the lab is a dangerous place

I delivered the following remarks on March 3, 2005, at Bard High School Early College, towards the end of my tenure there as their first Associate Dean of Studies. BHSEC is a public school where graduates receive an associate degree from Bard College along with a high-school Regents Diploma from New York State. Towards the end of the institution’s fourth year of existence, during its second year on the Lower East Side, we formally opened some badly needed laboratories.

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I was in second grade when we moved to a small town on the Ohio River, in the second month of 1972. The school was only a couple blocks away, just as when we lived in the South Bronx. But instead of taking an elevator down seven floors, walking along the Grand Concourse, and ascending stone steps up to the school, now we lived in a house, crossed a lightly trafficked road, and strolled into a single-story brick building with windows that admit dazzling sunlight.

Soon after, the teacher called on me to write the day on the blackboard. I wrote Febuary as the name of the month. The teacher said to the class, Can we tell William how to spell February?

This was new. Back in the Montessori, we wouldn’t have pointed out someone else’s mistake while in a group, certainly not with the encouragement of a teacher. We didn’t recite anything together aloud, except to sing.

I remember other moments from that time. I remember my father driving us around and announcing we had driven through the downtown, when downtown for us had meant looking up and seeing the World Trade Center being built. At school I remember being knocked from behind on the playground and having my ski mask pulled off because the older kids were playing a game and then quickly being picked up and receiving an apology, fashioning a triceratops of clay and pencils to battle with Laurie’s tyrannosaurus, removing the staples from weekly assignments sent home and smoothing out the papers so they would look good, pretending to read a simple storybook slowly as we went around the table because everyone else did.

I learned how to spell February.