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The Glamour of “PS”: the New PC?

Sep 11, 2017 by

With all the controversies about which historical figures are worthy of being honored with public statues and which ones should be removed because they are, in retrospect, odious and offensive to our values as a decent Nation, perhaps this would be a good time to similarly review the appropriateness of some of the names of our 1800 public schools.

They run the gamut of notable, but not necessarily honorable characters. A summary of even a sampling of them would be a fat dossier.  There will be whitewashing and mud-slinging.

Reputations change according to the wind, and sometimes it is an ill-wind. Discoveries are made, research dug up, revisions contrived and perspectives crafted. Sometimes myths are dissolved and superseded by new lore or delusion which may rehabilitate or tear legacies asunder by a variety of intellectual and political means and direct street action.

The list of distinguished alumni of New York City public schools is longer than the catalogue of Don Juan’s apocryphal conquests. But more extensive yet is the canon of famous and forgotten folks who at one point or other had a school named after them. Many schools bear the name of people whose prominence eroded into oblivion and whose contributions are no more than a footnote in some scholarly journal on a dusty shelf.

Many don’t generate controversy, such as George Gershwin. But others are heroes to many people and villains to many others. Often, their repute was amended by recent revelations that were always part of the historical record which was left untouched because it was too fragile or too explosive.

Mayor DeBlasio has convened a team of reviewers of city monuments who will recommend which ones should be demolished, re-located, left alone, or allowed to stand  with a plaque giving a balanced lesson about the subject’s life.

Assuming this is a sound idea, would it not be suitable for our schools also? Better yet, why not call the whole thing off and expunge all commemorative names of schools. We could replace them with a simple designation with a grand endowment of tradition: “PS”.

“PS” is an expression that conjures up a multi-dimensional world of ancient images, intrigue and nostalgia. It has an aura, a mystique, a romantic to it. Neil Sedaka, Curtis Sliwa and an encyclopedia of other graduates over the generations talk about the “PS” they attended with a pining memory and sentimental pull.

In Manhattan we have exciting addresses on “Avenue A” and in Brooklyn we have daring thoroughfares with such alluring and original titles as “Avenue U.”

Let’s start a movement ( maybe after we’ve eliminated the threat of a NYS Constitutional Convention!) to immortalize our schools by identifying them with an omnipresent “PS” followed by a number. No matter how many schools are created within existing schools and how often that number mutates and exponentially increases in keeping with the tiring “small schools” concept, numbers are of secure repute and except perhaps for “13”, have nothing to explain away.

Naming schools after people, during this era of wild re-examination, makes no more sense than naming a star for someone you love.

Ron Isaac

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