My recent experience working as a substitute teacher in Hoboken's public schools has moved me to reflect on ways the unique charm and beauty of Hoboken itself might be part of the curriculum. With the failure of George Bush's "No child left behind" law-and its sterile emphasis on high stakes testing-looking more obvious with the rising tide of school districts rejecting the Bush model, (some, like Reading, Pa., have gone as far as to sue the federal govt.), the need for fresh approaches to teaching and learning has never been more urgent.
Hoboken is a city bursting with artistic energy, and some of that energy ought to be channeled into classrooms. With the film On the Waterfront currently on exhibit at the Hoboken Historical Museum, for example, an exploration of the American labor movement could include viewing the gorgeous photographs from the film on display. As part of the unit of study, Hoboken senior citizens could be brought into classrooms to share stories of working on the docks, tales of corrupt bosses and "shape ups," and memories of the "almost" Senator from NJ: labor leader and mayor John J. Grogan.
Teachers could inform students that On the Waterfront was the first Hollywood film shot entirely on location, and that Hoboken was chosen for its unique sense of place. After viewing photographs at the museum, students could write about a Hoboken neighborhood, park, or block of their choosing. It's important for students to name their worlds, like a group of Hoboken High students who recently filmed a documentary about Hoboken life seen from the perspective of teenagers. I hope this film is made widely available for students, teachers, and members of the community to watch and discuss together. And the recent PBS walking tour of Hoboken-made available to Hoboken residents by the generosity of mayor Roberts-would also be ideal to show students.
Hoboken's location as a mecca for artists and musicians might also be part of the curriculum. Trips to the Monroe St. Arts Center could be planned, and artists encouraged to visit classrooms. Students' natural interest in music could be connected to the vibrancy of the Hoboken music scene. From the folk ballads of Stephen Foster, through the romantic crooning of Sinatra, to the current prominence of Maxwell's as an incubator of fresh talent, Hoboken's significance in the history of American music could be used to prompt the student's own musical explorations.
As for the ongoing quest to make Hoboken a better place, my own model of a weekly, democratic conversation focused on community repair-which I facilitated for two years at the Symposia bookstore-could be re-created with small groups of high school students. Finally, on a bleak late-winter day my hopes of Spring are kept alive by visions of the pink cherry blossoms that will soon transform many of our blocks with their magic. A sense of awe and reverence for such natural wonders in Hoboken should also be part of the curriculum.