Monday, September 14, 2009

Questions for Curatorial - Back to School Special

Curatorial Director Dave answers your questions... this time, about going to school in turn-of-the-century New York.

Did the Gumpertz, Levine, Rogarshevsky, and Baldizzi children have to attend school and, if so, did they attend public school or private school?

In 1874, New York State passed a compulsory school law requiring children between the ages of 8 and 14 to attend some public or private day school at least 14 weeks each year. Twenty years later, the Compulsory Education Law of 1894 required full-time attendance from 8 to 12 years of age. Children older than 14 were not required to go to school. The Gumpertz, Levine, Rogarshevsky, and Baldizzi children were therefore required by state law to attend school until the age of 14.

As working-class immigrants, the families of 97 Orchard Street would not have had the necessary resources to send their children to private school. Although New York City’s public facilities remained inadequate to serve a growing population of children, many of who were immigrants, the children of 97 Orchard Street could have attended school at one of several public institutions.

One of those is P. S. 42, which has been educating children from immigrant families for over one hundred and ten years. When the school opened in 1898, students were mainly Italian and Jewish. The Greater City of New York had half-a-million students by 1898, and by 1914 would have 900,000. Today, the student body is primarily Chinese and Hispanic immigrants or the children of immigrants.

When the first citywide curriculum was adopted in 1903, 70% of public school students in the city were either immigrants or the children of immigrants. Thirty years later, in 1933, the student population remained heavily immigrant. After graduating from the eighth grade, the majority went to work during the day, many returning to night school for advanced classes.

At the turn of the century, Americanization was the focus of the curriculum – forging a common identity among children from different cultures. In 1898, the Superintendent of Schools, William Maxwell, believed that the role of the school was to do more than merely instruct: “It accustoms people of different creeds and different national traditions to live together on terms of peace and mutual good will. It is the melting pot which converts the children of immigrants of all races and languages into sturdy, independent American citizens.”

Nationalities of students who attended P.S. 42 in 1933. The card shows over 600 students with Italian-born fathers, over 300 with Russian-born fathers, and 160 with American-born fathers. 56 are listed as "indefinite."

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