"I'd like to use the word "justice" - that I felt compelled to tell the story of the school as a matter of justice. That we are so easy to write books and tell stories about great universities, but when it comes to high schools we don't think that way. And yet if you ask every person on the street about somebody who influenced them, he always or she always brings up a high school teacher or a high school coach. High schools have had a tremendous influence on who we are as a people, as a nation. And there should be documentation about the high schools, and I believe that DeWitt Clinton is a great school that has had tremendous influence on American life."
" Gerard Pelisson, former high school teacher and co-author of "The Castle on the Parkway,"a history of DeWitt Clinton High School in the Bronx N.Y.
"DeWitt C-L-I-N-T-O-N Boom:" Singing the Praises of Free Public Education In The Privatized Charter School Era
By Danny Schechter
"Ever to thee" are words of loyalty from a high school anthem, a school song that reverberates in my mind a half a century after I left DeWitt Clinton H.S. back in days I lived in the Bronx.x
There's no doubt that my experience and instruction at "DeWitt C" helped propel me into journalism as a career, and ultimately, to writing opinion columns like this.
When "my" then all-boys school, once the biggest high school in the world, was threatened with closure by bureaucrats who fancy themselves "educational reformers," I set out to make a film about DeWitt Clinton, its 100 year plus history, and the challenges that confront it as a wave of privatization sweeps over education with schools shuttered in city after city. I wanted to celebrate the importance of public education.
The hour-long documentary is now available, featuring interviews with current students, alumni and teachers. You can see the trailer and promo on Facebook.com/dwcfilm, and find out how to order it. There is a trailer http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=FbxKXgALC0E and a shorter promo on YouTube : http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=RReJzL5K0nI
Years ago, in my book, News Dissector: Passions, Pieces and Polemics, Electron Press (2000) I wrote about my formative years in editing the student newspaper.
I called it "Bodoni Bold."
"Journalism has its mysteries. Typefaces are one of them. Our newspaper at the mighty DeWitt Clinton High School in the Bronx chose Bodoni Bold, a deep black inky distinctive typeface. I was never quite sure why. There was a rumor that the printer, who set the paper for us in hot type eight times a school year, had cornered the bodoni market, had it locked up, maybe even received a commission on each slug banged out in the bold.
Who knows? Who cares, except it is one of the details still percolating through my brain cells all these years. later. I am thinking of a stuffy, tiny Clinton News Office, for a time my home away from home.
On every wall there were lists of the students who had come before us, including some famous names who went on to the big time. Where did the others go? Most of them, I suppose, had the good sense to move on to other non-journalism lives. I rose through the ranks from reporter to editor, getting a whiff of newsprint, leads, headlines, and the by-line bug. It gave me a taste that would stay with me for the rest of my life.
Lou Simon is the guy I'd thank. He was our advisor, teacher, confessor. He was young when he came to Clinton in the mid-fifties, maybe 28 or 29. He had a crewcut and a funny duck walk. His English classes and journalism sessions hammered away at basics. Who? What? Why? Where? When? How? He made us recite these five W's, and slashed away at stories that missed one or another aspect of the formula. "Get it right, check your facts, watch your grammar." Nothing was sent to the printer without a big Blue L from Lou Simon scrawled up in the left hand corner of the copy. It was his stamp of approval.
There were times that I fought with him, fussed with him and cursed him under my breath. He was stubbornly insistent and usually right, and the Clinton News had the scholastic prizes to prove it. Here we were, this massive 4200 all boy Bronx High School, so rough that we quipped we'd have a recess every day to carry out the wounded, and we'd win top national student press prizes every year, competing in the kudo count against newspapers from fancy prep schools.
Fully a third of the students came from feeder junior high schools in Harlem. Every year, four tall high scoring black kids would bring the tricks from their playground practices on to the backboards in the school gym. Somewhere they'd pick up a Jewish kid, or an Italian here or there, some guy whose every minute was spent practicing jump shots or learning to drive towards the basket like a Spanish toreador. Clinton was supreme on the courts.