Thursday, May 3, 2012

Clairton Stuff

MISCELLANEOUS CLAIRTON Seems like a while: It has been quite a while since I’ve last written anything Clairton. Been busy on Facebook between Reaching the Reachable, Clairton History, and Clairton Activists. But most time has been spent in my newest venue, being an usher at the newly opened Smith Center for the Performing Arts. Have had the good fortune to work and see the musical Color Purple as well as the Cleveland Symphony Orchestra, Pink Floyd, Clint Holms, Celtic Women, Golda’s Balcony, Yo Yo Ma, Al Gereau, and many others. Today’s blog will be rambling about Clairton as well as some notes from one of your former teachers – although I did not have the pleasure of taking his class.

    Bears will be Bears: We have noted, as have many media outlets, the successes over the past four years of the Clairton Bears football team and their 47-game win streak as well as their three consecutive state championships. But as Albert E. Einstein once said, “For every action there is an equal and opposite reaction.” Such can be illustrated by the Bears baseball team that lost as many consecutive games as the football team has won. In fact, the baseball team has not won three consecutive games in the past seven years, until three games ago. Not only did the Baseball Bears break their Bad News Bears moniker, they knocked off an undefeated rival and now stand a chance – albeit a long shot, of making the playoffs. And this turnaround was done under the guidance of a first year coach! Go Bears and thanks to Bill “Woodland Terrace Forever” Bennett for the tip.

  When is a number more than a number?: One of Clairton’s all time favorite teachers mentioned in earlier blogs is alumnus Don Taylor. As noted above, I did not have the pleasure of his teaching but in a recent spate of emails many of his former students praised him and referred to 917. My first thought was that it was an area code, but that led to Brooklyn, NY. I couldn’t figure it out so I went to the source and asked Don about the history of the mystery. Here is his response:

 “So, here is the story: One day during class [my history class, juniors, Class of 1962] a student complained that history was difficult for him since he had a hard time remembering events, dates, etc. I then explained that history was not merely an exercise in remembering and dates but involved understanding, analyzing, etc. Furthermore, I replied that there were cognitive studies which indicated that what we have experienced and learned is stored in our memory and that given the proper stimulus it would be restored to our recollection. I went on to say that it is therefore difficult to forget! At that point I chose the number 917 as an example [no connection, birthday, significance, nothing, just "out-- of-- the-- air" number]. I then had them repeat it several times, write it several times, etc. After a few minutes I asked if any had forgotten the number.

 NO one had! Every time you consciously attempt to forget it the memory of the number is reinforced by the stimulus.

 I then did the same experiment in each class and over the years. Following this I reinforced their memory by having it appear again and again [e.g. John Doe lived at 917 Fifth Avenue], in one of my skits in a pep assembly, a mad man appeared in a strait jacket wildly proclaiming that Duquesne would defeat the Bears that evening. Upon being pursued by attendants from the asylum, he fled and on his back was his inmate number -- 917.

 Once when my championship high school quiz team led by Nancy Bekavac was on the radio, they always selected 9 for the first question set, then 1, then 7 [those from Clairton listening chuckled but our opponents sensed we were on to something when they scouted us] and so on during the remaining years I enjoyed at CHS [last class I taught was 1968].

 It eventually took on a life of its own. When I meet students from that period now a half century later, they often greet me with the number 917. It is in my email, played on the lottery, the combination of locks, and who knows what else! Perhaps now you will be stuck with it after this message!

 Finally, and for me most important, I believe it has become a sign of affection between an old school teacher and his beloved students who respected and loved one another. A love which remains UNFORGOTTEN!”

 Fondly, "Mr. Taylor"

  Times change but great teachers don’t: With a little prodding, Don Mr. Taylor gave me another example of his creative teaching delivery style: “All sorts of memories are coming in regarding Clairton. Lynne Carroll Novak [CHS in the mid 60's -- very pretty Honeybear] wrote that Thomas Jefferson had red hair. Others remember that Columbus had red hair from my teaching. Interesting how my use of gimmicks has been remembered. 

Early in my teaching at Clairton, I had a young man last name Lawson. In teaching about Columbus, I mentioned that before he became prematurely grey, he had red hair. I always attempted to make the people in history real flesh and blood persons. I then stressed the problem of stereotyping people [northern Italy not all darker complexion -- the Natali family in Clairton -- Marie, red hair --middle row first seat in room 104].

 Also in order to encourage more complete answers on my essay tests and to have students not give up but to try and figure out the answer, I announced that I would give a point for at least trying even if it were wrong. Comes the test and Lawson did not know an answer but wrote, "Columbus had red hair." O.K. he got one point. The next test and again he didn't know an answer and wrote that Columbus had red hair. Come on Richard! You wrote that on the last test! But true to my promise -- one point. To give him and any others a different answer for one point I began to mention others with red hair, George Rogers Clark, Thomas Jefferson, Generals Wolfe [British victor at Quebec] and Sherman [Civil War], "Jeb" Stuart with a red beard, etc., etc. Thus began the only history of red haired people being taught in America!

 Another example of having some fun in the midst of serious lectures. That and my extra curricular efforts, Pep Club, chaperoning, skits, being there after school for discussions, encouragement, counseling, etc., etc. What bonding and enjoyment and enduring friendships we had in addition to the college prep type teaching that I attempted to provide.”

 A little blogging music Maestro: “Be True to Your School” by The Beachboys. Dr. Forgot email:

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