One baby boomer’s elementary school memories

Since here at BoomerCafé we can’t remember much at all about our childhoods, we’re thrilled when another baby boomer writes in about his or her memories. So we now present Elementary School Memories by boomer Martin Levinson, now of Forest Hills, New York. He seems to remember almost every moment.

During the 1950s, when I was a pupil at Public School 241 in Brooklyn, formal weekly “assemblies” were held in the school auditorium. At these get-togethers, boys had to wear white shirts and red ties. If a young man forgot his tie, his teacher gave him a red fabric scrap to put on. Girls were required to wear a specified outfit as well, but in those days girls were off my radar screen so I can’t remember what the young ladies wore.

Martin Levinson

Martin Levinson with Brando in the shadows.
(Photo collage by Katherine Liepe-Levinson)

After we were seated in the auditorium (boys in one row, girls in the next), our principal made various “housekeeping” announcements. Then there was usually a student performance of some sort. Choral readings, a curious sort of creative endeavor, were far too common. I was once a part of a sextet of tremulous tenors who memorized and recited the celebrated World War I poem In Flanders Fields.

Following the presentations, our school music specialist would sit down at the piano and we’d accompany herby singing patriotic songs, among them two full stanzas from The Star-Spangled Banner and one stanza from The Battle Hymn of the Republic. We also sang tons of Christmas carols even though more than half the students at PS 241 were Jewish. No one ever made a big deal of that, although when my friends and I felt like being a little rebellious we would sometimes alter the words to those carols; “Deck the hall with boughs of holly” became “Flood the mall with loaves of challah” and “The First Noel” turned into “The First Joel”… to honor my buddy Joel Bernstein.

Martin Levinson today.

Martin Levinson today.

Wednesday afternoons at 2 p.m. was “released time” for religious instruction, which meant if you were attending religion classes somewhere else, you could leave school early to go to those classes. Sadly, I was taking Hebrew lessons at the Prospect Park Jewish Center on Tuesdays and Thursdays so on Wednesdays I had to wait til three to go home. At night I’d sometimes pray to God to change my Hebrew school schedule to the middle of the week.

At PS 241, there was an intricate system of student monitors that was based on the military. There were line guards and stair guards and officers who oversaw them. There were also crossing guards who stood on the street corners next to the school and advised you when it was safe to traverse the road.

If you spoke in the schoolyard when you should have been quiet in line, or ran up the down staircase, or jaywalked when you crossed the street, one of the guards might spot you and give you a Guard Report, which was noted on your Permanent Record. I didn’t know what a Permanent Record was, but I knew it was something you didn’t want an infraction on since that recorded breach would follow you around forever, which is a mighty long time when you’re a kid.

Too bad I didn’t know then what I know now. Nothing lasts forever. The only thing that’s permanent in life is change.

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2 Comments

  1. Marty, you could be me. I went to PS 92 (Flatbush). I remember the red, white and blue assemblies, the AAA crossing guards and yes, the hall monitors, or as I liked to call them “Hitler Youth”. My Hebrew school session was on Thursday, so I too never got an afternoon off. I attended public school in Brooklyn from 1951 to 1956, until we moved to Queens. Thanks for the memories.

  2. 318 3rd Ave #520

    Hey I never got stabbed or shot so it was a great school. Oh yeah one dude stabbed me with pencil but that was in Hebrew School. He died of a brain tumor. He also turned me in and got me detention for something I did not realize I was doing. Remember that bridge over the subway tracks. I told myself when I crossed it I would never forget it. And I never have. All I thik about all day long is that bridge. Goodbye cruel world. Ha Ha HA

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