’s from the New Haven Savings Bank. It’s heavy.

Daniel W. Kops

We express our deepest appreciation and affection for you. As a token thereof, I am pleased to present to you with this memento of our affection.

Howard R. Lamar

A Steuben apple

Daniel W. Kops

A Steuben apple for the teacher!

Howard R. Lamar

Thank you, that’s wonderful. Actually, this is the first apple I’ve ever gotten. Thank you, Dan. I’m simply overwhelmed by your nice remarks and by this wonderful gift. I’m also very impressed by the remarks of Bud Trillin. You both have a talent for exaggeration which is so eloquent it disguises the truth. That is called poetic license, but what worries me is that neither of you are poets.

It is true, however, that in the late 1960s the Yale History Department, with the strong encouragement of Jon Fanton, one of the founders of the U.S. Grant Foundation, persuaded the History Department to offer some seminars to New Haven school teachers. Designed to provide new readings and interpretations in their chosen special fields of interest, American, European, or World History. I volunteered to offer a summer seminar on the early national period, really from Jefferson through Jackson’s presidency. The teachers were so responsive and so interested, we became teams of exploration aided by their being given full access to the Yale Library.

I felt we were getting somewhere after a week or so when one teacher said to me, “well, this sure beats the heck out of the course I was signed up to take elsewhere.” What was that,” I asked? “It was called,” he said, “school heating systems.” I felt further pleased to learn after the seminar ended that one teacher had sent all her seniors a note saying, “Disregard what I said about Andrew Jackson. Please accept this new interpretation.” I was embarrassed because, rather than working it out ourselves, we had accepted the authority of a famous historian of Jackson. In short, the seminar was still finding its critical voice. We were accepting the voices of teachers.

This is why, when the Yale-New Haven Teachers Institute approach was articulated by Jim Vivian and others to me, it was so attractive that I wanted to participate in a program in which teachers and Yale professors, working together collegially, on a basis of equality, were to see how the curriculum of a course could reflect the teacher’s concept of what would work based on his or her knowledge of the students — his or her own experiences as a teacher, and their exchange with fellow teachers and seminar leaders.

That approach worked magically for me when I proposed a course called, subject to teacher approval, “Remarkable City: New Haven in the 19th Century.” Together we found out that this was one of the most successful industrial American cities in the 19th century. We also found that the teachers’ research brought out new information about New Haven that had never before been articulated. In the end there were papers leading to new courses on local and Connecticut history that were original, and vibrant, and quite successful in the school classes.

A second course analyzing common and differing values in southern and New England society and history revealed, among many other things, that the prospect of a better education, and not just the prospect of better jobs, led many Black Americans from the South to come North and to settle in New Haven — that there was a deep commitment to finding good public education for their families. And the teachers in that seminar illustrated that themselves. In the end the seminar was as inspiring and as rewarding as anything I have ever experienced in the classroom.

Therefore, I would like to turn the tables on the theme of this celebration tonight by saying: It is your achievement that we are celebrating. It is the five-hundred participating teachers who have made the Institute work, who have prepared the new courses, tested them in the classroom, and shared the successful ones with other teachers. It is you who reversed the older town-gown lack of understanding to bring cooperation between city and the university. When I saw Bart Giamatti and the Mayor of New Haven announcing the Teachers Institute together, I felt a revolution had taken place. That revolution continues to take place as we see Mayor DeStefano, Superintendent Mayo, and President Levin work as a team along with institutions like the New Haven Savings Bank, and Robert J. Leeney of the New Haven Register. And they have lent support to all the Institute’s programs.

Still another quiet revolution took place when it was realized that outstanding teachers at Yale, such as Thomas Whitaker, Jules Prown and Robin Winks, volunteered to teach in the summer programs. But there is a larger payoff: By developing a town-gown program that could serve as a model program for four other school-university endeavors, you have made a local program national in its vision. And gosh, if you can lure celebrities like Calvin Trillin and Bill Cosby here, you must be good.

Calvin Trillin not only gives us valuable thoughts about food, but also supplies valuable food for thought and provides piquant and witty sauces for both. Moreover he believes in plugging good causes — many of them educational. Indeed, he tells me his late wife Alice once said, “Bud, you are the George Jessell of the non-profit circuit.” My one worry is that, if Trillin ever becomes interested in school menus, the cafeterias will be told to serve Kansas City barbeque and possoli.

Bill Cosby is our generation’s Mark Twain, Jack Benny and Will Rogers combined. He has also brilliantly shown us the minds and the worlds of children and teenagers in his remarkable television programs. He has given us the will to understand our society laughing at ourselves and our foibles, but making us love every minute of it.

I would also like to celebrate tonight our city as an educational pioneer on many levels. Professor Edward Zigler of Yale founded the Head Start program to provide free child care to families that fall below the poverty line, and after many decades continues to fight for this program. And then there is Dr. James Comer, Professor of Psychiatry and Associate Dean of the Child Study Center, whose analyses of what children need as they grow up and go through adolescence has broadened the reaches of public education all over the country.

I could not close my remarks without thanking Dan Kops, the Chairman of the Anniversary Celebration Committee, his wife Nancy, and the Celebration Committee members who brought to pass this wonderful evening.

Nor could I ever thank Jim Vivian enough for founding the New Haven Teachers Institute and seeing it through 25 successful years. I have known Jim since he was an undergraduate at Yale, where he wrote a remarkable biography of Senator Dennis Chavez of New Mexico, who was an ardent advocate for Mexican Americans. Then I followed his career in Washington, where he worked for Congressman Brademas, who fostered programs to benefit Mexican American students. Jim’s larger vision, his quiet determination, and his unflagging energy and unending attention to the workings of the Institute are incredible. His thorough planning ahead reminds me of the story of a German general in the 19th century, named von Moltke, who lived at the time of tensions between France and Germany. He was alseep in his bedroom one night when an excited orderly rushed in and said, “Sir, France has declared war on us.” Sitting up in bed, General von Moltke said without hesitation, “The plans are in the second drawer of my desk.” As Jim Vivian prepares for the second 25 years of the Teachers Institute, I strongly suspect that his plans are already in the second drawer, or on the computer. Please join me again in thanking him for all he’s done.

Meanwhile, may I thank you for honoring me. And I wish each and everyone of you success in furthering the education of the youth of New Haven. Thank you.

to the top of Howard R. Lamar's remarks | to the top of Celebrating Teachers 25th Anniversary of the Yale-New Haven Teachers Institute

Calvin Trillin

I just want to say a word about my friend Howard Lamar as a teacher. Among other things, I had the pleasure a few years ago of meeting Patricia Limerick, who is certainly one the most distinguished professors of Western History in America now — and who sort of again, sort of reformed the field at the University of Colorado. I said to her, “How did you happen to get into Western History?” And she said, “I came to Yale Graduate School to be a medievalist,” and — either she had to take a course at some time of day, or the only course open, or there was some sort of requirement, she ended up — the only course available was Howard Lamar’s seminar in Western History. And that was the end of medievalism for Patricia Limerick.

The next speaker, if that’s the word for the evening, is going to be Bill Cosby. Or perhaps Dr. William Cosby, he has a Ph.D. in Education. It is always a question about whom you call “doctor” and whom you don’t call “doctor.” I have noticed that George Schultz is a Ph.D. who used to be Secretary of State, and he’s always known as Mr. Schultz — and Henry Kissinger is a Ph.D. who used to be Secretary of State and he’s called Dr. Kissinger. The only thing I can figure is maybe Kissinger has a podiatry practice on the side. Cosby definitely doesn’t have a podiatry practice on the side, he doesn’t have time for that sort of thing. The person who is going to introduce his performance, Michele Pierce, some of you know because she used to be a teacher in New Haven. She is now the principal of a charter school in New York, the Harriet Tubman School in The Bronx. She will introduce Bill Cosby or Dr. William Cosby. Michele Pierce.

Michele Pierce

Good evening. As teachers we are blessed to be in the business of growing human beings. Most of us entered this profession because we believe that children are unique and brilliant and because we love them. And or because we want to share knowledge and joy of learning with others. But do you we really believe that all children are brilliant? That all children can learn? If we do it becomes our mission to figure out how each child learns — then how to hand that child the key to unlock his or her mind. Here’s what we know. In order to learn most students require guidance, information and attention. Some need a different structure all together. The challenge is not to dismiss these students as difficult, poorly behaved, or not as bright because they are not the same as everyone else. It is to recognize that they see things on a different dimension. It is that simple. I want to tell you about the teacher who recognized a unique mind in a little boy named, Bill Cosby and then handed him the key to unlock his brilliance.

I went to interview Mrs. Mary B. Forchick on a Saturday morning and stayed for week. She spoke very, very quickly without pause or seeming even to breathe between paragraphs. She spoke in stories and laughed loudly, and in perfect grammatical form she transcended space and time. She remembered decades later the tiniest details, like what the condition of a child’s shoes told her about that child’s life. Mrs. Mary B. Forchick was a visionary. She began a revolution child by child. She told her students that the world was there and that, armed with knowledge greatness, whatever that meant to each individual child was inevitable. She saw miracles in the everyday and she loved the whole child. Not only the child, but the whole family. She had dinner at a student’s home almost every night and even if out elsewhere, for example on date, she made the gentleman drive her through the neighborhood on the way home. And, if he didn’t, he “never saw me again.” She needed to know that her children were safe. She came back by five a.m. so she could stop and buy bags of fresh carrots, celery and apples, the things they needed to eat. She moved very, very quickly. Her four-foot-ten frame huge in the eyes of the children she adressed as “Mr. Cosby. and Ms. So-and-So.” They knew even then that they were respected, loved and challenged and taken very, very seriously by their teacher.

She made Mr. Cosby the star of the class play because he had boundless energy and he had so much to say. At the time he was struggling to read. That is one of the reasons, she said, that he liked to talk so much during class. But as he read and read and memorized every line, he gained success. We may say, “well, times have changed.” We may say, “children these days are different, or parents don’t care anymore.” We may say, “current conditions in schools make this type of work impossible.” We may even make the analogy to the past being a time when doctors made house calls and that doesn’t happen anymore.

Today, as we speak, Joshua, a first grader at my school in the south Bronx, is being evaluated by a child neurologist who came to his home in a mobile unit because that child and that family are in crisis. When children think that they cannot learn, they feel stupid and they act out. Even worse perhaps, when children are brutalized by violence they become practitioners of violence. They pull fire alarms at school, and they tear important papers off the walls. They may not need to be sent to detention or the principal for behavior modification. They may need our help. When a child is safe and his basic needs are met, then he can learn. We must see this as part of our work as growing human beings. The future depends on it. For without Mrs. Mary B. Forchick we might not have the opportunity to learn this evening from Dr. Cosby. His wisdom, unique way of seeing the world, intuition and the joy he brings millions of people is the direct result of him seeing on another dimension and not being stifled. It is so easy to kill the spirit of a child. It is also easy to nurture it and to have the faith that we are making a difference, child by child. As Mrs. Forchick put it best: “Beethoven couldn’t hear and look what he did. So who are we to waste everything that we have. But as the children will tell you, boy if they had something in them, I usually got it out of them because I was determined that they were going places. And I just wanted them to be happy.” Dr. William H. Cosby, Jr.

to the top of Michele Pierce's remarks | to the top of Celebrating Teachers 25th Anniversary of the Yale-New Haven Teachers Institute

Bill Cosby

Good stuff. Thank you. Sit down, sit down. This is some kind of gathering. But for me this is about the children. The letter came inviting me to speak, and I accepted because it’s about children. And today, today it seems sort of not nice for them. Low economic children put in a position of being overpowered by media, gratuitous shows, out of grammar, new things, new ways, on tee-shirts, on the bill boards, on the buses, QB-er, even our intellectuals, QB-er — what kind of behavyah — mixed signals confusing already confused people. I was explaining to a friend of mine that I didn’t want to use the “old days,” because people go to sleep when you say “old days.” So, I said a lower economic single parent will say for the time that the child is around, “why you ain’t got. What you ain’t doing.” I can’t even say it. And the child hears this. It’s what the child hears leaving the house and it’s what the child hears coming home. How can the teacher win? The child hears it on the playground: “Why you ain’t got no? Where you ain’t. Where you is?” It isn’t even the Old South English. This is an English created all over the youth areas. It’s their language. Helped by some people who wanted for some reason to make their lives easier in the classroom so they said, “why not make this a language?” Which goes nowhere. Where do you get a job anywhere off of “why you ain’t?” What test do you pass? Can you become a policeman? “Where is you at” or “where you ain’t?” Can you land a plane with that? Wouldn’t it make you feel wonderful to hear your surgeon say “whazzup?”

to the top of Celebrating Teachers 25th Anniversary of the Yale-New Haven Teachers Institute

[Mr. Cosby permitted the recording of only the first two minutes of his remarks, which lasted about forty-five minutes.]


Transcripts | Yale-New Haven Teachers Institute

© 2003 by the Yale-New Haven Teachers Institute

© 2014 by the Yale-New Haven Teachers Institute
Terms of Use Contact YNHTI