The deaths of Howard Zinn and J.D. Salinger removed from the planet two men–and two minds–that I relied on during my 35-year career as a high school history teacher.

Passages and quotations from Zinn's People's History were sprinkled throughout my 20th Century course. Meanwhile, in my Postwar America class, I would assign Catcher in the Rye as part of a discussion about the immediate post-WWll years. We would have wonderful arguments about whether the book was intended as an evocation of a typical "lost' adolescent or as a critique of postwar American culture. One year, I decided we had to step out of the book and onto the streets that Holden had walked during his runaway days in New York. And so began the tradition of  "The New York Trip in Search of Kerouac & Caulfield." After a few Kerouac stops, we'd catch up with Holden at the Museum of National History, by that giant war canoe and later by the display case with the Native American woman of naked breast fame. We'd stop, pull out the book, and read the pertinent passages, all the while watching those New York school kids on their field trips, holding hands. and looking just as if they had fallen out of one of the pages. Then it was down to the Duck Pond in Central Park, and, as we left the city that night, we'd stop at Grand Central where Holden had come into the city from Pencey Prep. Into the rush hour madness we ran for a group picture at that iconic gold clock-topped information kiosk.

Oh, I almost forgot. We also paid a visit to the Central Park carousel with its "nutty music." We'd stand outside and read aloud from that touching scene where Holden waits for his sister, "Phoebe Weatherfield Caulfield," to complete her ride on the carousel and have her chance to grab the gold ring. When we closed the book, fifty stressed-out Lincoln-Sudbury students would run to get a place on the wooden horses, so that they too could have a ride and rediscover the days of innocent and carefree youth.

I'm so sorry President Obama and Education Secretary Arne Duncan. There was no standardized testing on this day. No "assessments." No "accountability." No way to tell what or how much they learned. No, there was only the sublime.

Anyway, so where do the duck go?

Bill Schechter
January 28, 2010



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