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Community Workshop School

To the Editors:

One of the most exciting and significant educational ventures that I have seen is now operating on the upper West Side of New York City. It is the Children’s Community Workshop School [55 W. 88th St. NYC 10024] now beginning its second year of tuition-free, integrated community education; it is innovative, it is humane, and it is what a school should be.

I have heard recently from Mrs. Anita Moses, Director of the school, that the school desperately needs money. I have visited the school and the best way to indicate my enthusiasm and sense of urgency is to enclose here the letter which accompanied my own contribution.

Dear Anita Moses,

Your Children’s Community Workshop is the most impressive and hopeful project I’ve ever seen…. What I noticed first when I visited the classrooms was not the children but the teachers. They were all smiling…. The whole spirit was of a group enterprise, moving forward through the efforts of all….

I loved the fact that by opening the door you step directly onto the city sidewalk—no great courtyard, or pompous flight of stairs—nothing to set the school apart from the rest of life as something special and different. School is a part of life; learning is one continuous being-in-the-world. (The blind beggar, tapping with his cane, walked into your classroom by mistake, perhaps thinking it was a store. He was embarrassed and was in a hurry to get out. The children understood his error. They were calm about his coming in and calm about his going out. They were awed by his blindness. They went back to work.)

Your neighborhood is one of the “borderline” neighborhoods that Paul Goodman and Elliott Shapiro mention as being ideal for meaningful integration. You have middle-class whites, blacks, and Puerto Ricans, and lower-class whites, blacks, and Puerto Ricans. This is not a peaceful combination, but it’s a strong one. It brings children and parents through their racial hang-ups. It diminishes the vulgarity of ignorant and mean-spirited households, and dissolves the complacencies of gentility (which are frequently a flight from experience).

You don’t charge tuition. You are a public school. Yet you provide quality education—which will raise the poor and at the same time keep your middle-class families with you. And your strategy with the Regents is marvelous, since you are asking to be accepted as a school district. This is exactly what a school district should be: the immediate neighborhood, the ones who know each other—or who should know each other. I hope to God you succeed in this.

I liked the simplicity of the classrooms, the fraternal ease between teachers and children, the sense of individual progress, individual work, individual growth.

The teachers live in the neighborhood. That idiotic distinction between parents and teachers doesn’t apply. Here are adults who are neighbors. Naturally they are concerned with the children of the neighborhood.

I liked the way your own son, when school was over, led a multi-colored troop around the corner, running up to your apartment to play together.

I liked the parent-teacher conversations on the sidewalk when school let out.

I liked the way the kids came up to you and talked in the classrooms, and talked to me too, without suspiciousness of a stranger.

And I marvel that you’ve done all this on tiny grants and contributions. (Which I can’t say without promising to send my own.)

George Dennison

Temple, Maine

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