August 8, 2012
Some city principals would like to see schools reduce their police presence.
But in 1958, principals couldn’t even get the police to swing by — a policy that might have driven one school leader to suicide.
That’s the story behind a series that appeared that year in the New York World Telegram & Sun. Masquerading as a teacher-hopeful, reporter George Allen landed a job at John Marshall Junior High School in Brooklyn, where violence among students the previous spring had driven Principal George Goldfarb to request a police presence.
Mayor Robert Wagner had for the previous year been resisting placing police around schools — there were 819 at the time — because of the unsavory images of armed officials who had tried to keep black students out of schools that were being integrated, according to the New York Daily News.
According to the Daily News,
George Goldfarb was 55 years old, 33 years in the system, and he was suffering the displeasure of his superiors. Personally, he very much wanted police in his school, where, among other things, a 13-year-old blind girl had recently been assaulted in a stairwell, and he had gone before the grand jury and said so out loud. This was, of course, directly contrary to stated Board of Ed policy, and he had been spoken to. At 10 a.m. Jan. 28, he was due before the jury again. Instead, he wearily climbed to the roof of his six-story Eastern Parkway apartment building and jumped. …
Abruptly, the Board of Education agreed. Cops at once began patrolling several dozen of the city’s most troubled schools “If the board had done the day before Mr. Goldfarb died what they did the day after he died,” snapped jury foreman A. George Golden, “he still would be alive” and Wagner announced a plan to segregate chronically unruly students into special schools of their own.
When Allen arrived the following fall for a two-month teaching stint, he found little outright violence. More common, he reported, were defiant students and students who were ill-prepared for their classes, teachers who did not always try to reach struggling students, and copy machines that did not work.
John Marshall Junior High School became P.S./M.S. 394 in 1990. That school continues to operate and now shares space with Explore Empower Charter School.
Allen’s 15-part account of his teaching experience is newly available online as the result of an effort to collect important pieces of investigative reporting at a single database. In 1960, an expanded version of the series was released as a book titled “Undercover Teacher.”