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Some Notes On The Education of Paul Greenberg

favorites pageMy father graduated from the eighth grade of Public School 89, Elmhurst, NY (Queens), in June of 1941. Like other kids graduating PS 89, he planned to go on to high school about a half mile away, at Newtown High School. According to his 8th grade autograph book, my father's favorite author was Jack London, his favorite book The Sea Wolf; Stardust was his favorite song; he loved baseball and worshipped Mel Ott.

PS 89 Elmhurst Queens

But before my father was out of PS 89, his father was out of his life. He would tell others his parents were separated, but in reality my paternal grandfather, whom I am named after, deserted his wife and three sons. Being a single mother was not easy for Gertrude Greenberg. She was from the affluent Swig family, however, so she moved to Boston to be near them and get their support. In Brighton, they lived at 90 Kilsyth Road, an apartment building built in 1930.

Paul Greenberg and his mother, Gertrude Swig Greenberg

Paul Greenberg w/his mother, Gertrude, 90 Kilsyth Road, c. 1943

Paul Greenberg and his father, Benjamin Greenberg

Paul Greenberg w/his father, Benjamin, year and location unknown

100 Kilsyth Road

100 Kilsyth Road, Brighton, Massachusetts

(Oddly, before he moved last month, my close friend Joe was living in the next building up the hill, at 100 Kilsyth Road, for the first eight or nine years that I knew him. A few years ago I came across the picture of Dad and Gert, above. Suddenly I recognized the scene in the photo and I could hear my father telling how he rode his bike down the hill from 90 Kilsyth Road to Beacon Street to get to the Savoy Cafe on Massachusetts Avenue, where he'd go hear Frankie Newton, Pee Wee Russell, Max Kaminsky, Bud Freeman and many others.)

Instead of Newtown High in Elmhurst, my father attended Brighton High School in Boston. His education at Brighton High lasted until he was seventeen. Once his three brothers were all fighting in WWII, life wife with Gert became unbearable for him.

"Don't you have any respect for me?"

Mother of the kitchen, mother of the laundry, mother deserted by my father. I wish I did. Lord where is respect for lonely mother. All I felt was fear that I would not escape.

Pity—yes, Loyalty—yes, Fear—yes, Respect—void.

***         ***         ***
I never formulated a plan. It just happened. Even on the day I left I didn't decide to leave. I just went.

I took my clarinet and went for a walk and was on the highway beyond the circle and thumbing a ride—Destination New York—Destination freedom. Land of dreams, heaven on earth they call it 52nd street.

***         ***         ***
I arrived in N.Y. with 65 cents, a clarinet which I played at best poorly, and the ill fitting clothes I had on and presented my self to Newton as his new roomate[sic]—uninvited. He goddamned me and told me to go home but took me in.

(Paul A. Greenberg, excerpts from sketches for Long Days Short Nights)

Frankie Newton, Sidney Bechet June8, 1939

(left to right) Frankie Newton, Sidney Bechet, 8June1939 (Charles Peterson)

The year was 1944 when he showed up at Frankie Newton's place on E17th Street, just off Union Square. In his Political Autobiography, my father wrote, "My association with Jazz musicians in general and Frankie Newton in particular shaped my view of human possibility and what suffering was about. . . . Frankie Newton . . . gave me a vision of socialism and art as important components of the human spirit. Frank taught me how to look at Picasso and Evergood and to read poetry ranging from John Donne to Langston Hughes."

Earlier, in his sketches for Long Days Short Nights, he wrote:

I learned how to listen, doubt, and feel. I learned much about being human and some of the anguish of being negro.

I first became aware of the problem of friendships "across the wall" when we were walking in an area where Frank felt we were not welcome. He asked me to walk half a block behind him. I asked him why the parade? He said if we were jumped I should run like hell.

My father often said that living with Frank was "better than ten college educations."

From mid 1940s until the fall of 1950, my father did organizing work in several CIO unions. He then served 21 months in the US Army in the Korean War, September 1950 to June 1952.

In 1953 and 1954, he attended the Columbia University School of General Studies and earned about a year's worth of college credit. This was the last of his formal education.

In 1973, my father was Director of Special Unit For School Board Elections of the Board of Elections in the City of New York. He used to say his testimony at the New York State Education Department Hearings on Community School Board Elections was his masters thesis. This was my father's official report on his oversight of changing the method of the New York City School Board elections to proportional representation.

Paul Greenberg 1974

Paul Greenberg, 1974

In September of 1974, however, my father decided he would apply to attend the State University of New York's Empire State College, starting in the Spring Semester. He never sent in the application, and I have his written answers to some informational questions that were part of the application.

1. What are your general long range educational, vocational, or professional plans or aspirations? How will a college education effect your plans?
My educational goals are to achieve formal degrees and to fill in the gaps in knowledge and theory that my professional career requires. This achievement will be self fulfilling and at the same time enhance my professional standing. I plan on going on to graduate school after earning my Bachelor Of Arts degree. If it is feasible I would like to go to Law School.


2. If your professional, vocational, or educational goals are clearly defined, please indicate which, Areas of Study you expect to include in your Concentration and General Learnings. Which of the Organizing Frameworks will you use? State briefly why this Framework is best suited to your needs.

3. If you do not have clearly defined goals, what are some of your major areas of interest? Indicate the area(s) in which you might begin your studies. In which of the Organizing Frameworks do you expect to start?
I would work within an interdisciplinary framework that includes Community and Social Services and Social Theory, Social Structure and Change.

My major interest is Government as an instrument for human service. I would like to explore the dynamics between large governmental units (Federal, State and Municipal) and community and individual needs.

I have spent a number of years in my professional life on legislative needs of communities and on developing democratic processes for community needs. I believe the framework I have chosen will enlarge my understanding of these problems and their solutions and improve my professional performance.

4. What Special Resources for Learning do you have available in your community to assist you in reaching your educational goals? Please indicate how you would use these resources. Some of the community agencies you might keep in mind are colleges, schools, social agencies, laboratories, business organizations, labor unions, government agencies, libraries, recreation groups and hospitals.
If my community is defined by the town I reside in the resources available are: An open non-partisan government structure which has open meetings of the Town Council, Planning agency and other departments. A good library with many services.

The observation and study of government as a case study is available and I could use these facilities for academic research and written reports.

If my community is defined as the Metropolitan Area the resources are unlimited. In New York City there are a variety of libraries and schools with every known resource available. My years of work in government makes it possible for me to get easy access to records and appointments with officials for academic investigation.

I could use these resources for development of written reports or for creative investigation.

5. What kinds of work experiences or other activities might your studies at Empire State College include?
My work as Director of the unit that conducts Community School Board Elections in New York City and my work representing government and social agencies at the State legislature could be excellent tools for academic inquiry.

6. Please list and briefly describe experiences outside of school or college or special circumstances which you feel are pertinent to your admission to Empire State. If you did not graduate from high school or attend college, please give evidence of your readiness to undertake college work.
My professional career which has included years of legislative work for social organizations and government agencies plus my years as an executive of various social organizations are pertinent to my admission to Empire State.

I have been the Research and Publicity Director of the United Furniture Workers of America AFL-CIO. I was a Special Assistant to the President of the Southern Christian Leadership Conference. I was The Executive Director of The Greater New York Council for A Sane Nuclear Policy. I was the Legislative Director of the Liberal Party of New York State. I have been the Special Assistant for Legislation andGovernment hearings for the New York City Health and Hospitals Corporation. I have been either Director or Associate Director of all the community school board elections held in New York City since their inception in 1970. I am a consultant to The State Charter Revision Committee for New York City.

These and many more activities and jobs completed are adequate proof of my ability to undertake college work.

Paul and Ben, November 3, 1974

Paul and Ben, November 3, 1974

7. What were the reasons you chose Empire State College rather than another college? What were the alternatives to Empire you considered?
I choose Empire State College because of the special nature of the program which will allow me to continue working and fulfill any academic requirements. The system of advance standing may shorten considerably the time needed to achieve a degree.

I considered Ramapo College. My examination led me to believe Empire State was more suited to my needs.

8. What are your current family, occupational, and recreational responsibilities and interests? Which of these would you continue as you pursue your program at Empire State College? Which would you have to give up in order to spend 40 or 20 hours per week required of a full or half-time student?
I am a husband and father of three children. The children are two girls ages sixteen and fourteen and a boy age five. I am currently a full time consultant to the New York State Charter Revision Commission for New York City. I spend some time trying to achieve the level of artist in the photographic medium. I am active in local political and social organizations. I can not abdicate nor do I chose to abdicate from my family. I both enjoy and need the economic reward for my professional work therefore I by necessity will have to limit my photography and organizational work. I also will have to apply a sense of discipline to my time that is now best described as leisure time.

***         ***         ***

My father did not end up going back to school to complete his B.A. in 1974; he did continue to work in the photographic medium. The photos in this final section of my post were all shot and developed by him in that year.

In 1974 we were living in Teaneck, NJ, at 130 Johnson Avenue, minutes from the George Washington Bridge and the route into Manhattan. The picture, above, of me and Dad all dressed up for my aunt Leah's wedding, is on the front steps of that house. This next picture is of me and my sisters in the living room:

Francine, Ben, Jessica 1974

Me and Gregory, my friend from across the street, hanging out in my bedroom:

Ben and friend 1974

I attended kindergarten at the Bryant School in Teaneck. That's me and one of my school friends; I can't remember his name:

Ben and friend 1974

My maternal grandparents for many years had a summer home in the Mohegan Colony, near Mohegan Lake, in Westchester County, NY. We always went for visits. That's me in the lake:

Ben, Lake Mohegan, NY 1974

{ 3 comments… add one }
  • coolbeans October 1, 2004, 2:42 pm

    I loved reading this post. The pictures are fantastic. Where is that little suit now? Tell me someone still has it!

  • Ben G. October 1, 2004, 3:20 pm

    I’m glad you enjoyed it, CB. I’ll have to ask about the plaid suit. I don’t know what happened it to it, but my mom is not one to throw such things away. She might have given it to one of my younger cousins. The suit I do have in my possession is the tux my dad is wearing. A couple of years ago, I wore it on Purim, the Jewish holiday when people dress up in costumes and act silly. You can’t tell from the photo, but that tux is dark blue, 100% pure polyester or some other petroleum based synthetic material. The shirt is a weird shade of light blue. Apparently my mom wanted him to wear something a little less, um, fashionable, but he really wanted a hip 1970s tux.

  • Howard Romaine September 13, 2008, 5:25 pm

    WOW! Interesting use of net to combine your Dad’s work with photos, and your own commentary. Thanks for doing this.
    Howard Romaine, PO Box 60066, Nashville,
    TN 37206

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