Tuesday, October 5, 2010

On Old Friends and New Realities

People ask me sometimes how I came across ideas, and I never really know how to answer. Often, it's just good fortune. In 2004, I was working at Newsday, covering high school and college (and occasionally professional) sports, and I came across a press release, which had been faxed by a chess coach at a school I'd never actually heard of. I'd never heard of Edward R. Murrow High School because it doesn't have any sports; and yet for years it had a reputation as one of the best public high schools in Brooklyn, a place for the creative and the unusual, a place where students could design their own curricula amid a plethora of elective courses.

I spent over two years at Murrow, hanging around on Thursday afternoons, traveling with the chess team, befriending a math teacher and chess coach named Eliot Weiss. I met with the school's founder, the late Saul Bruckner, whose obituary includes this key paragraph:

"When other schools cut out all the 'thrills,' as they called them, Saul said, 'I'm not letting go,' " said Mr. Weiss*. He recalled the difficulties of keeping electives such as portrait drawing, investigative journalism, abnormal psychology and Java programming.

Murrow was unique. It was like no other school I'd ever seen, even then, besieged as it was by the realities of economics and overcrowding. But Murrow needs to maintain a delicate balance in order to preserve its uniqueness; and according to an article in today's New York Times, it's getting more and more difficult to preserve that balance.

I wrote about Murrow and high-school chess for a lot of reasons, mostly because the people fascinated me. I didn't think I was writing about the type of school that could no longer exist in the modern urban landscape, and I hope I wasn't. But it's always depressing to realize that the universe you spent so much time laboring to depict may not live on forever.

*This is actually a different Mr. Weiss, the assistant principal of the school. No relation to the chess coach.

No comments: